SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s The Walking Dead Season 7 finale.

After a heavily-hyped season that opened with two primary characters getting their heads battered in by villain Negan and near-record ratings, The Walking Dead ended its seventh cycle tonight with betrayal by false allies, a glorious tiger, Rick Grimes taking a bullet, metal caskets and the death of Sonequa Martin-Green’s Sasha after she turned herself into a walker to save her friends – the same friends who heartbreaking kill her to save her at the end of the show’s 99th episode.

“We are going to war!” Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan declares to his followers right near the end of tonight’s finale, putting the stakes for next season up high before this one even ended.

Starting with a telling close up on Martin-Green’s character that faded to black, Sunday’s nearly 90-minute “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life” often meticulously crafted episode was directed by EP Greg Nicotero – like the last two season finales of the blockbuster AMC series based on Robert Kirkman’s comics. Setting a habit of leaping around in time and space, and very unlike last year’s cliffhanger finale, the episode then turned to the character waking up in a house in the Alexandra community and in the arms of the deceased Abraham, played by Michael Cudlitz.

That scene, which the tense episode returned to again and again tonight, was ended by Negan entering the cell he had Sasha held at his Sanctuary HQ with the line “welcome to the first day of the rest of your life,” hence the episode’s title. The now clean shaven character offers Sasha some creepy smiley faced pancakes for breakfast and a place of power in his organization if she will do his bidding to deceive Rick and the Survivors’ advance. “Just one and just for you,” Negan promises Sasha of how many Survivors he will kill in retribution. “Just one person has to die,” Sasha repeats back, with foreshadowing galore.

Written by Angela Kang, Matthew Negrete and showrunner Scott M. Gimple, the season finale jumped off after the Sasha scenes from last week’s closing minutes where Dwight, Negan’s right hand man and past tormentor of Daryl, linked up with the Survivors to fight against Morgan’s character. “You can trust me, if we can work together, we can stop them,” the Austin Amelio-played character pleaded to a knife welding Daryl, poised to kill him. “If you can take them out, that’s where we start,” a reprieve given Dwight told Grimes and the rest of Negan’s frontline thugs as the opening to getting to the Sanctuary.

Having been cast as the lead in CBS All Access’ Star Trek Discovery last December, TWD regular Sonequa Martin-Green has been marked as the next Survivor to die ever since – and certainly her character’s actions this season on the Kirkman, David Alpert and Gale Anne Hurd EP’d show have added credence to that POV.

“No matter how it all goes down, I got your back,” Sasha told Christian Serratos’ Rosita Espinosa as the two overlooked Negan’s compound in the March 19, “The Other Side,” episode. The end of that show saw Sasha getting herself into the enemy camp of the Sanctuary and forcing Rosita to return to the Survivors. It also saw the now seemingly totally ensconced Eugene, played by the mulleted Josh McDermitt, refuse Sasha’s offer of escape and bring her into Negan’s captive, only to offer her a fatal exit of her own in a poison pill in the penultimate episode of the season – one that she seemingly used, in a way.

With Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes, Lauren Cohan’s now widowed Maggie Rhee, the rage filled and at one point imprisoned Daryl Dixon, played by Norman Reedus, and Danai Gurira’s Michonne shattered by the deaths of Abraham and Glenn (Steven Yeun), the Survivors were put into servitude for Negan this season. Ratings stumbled to multi-year lows but TWD remained the top draw among adults 18-49 for another season as the nearly broken Survivors tried to mourn and regroup – t0 different degrees. Returning from its winter break on February 12, the second half of the cycle saw a revitalized and revenge thirsty Grimes and gang, including a now killing again Morgan (Lennie James) and Melissa McBride’s Carol, rebuild with the aim to take down Negan and the Saviors.

To that end, episode after episode this year saw the Survivors try to forge new alliances with other surviving communities like the reluctant Kingdom and the mysterious Scavengers. The betraying latter, with the guns Rick and the other procured for them, turned out to be on Negan’s side when the Saviors showed up at Alexandria in tonight’s finale. “You pushed me and you pushed me, Rick,” Negan bellowed, while obviously knowing everything the group has been up to. “You people are animals,” he added of Survivors likely intent to kill Eugene when he ordered then to open the gates. Taking out a still alive Sasha in a steel casket, Negan ordered Rick to give Daryl back, all the grain and guns, and  someone to kill or it would be the Martin-Green character who died.

When Negan opened the casket, it was he who almost bit it as Sasha came out now turned into a walker and attacking. The Survivors used the distraction to retake the advantage and get the drop on the Saviors and Scavengers, whose leader Jadis, played by Hap and Leonard alum Pollyanna McIntosh, shot Rick in the leg and brought him to kneel before Negan, in a moment a lot like the season opener. As that is happening, Gurira’s Michonne is fighting for her life on a rooftop, a battle that sounded like she lost.

On the ground, Negan was just about to smash in the head of Carl (Chandler Riggs) and then take off Rick’s arm like in the comics, when the Kingdom’s warriors, Carol, and Maggie and more come rushing in, guns blazing. It was actually Shiva, Kingdom leader Ezekiel’s pet tiger that took Negan down but in the gun battle the villain got away – setting the table for next season.

Beaten and bloodied, Michonne was alive and found by her lover Rick and Carl in an Alexandria house. The episode ended with a voice-over from Maggie of Sasha being buried, the injured recovering and the new alliance rallying for the larger war to come.

Renewed for an eighth season last year, a week before Season 7 even started, TWD is expected to return this fall – after the usual round of months of teases, casting announcements and Comic-Con panels to keep the fan fire’s raging.

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