Looking back on previous seasons of The Walking Dead, I haven’t generally been a big fan of the season finale episodes. The mid-season finales tend to fair a bit better, but I tend to find issue with the way this show attempts to close off a number of storylines within one episode. “Conquer” is not a perfect episode (blame Sasha and Gabriel for that), but it does a fine job of balancing a lot of tense storylines, wrapping up a number of arcs, and providing a nice amount of setup for next season. Most importantly, this was a finale where I was actually pumped to see where things would be going next.
Since the episode begins with Morgan, I guess I can too. I am not sure how everyone else feels about Morgan, but whatever Lennie James is doing to portray this character, I like it. This is a character that has been featured only a few times in this series, but everything I saw in him in this episode suggested a character I have been familiar with and completely get. I cannot say the same about Sasha or Father Gabriel, characters we have had around us for a while now, yet have story arcs that have continually felt hollow, contrived, and more like a waste of time than anything. With Morgan, I have a character that just seems clear to me, fittingly enough. He has proven to be a bad ass, which is a nice bonus, but the character feels like one that fits right in with The Walking Dead and I am excited to see this show properly incorporate him next season.
This brings me to Aaron and Daryl. Obviously, with this being a season finale, many were curious as to who was going to die. I hate putting it bluntly, but so many viewers seem more concerned about which cast members are not going to make it that it sort of diminished the notion, were it to have actually happened. That in mind, once the trap was sprung and Aaron and Daryl were fighting for their lives just to find safety, I was both worked up by what could happen and really hoping this show would find a better solution than self-sacrifice. Sure, Aaron and Daryl pulling a “Butch and Sundance” would have made for a hell of an ending to this storyline, with Norman Reedus fans everywhere boycotting the show, depending on how things went, but the save by Morgan was pretty great.
Morgan’s great save is an example of what made “Conquer” work so well for me. The Walking Dead is an ensemble show that has had difficulty pulling off the ensemble aspect many times. The episodes focused on fractions of the cast tend to be a lot more effective. “Conquer” incorporates everyone and it does a great job of balancing things. Yes, I still found Gabriel and Sasha to be irritating sidetracks, but the episode was juggling a lot of elements and managed to make most of them engaging or intense or a relief in some way. Morgan’s save was a relief, as the episode did enough to have me forget about him and feel great upon seeing him come to the rescue.
As opposed to being an explosive finale, filled with action, death, and destruction, The Walking Dead decided to end its fifth season with a lot of hopeful elements, in addition to the idea that Rick is still sending a pretty hardcore message. Following the building of tension (which is handled pretty fantastically in the final 20 minutes of this episode), “Conquer” ends with a lot of our characters being in a pretty good place. Rick, Aaron, and Morgan are back at Alexandria; Abe and Eugene have made up; Tara woke up; Glenn ended up not going over to the dark side; and Rick killed a guy that no one liked. That last one is a little less than happy days for everyone involved, but as opposed to seeing nothing but darkness overtake the episode, we had a good amount of closure taking place in some ways that didn’t seem so nihilistic for a change.
Getting back to Rick, as always, the message is a little more unclear. Last week’s episode went an awesome route of essentially making Rick seem like a crazy person, who needed to be put in his place. While I wish this episode held onto that a bit more and really threw us through a loop in regards to who we should be rooting for, giving us a setup for an Alexandria that wants to be better prepared means I get to see an upcoming season where this town is not so actively dumb in regards to the zombie apocalypse taking place around them.
Taking a step back though, the lead up to these final moments and then the payoff was pretty solid. After idiot Gabriel leaves the gate open, Rick takes down walkers and brings one to the town meeting. If ever there was a way to make a point, Rick hurling a body on the ground and making a speech is a good setup for one. Getting all of that, followed by crazy Pete showing the worst understanding of how to hold a weapon, meant ending things in an interesting manner. Rick gets the go ahead from Deanna to kill the man who just killed her husband and we end the season on Rick seeing the face of Morgan, who he was just thinking about earlier in the episode. Morgan is confused himself, given his understanding of Rick, and now we have months to learn what will happen next.
While The Walking Dead basically restores some level of status quo by letting Rick off the hook, we are still in a new area, with characters we mostly have an understanding of, along with some new ones that we are going to get a feel for in various ways. Instead of a bloodfest, with the people of Alexandria being slaughtered in some way, and Rick and the gang having to move on again, we have an upcoming season that will allow us to see what it is like for people to learn something based on what Rick and the gang have been through. Bad things are still sure to happen, as this is The Walking Dead, but at least for now I can be excited about how things will be playing out from here, with Rick hopefully using his over-the-top leader skills in a useful way. Good on the show for not going the easy way and killing more significant characters off, as I was glad to see things playout differently and to such a satisfying degree.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Daryl went all Ghostrider on three walkers, but Aaron literally had a license to kill.
- So the Wolves are coming. Not too much to talk about here, but they are a creepy and crafty bunch, so it would seem.
- That opening scene between Wolves Guy #1 and Morgan was aces, with Lennie James seemingly going all Book of Eli to show the skill of Morgan’s badassery.
- “These people are children” – Carol only had a handful of moments this episode (her scene with Pete was also good dark fun), but she made the best of them.
- Glenn battling Nicholas was good, tense stuff, but I am still happy to see this show pushing Glenn to his limits and seeing positive results come out of it.
- Rosita knocking over something to wake up Eugene was classic.
- Oh Pete… RIP Porch Dick.
- “Why? Because all life is precious, Daryl.” – You guys, Morgan is just great. Bring on more of him next season.
- I appreciate everyone who took time to read my words on this season of The Walking Dead, hopefully I’ll be back in the summer to cover the awfully-titled Fear The Walking Dead.
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what myself and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on the The Walking Dead TV Podcast.