This has been one of the more intriguing seasons of The Walking Dead. Instead of throwing the group into yet another grueling nightmare where they are forced to fight for their survival, they’re clever crafted a whole new scenario, one of safety and relief, sanctuary and civilization — and one where Rick Grimes and his people aren’t sure if such a thing is truly possible in this new world. The questions that they faced — can you ever really be safe, is there danger in too much comfort and complacency, and most importantly, what kind of people do you want to be versus what kind of people do you need to be — have been the driving dilemmas since they arrived in Alexandra, and in this final episode, “Conquest,” it appears that we have some answers.
What was so interesting about this episode was how it was a climax and a culmination, but of a wholly different sort. This wasn’t a harrowing escape, and it came with no deaths or tragedies (the loss of Pete sure as hell isn’t a tragedy, and we’d barely gotten to know Deana’s husband). Instead, it was a new beginning, a much needed change in the tide for Alexandra. For an entire community, rather than just for the group. When they first arrived, there was always the question of whether or not they could live there after being out in the world for so long. Yet perhaps the question that should have been asked was… can the people of Alexandra live there after being away from the world for so long.
And so, perhaps the machinations of Rick, Daryl and Carol were slightly misguided, particularly in light of Rick going off the rails last week. Perhaps they should have trusted Michonne, Glenn, and the others. But perhaps this was the only way it could work, by allowing the others to gain footholds in the community, so that when it all inevitably came to a head — as Rick suspected that it might — Maggie, Michonne, Abraham were already entrenched and they had become the leaders and the trusted voices. In the end, this was — as was alluded to — less a fight for Rick’s life and more a fight for the life of Alexandra. And while that was rather hamfistedly played out as Rick brawled with walkers during his own trial — a heavy handed allegory if I’ve ever seen one, replete with him dumping a dead walker in the middle of a group meeting — it was a potent message for the community.
Of course, there are wheels within wheels to be considered. Morgan has returned, and he, Daryl and Aaron now have firsthand knowledge of the madness that drives a group that we know only as the Wolves. And they are mad, agents of chaos and brutality. We know that Glenn has faced down the cowardliness of the pathetic — but still dangerous — Nicholas, and we know that he brings his own kind of trouble. And we know that Sasha is on the brink, as is Gabriel, albeit in different fashion, each due to their own perceived inadequacies and guilt about surviving. Each of these wheels will play a role in the next season. Each will bring new challenges.
Things That We Loved:
- Morgan. Everything about Morgan. I’m glad that he finally found his way back to Rick. I’m glad that he’s going to be a series regular (hopefully for a long time, because I love Lennie James). I’m not sure when he found the time to become a bōjutsu master, but let’s roll with it.
- Carol, of course. I don’t know that a week has gone by this season where I didn’t want to either pump my fist or hide under my bed due to Melissa McBride’s performance. I respect the show runners for playing the long game with Carol, slowly turning her into not just a badass, but a chilling, cunning manipulator. Carol plays games within games, with everyone. She’s become a quiet, subtle, deadly, almost Machiavellian character, and I love it. Showing up at Pete’s door with a knife and a casserole? Genius. But the kicker was this: “You said you don’t want to take this place, and you don’t want to lie anymore. Oh sunshine, you don’t get both.”
- I mentioned it last week, but there’s an unexpected greatness to the Daryl/Aaron pairing. Taking two very different characters and pairing them has often been a hallmark of the show (particularly in last Spring’s episodes). There’s a remarkable smoothness, a comforting solemnity to their rapport, which came to a wonderful head when they were trapped in that car.
- Speaking of, I don’t have many moments when I actually yelp “oh fuck!” when I’m watching. When they sprung the Wolves’ trap though? And walkers swarmed out of that trailer and changed what they anticipated to be a bounty of food into a hellscape of disfigured undead? I knew it was coming, but I still got freakin’ palpitations. That scene was harrowing.
- Deana. The turnaround was brutal, and the loss of her husband heartbreaking. The lesson was cold and merciless. But her sudden understanding of the world, her tragic, remorseless request for Pete’s execution (and Rick neither blinking nor hesitating) was all carefully, wickedly orchestrated, and so satisfying.
- Rick and Michonne. I love every scene between them and even though I doubt the show would never make them A Thing (BUT THEY SHOULD), I want to see more of them together. Their chemistry is excellent, in no small part because Danai Gurira has really come into her own on the show, and Michonne has become a spectacularly interesting and nuanced character.
Things We Didn’t Love:
- Gabriel. God, I hate this character. I hate what he’s doing, how he’s written, and Seth Gilliam’s sweaty, overwrought depiction. I don’t even think I’m being reasonable about it and I don’t care. It’s just so blatantly overdone. We get it. Crisis of faith. Crippling guilt. Can’t be trusted. Can we move on now please? I’m finding Sasha’s inner turmoil to be much more engaging (and that “lying with the dead to find a moment of peace” scene was surprisingly effective).
- Nicholas. I like this storyline, actually, and the conflict between him and Glenn. But I want Nicholas dead forever. Maybe even mauled by bears. Bears that are on fire.
And that’s that. We didn’t lose anyone this week, contrary to some very terrifying suspicions. Instead, we have a new beginning, a new era for Alexandra. Everything for that lovely little community will now be a little bit harder. This season didn’t go out with a bang like some of the others, but it went out brilliantly nonetheless, making Conquer perhaps the best season finale we’ve seen in the five years that we’ve been watching.
See you in October.