Of Love and Tigers on The Walking Dead
By Alexa Day
Warning: This post is wall-to-wall spoilers for the season 7 finale of The Walking Dead.
Season 7 of The Walking Dead has been leading up to the phenomenon known to readers as the All-Out War. But right now, on the eve of war, the conflict that finally put most of the zombie apocalypse’s factions in one place at one time has a clear winner.
Love is winning.
And tigers. Tigers are also winning.
Seriously, it’s all spoilers from here. Last warning.
I wasn’t sure I’d get through this season. After losing Glenn and Abraham in the season opener, I had to watch Rick disintegrate in front of a schoolyard bully whose only weapons were a bat and the inability to shut up. My attention began to wander. What happened to Rick, a man who tore out an enemy’s throat with his teeth? What was Time After Time like? When did American Crime come on?
Still, I stuck around all season long. I’d have felt awful if I’d abandoned my favorite television couple. And now I’m glad I stayed.
First, let’s salute the little things that make TWD great.
Carol has come out of the dark and reclaimed her status as BAMF. Earlier in the season, she had trouble reconciling her own vulnerability with her emerging identity as a true warrior. Her ability to open her heart to other people was, she felt, at odds with her ability to herd people into a room filled with gasoline before tossing in a lighter. On Sunday, I think she discovered that embracing her lethal self is the highest form of service to those she loves. Watching her in a suit of shining armor, among King Ezekiel’s knights and alongside His Majesty’s tiger, Shiva, was a joyful experience.
Jadis, as leader of the trash-dwelling Scavengers, is also a joy to watch. The Scavengers feel like a matriarchal society — most of Jadis’s lieutenants are women. And it’s notable that when Jadis decides she wants a handful of Rick, she goes right to Michonne for permission. Either she presumes Rick would be okay with a night of garbage-scented loving, or she’s decided his opinion just isn’t that important. (Michonne declined to loan Rick out. No doubt she was concerned that she’d have to run his junk through a car wash with extra foam — twice — afterwards.) Still, whatever else we might think of Jadis, it’s important that, in her peculiar, disjointed English, she did ask for permission before advancing on Rick. A lot of people wouldn’t bother with such pleasantries, but the “filthy garbage people” (says Negan) do respect some of society’s rules, after all.
All of this is secondary to the core of the episode, a story about just how deep love will go at the end of the world.
Love has sidled up on people this season, surprising them with its magnitude and persistence. And on Sunday night, amid the gunfire, love’s powerful current made its presence felt.
As soon as CBS announced that Sonequa Martin-Green would have the leading role in Star Trek: Discovery, people started to count the days until Sasha made her exit from TWD. Still, The Walking Dead is not television as usual. Anything can happen — or not happen — to anyone at any time. So while I was watching Sasha listen to her mp3 player in the dark, it took me a little while to accept that these were the final moments I’d have with this character.
Sasha’s last thoughts are of Abraham. We only really witnessed the surface of their relationship, the way strangers would observe a new couple on an early date. He was the Abraham we’d come to know, full of a casual, self-deprecating vulgarity. Courtship brought out a certain warmth in her, something we’d seen before with Bob and hoped to see again.
But in her memories, we get to see an Abraham we didn’t really know. Sure, he still says he hates the beach because it’s like getting his nut-sack sandblasted. He’s not totally different. But he’s a gentler, sweeter Abraham in Sasha’s memories, held so dear in her mind that she can recite every word he said to her during their last conversation. We see their relationship in a way neither would have shared with the group. They are tender and still hesitant with each other, but they’re starting to strengthen each other as well.
That lost possibility is the reason Abraham is in Sasha’s thoughts, instead of Bob or her own brother, Tyreese. We mourn the things that might have been differently. Grief for the things that have run their course, or for the people we’ve had a chance to say goodbye to, is not the same. Together, Sasha and Abraham might have complemented each other in a way that would rival Rick and Michonne. Sasha and Abraham had a lot to lose, and he was gone perhaps before they realized it.
A couple of weeks ago, Rick and Michonne enjoyed a honeymoon of sorts, complete with MREs, a drop through the rotted roof of a building (followed by giggles), and a deserted carnival where Rick tries to shoot a deer for his sweetheart. Romance is unpredictable in the new world, though, and Rick drops from his vantage point on a Ferris wheel into a crowd of zombies, who close in on him.
Michonne freezes. We know Rick isn’t dead — but she doesn’t. The certainty that she’s lost him seizes her, and she drops her ever-present katana. She’s speechless and defenseless, until he emerges from a nearby shelter, and the two go back to killing zombies and taking names.
Later, shaken by the close call, Michonne confesses that she can’t function if she loses him. Rick assures her that she can, and that she’ll have to face the possibility that she will have to survive him. This same conflict splintered Carol earlier this season. Neither woman could reconcile her need to hold on to loved ones with the vicious reality of life, but by the end of the season, both are trying to get to that place.
Rick might be sure that Michonne will survive in his absence, but before long, he’ll find himself in her shoes. After Jadis’s Scavengers turn against our heroes, Michonne finds herself in a fight for her life. Rick knows she’s locked in combat with an enemy, but he’s powerless to help her and too far away to see what’s happening. When he hears someone fall, screaming, from a distant rooftop, we know Michonne isn’t dead — but Rick doesn’t.
By the time he thinks he’s lost Michonne, the battle seems lost. Negan has Rick and Carl on their knees. He’s threatened to cut off Rick’s hand, an event graphic novel fans have been grimly anticipating for weeks. But when Rick hears the death shriek from Michonne’s direction, the last of his resolve deserts him. Something seems to fall away from him. Maybe it really is over.
Whether he’d been planning to surrender before or not, Rick seems more at peace with the decision and his fate at Negan’s hands once he believes Michonne is gone.
But then Shiva the tiger pounces on one of Negan’s Saviors, and all is eventually restored.
Regrouping from yet another attack on Alexandria, and embracing all who came to the rescue, leads Rick to Maggie. He tells her that she’d done the right thing by joining the battle, just in time.
For Maggie, this is both simpler and much more complicated than a choice.
Maggie responds that the decision to rescue Alexandria didn’t belong to her. It originated with Glenn, who put himself in danger to help Rick, a stranger, all those episodes ago. That chain of events led one person to another, making strangers friends and binding friends into family.
Family always saves family. It’s not a choice. It’s just reality. To face the possibility of loss and fight for the future anyway — that’s what love is. It’s what love does.
That’s a lot to think about until October.
Well, that and watching Shiva leap into action. I know I’ll be replaying that moment all summer long.
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