Warning: (as you might expect) contains spoilers.
Negan was the big story of The Walking Dead season seven – who he was, who he’d killed and who would eventually kill him. Plenty of people took a punt at that last one, but Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character survived it all to swing Lucille another day. Season eight promises an all-out war between the Savior-Heapster alliance and the Alexandrian-Hilltop-Kingdom rebels, but before it arrives, here’s a recap of what went on last year.
Nineteen days. That’s how long the entirety of season seven took in the world of The Walking Dead. From Abraham and Glenn’s death to the battle of Alexandria, it was just under three weeks. It felt longer because Rick’s group was divided over several locations. Carol and Morgan were at the Kingdom. Daryl and later Eugene were at the Sanctuary, while Maggie, Sasha and Enid were at Hilltop. We saw events unfold in one place, then rewound to see them play out in another.
Emotionally, the story was all about Rick Grimes. The season started and finished with close-ups of Rick’s face, a man utterly broken and forced to submit to the violent whims of a cruel tyrant, but who eventually finds the strength to stand up and fight. Rick opened the season on his knees but ended it on his feet, gun in hand, rag-tag crew of rebels (and a tiger!) at his side.
Rick, son Carl, adopted daughter Judith and girlfriend Michonne all made it out of the season alive and with their limbs still attached, but not everyone was so lucky. Abraham and Glenn both fell afoul of Negan’s bat in the season premiere, while fellow Alexandrians Olivia and Spencer were respectively shot and disembowelled by the Saviors. Sasha died too, but she went out in a blaze of undead glory after weaponising herself by deliberately taking an overdose then very nearly taking a bite out of Negan upon emerging from the coffin in which he—ever the showman—had placed her for… some reason.
Walker-Sasha didn’t get Negan, but her self-sacrifice allowed Rick’s group to temporarily shake off their aggressors and regain the upper hand in the battle of Alexandria – an upper hand they’d lost when the traitorous Heapsters turned on them, having formed a secret alliance with the Saviors. Walker-Sasha was eventually put down by Jesus when he and Maggie stumbled upon her in the woods in the aftermath of the fight.
The rest of Rick’s group – Michonne, Carol, baby Judith, Daryl, Morgan, Father Gabriel, Rosita, Maggie, Tara, Enid, Aaron, Eric and Eugene (more on him later) all made it to the end of the year. Michonne took a serious beating at the hands of a Heapster, but won out. Rosita was shot in the battle but looks to be recovering (Christian Serratos’ real-life pregnancy may be behind that move). And the rest of them came close to death several times…
After he broke Negan’s no-fighting rule, provoking Glenn’s death, a grief-stricken Daryl was taken by the Saviors as insurance to make sure that Rick complied with their demands. Daryl’s stay at the Sanctuary was harrowing. Tortured by ‘Bizarro-Daryl’ Dwight, he was kept naked and filthy in a cell, fed dog-food sandwiches and forced not only to look at a photo of Glenn’s mangled remains, but also to listen to cheerily upbeat nightmare Easy Street on loop. Despite all that though, Daryl still refused to submit to Negan. He was punished, humiliated and used as a dogsbody but through it all, remained Daryl Dixon. When Dwight’s ex-wife and Negan’s current wife Sherry decided enough was enough and absconded from the Sanctuary a second time, she slipped Daryl the means to escape (to make up for that time she and Dwight betrayed him and stole his crossbow and motorcycle). Daryl got out of his cell, killed Fat Joey, recovered Rick’s Colt Python, retrieved his bike, met up with Jesus and drove to Hilltop where he and Rick shared a teary reunion.
Daryl’s guilt over Glenn’s death continued (he can’t even look Maggie in the eye in The Other Side, if you notice), until Maggie told him she would never blame him because, like Glenn, Daryl is one of the good things in this world.
Daryl joined Rick’s group on their visit to the Kingdom, where they reunited with Morgan and asked Kingdom leader ‘King’ Ezekiel for help fighting Negan. Needing to lay low from the Saviors, Daryl hid out there, getting to know Ezekiel’s pet tiger Shiva and trying to convince Morgan to lean on Ezekiel to join the fight. Daryl also worked out that Morgan had lied about Carol setting off on her own and tracked her down to the solitary cottage where she’d pulled a Garbo and said she wanted to be alone (a goal not really achieved thanks to multiple interruptions from Ezekiel, who seems sweet on her, his people, and Morgan).
Carol and Daryl’s reunion was almost as moving as the moment he shared with Rick at Hilltop. Over dinner, he tried to protect her by lying about what had happened with the Saviors and not revealing that Abraham and Glenn had been killed. She later learned the truth from a clearly suffering Morgan after he’d broken his no-killing rule another time, which motivated her to leave the cottage to him and go to the Kingdom to prepare for battle. Carol and Ezekiel shared an intimate moment when she was being nursed back to health at the Kingdom when she called him out on his courtly fairy tale bullshit. He told her the truth – his name really was Ezekiel and he hadn’t tamed Shiva but was a zoo keeper at her enclosure and a member of an amateur dramatics society who’d played a few kings in his time. He’d created the King Ezekiel persona to give his people something to believe in and follow. The tiger was mostly for the optics.
After killing a Savior to save Carol’s life at the end of season six, Morgan remained steadfast in his pacifism until a plan enacted by Kingdom member Richard to draw Ezekiel into rebellion against Negan backfired, resulting in the death of Benjamin, a young man Morgan was training in Aikido and whom he clearly associated with his dead son Duane. Richard had deliberately hidden part of the tribute the Kingdom were forced to pay to the Saviors to provoke them into killing him, thereby provoking Ezekiel into revenge against Negan. The Saviors killed Benjamin instead, so Morgan, upon realising Richard’s plan, strangled him to death in a brutal scene. Morgan later joined the Kingdom fighters in their assault on Negan at Alexandria, but it’s fair to say was not left in good mental health.
Over at Hilltop, the farming community housed in a colonial period museum, there was trouble for Maggie and Sasha. They’d gone there after Glenn and Abraham’s deaths to get medical treatment for pregnant Maggie, bury their men’s bodies and hide from Negan, who was told Maggie had died from her illness (cunningly, Father Gabriel showed Negan a fake grave to convince him she was dead). Hilltop leader Gregory tried to sell out Maggie and Sasha to the Saviors the first chance he had, but didn’t succeed. Jesus, Maggie, Sasha and Enid (the latter of whom had come to Hilltop to put green balloons on Glenn’s grave in tribute to their season six adventure) all recognised Gregory as a threat, and it became clear that Maggie would make a far stronger and better respected leader for the community, especially after she and Sasha defended the Hilltop almost single-handedly from Walkers let in by the Saviors as a punishment.
Meanwhile, Alexandria received several visits from Negan and his gang over the course of the season. Negan took special pleasure in humiliating Rick and his people, taking their mattresses, for instance, only to set fire to them on the road outside. They took what they pleased and emptied the Alexandrian arsenal, necessitating a season-long search for guns from Rick’s group. Through it all, Rick tried to keep his people alive by refusing to fight back, despite Michonne wanting to stand up to the Saviors. He took the punishment and followed the rules until Michonne finally convinced him of the need for revolt.
Carl was way ahead of Rick on that point, having earlier stowed away in one of the Savior vehicles on a solo mission to kill Negan. He was joined by Jesus but tricked him into leaving the truck before entering the Sanctuary, where Carl killed two of Negan’s men and was captured. Negan took a shine to Rick’s son, giving him a tour of his realm and demonstrating the absolute power he held over his people. He forced Carl to take off his bandage and made him cry about his disfigurement before apologising and genuinely seeming to show remorse. Carl told Negan that he and Rick are his weakness and that he should have already killed them.
Negan took Carl back to Alexandria, where he discovered the existence of baby Judith and generally creeped everyone out while leaning backwards and grinning a great deal. Rosita, mad for revenge, took aim at Negan using a bullet she’d forced Eugene to make for her and a gun she’d taken from a Walker and hidden. The bullet hit Negan’s bat Lucille instead, so Negan had a Savior cut Rosita’s face, kill Olivia as punishment, and take Eugene (who’d confessed to making the bullet) back to the Sanctuary.
The second half of the season involved Rick’s search for guns to wage war against Negan. After a mysterious new group followed Rick and Aaron after they retrieved a stash of goodies from a boat, Father Gabriel was taken hostage by the same group. They were the Heapsters, junkyard scavengers who later captured Rick’s group when he’d tracked down Gabriel. After passing a test in which he had to kill a spike-covered walker, Rick and the Heapster leader Jadis made a deal. They would aid them in the fight against the Saviors in exchange for lots of guns.
Tara, meanwhile, who’d been absent on a supply run with Heath since the attack on the Savior Satellite Post in season six, had found lots of guns. After a Walker attack in which she was separated from Heath, she washed up on the shore of a beach community called Oceanside, comprising entirely women. The group had previously encountered the Saviors, who had killed all their men and boys over ten after a failed uprising, and were now living in secret, killing any strangers they came across for their own protection. Tara escaped, but promised not to reveal their location to her people. After wrestling with the decision, she relented and told Rick about the weapons. They went to collect the guns, promising to return them when Negan had been defeated. Oceanside refused to join the fight.
Over at the Sanctuary, Eugene unexpectedly found himself on easy street. Having resurrected the old scientist lie for Negan’s benefit, Eugene was given plush digs, orangey tinned pasta, a huge jar of pickles, a gremblygunk and power. He was made Chief Engineer of the Sanctuary and unlike Daryl, fell right in line with Negan’s demands, utterly capitulating to his new lord and protector, that weasel.
When Sasha broke into the Sanctuary on her one-woman mission to avenge Abraham’s death, she asked Eugene for a weapon to kill herself, and he delivered her the suicide pill he’d prepared at the behest of Negan’s wives, then refused to give to them as he knew they were planning to use it to kill Negan. That’s what allowed her to pull off the stunt that, for a while at least, saved the Alexandrians.
Still at the Sanctuary, after taking a beating for Daryl’s escape and getting a Dear John note from his true love Sherry, Dwight made a move against Negan. First of all, he protected Sherry by telling Negan she’d been killed and framing Dr Carson for Daryl’s escape. Then he followed Rosita and offered to be a double agent for Rick’s group. Tara and Daryl wanted to kill Dwight (he’d killed her girlfriend Denise and tortured Daryl) but the group ultimately decided to trust him. Dwight told Rick that Negan was coming and had captured Sasha. Dwight created a road-block to slow the Saviors down en route to Alexandria, giving Rick time to prepare his rebellion.
It all ended with a huge battle. Rick’s group attacked the Saviors, whose sneaky alliance with the Heapsters meant the pendulum swung against the Alexandrians. Then Sasha made her shocking appearance, swinging the pendulum right back in Negan’s face, before the Alexandrians were once again overpowered. Finally, the cavalry arrived, comprising Maggie and the Hilltop fighters, Carol, Morgan, Ezekiel and the Kingdom soldiers, with tiger Shiva. The Saviors and Heapsters were forced to retreat, but it is on.
The Walking Dead season eight starts in the US on Sunday the 22nd and here in the UK on Monday the 23rd of October.