The Walking Dead season finale “Conquer” (written by Seth Hoffman and showrunner Scott Gimple) served up 90 satisfying minutes of action, suspense, and character exploration that saw the return of Morgan, the reveal of The Wolves, and the Alexandrians come together for one hell of a town meeting. Characters made fateful decisions, the theme of forgiveness was ever present, and the biggest surprise of the night was the survival of everyone in Rick’s group.
The episode opens with Morgan traveling through the woods, and seeing him again after all this time was enjoyable (the show did its job building up the anticipation of his return). It turns out Morgan has been searching for an old friend – and we all know who that is. He’s slowed down, however, when one of the “Wolves” (with a W carved into his forehead as his call sign) arrives. Despite the gun pointed at Morgan, the Wolf makes small talk, but then says he plans to take everything from Morgan – including Morgan himself. Morgan’s willing to give up all his supplies but anything lethal, he just won’t allow. Another Wolf shows up, but Morgan grabs a wooden staff and unleashes the most awesome ninja fighting skills onto the unsuspecting guys. When the wolves are unconscious, Morgan drags them into the back of a car. He honks the horn, and it’s unclear whether or not he was trying to draw walkers toward the men. But judging from what Morgan will say later (more about that to come), he probably deliberately spared them. Too bad – he should have taken a page out of Rick’s book and swiftly killed them.
Back at the safe zone, Rick wakes up from his knock on the head, where Michonne is waiting to lecture him. Carol, Glenn, and Abraham visit and tell Rick about the armory now being guarded, and that Deanna will hold a town meeting to decide Rick’s fate. It’s notable that even in front of her own group members, Carol pretends she doesn’t know about Rick’s stolen gun. Rick tells the others they may have to take hostages and threaten to kill them to gain access to the armory. Later, when he and Carol are alone, Rick says he doesn’t want to lie anymore. But Carol immediately calls him out on the inherent contradiction of both of those actions (not lying and taking Alexandria), saying “Oh sunshine, you don’t get both.” The sentiment was true to Carol’s nature, but she has a ton of respect for Rick. The line felt oddly placed to me. Her “children like stories” line, referencing the naïve Alexandrians, played much better.
We see more of Carol’s humorous and menacing boldness when she makes a visit to Pete, telling him to check on Tara. He yells at her to get out, and she threatens his life, because, well, she can. She finally stands up to an abuser, calling him a nothing, and it’s clear he’s a substitute for Ed. And were her husband still alive to see this Carol, he too would have cowered under the weight of her fierceness.
Meanwhile, Sasha is still out in the woods, piling up a walker body count – literally. After throwing a large pack into a hole, she lies down on top of all of them. I know what the show was going for – a sense of peace among the dead and all that, but for me, Sasha just came across as wallowing in her misery. At least her mental state wasn’t just filler in this episode, but was actually an important part of the theme that ran through the entire finale.
Aaron and Daryl are also in the woods, looking for people to invite back to Alexandria. They see a guy in a red poncho wondering around, and because he seems competent, Daryl wants to trail him. When they lose the guy, Aaron has them stop at a canned food warehouse for more supplies – a decision that proves to be a fateful one. Once there, they fall for a trap set up by The Wolves, opening several trailers that unleashes a mass of walkers. They seek refuge in a car, but the zombies immediately surround it.
While Aaron and Daryl are trying to decide their next move, they take a moment to verbalize their mutual respect for one another. It’s interesting that anyone who gets paired with Daryl – a self-proclaimed perpetual loner – ends up bonding with him. Rick, Carol, Beth, and Aaron all connected with Daryl, recognizing that beneath the tough exterior was a deep, vulnerable, and loyal soul. And Daryl equally responded to each one of them. Aaron also saw a fellow outsider in Daryl, and it’s pretty clear they make a good team, evidenced in part by their joint decision to make a desperate run of it together. But as the two are about to go on what would clearly be a doomed escape attempt, Morgan shows up and does his ninja thing, helping to clear the area, until all three men can lock the walkers behind a fence.
After introductions, Daryl asks why Morgan helped him and Aaron, to which Morgan replies, “Because all life is precious, Daryl.” This is definitely a new philosophy for Morgan, considering when we last saw him in Season 3’s “Clear” he was deeply distrustful of humanity and on the brink of insanity. His transformation, and the reasons for it, would be a good story to explore, and I really hope the talented Lennie James gets to join the cast as a regular next season.
Aaron tells Morgan about Alexandria and asks him to join their community, but Morgan tells them he’s headed somewhere else and just got lost. When he hands Daryl the map with Abraham’s note to Rick on it, a flash of recognition spreads across Daryl’s face. This scene was quite touching; Morgan has come such a long way – figuratively and literally. The character experienced tragedy in the very first episode of the series, and to see him five seasons later, at peace and close to finding Rick – well, it was pretty fulfilling.
Behind the walls of Alexandria, Father Gabriel wants to go for a walk without a gun because, “The word of God is the only protection I need.” But he doesn’t want protection, he wants to die. He draws the attention of a walker, but at the last minute, he can’t let it take him, and ends up killing it via a noose and large rock. It’s interesting that both Gabriel and Sasha have been drawing out the walkers on purpose, courting death on account of their never-ending pain, but always allowing their self-preservation instinct to take over. It seemed very fitting that they should be paired up in this episode, ultimately snapping each other out of their individual anguish.
But first, Gabriel returns back inside, though his brush with death hasn’t helped his state of mind. Spencer is eager to get to the town meeting, so he foolishly leaves Gabriel with the task of closing the gate. He should have known just by the wild-eyed look on Gabriel’s face something was up, but those Alexandrians aren’t portrayed as the sharpest tools in the shed.
Gabriel agrees to close the gate, but doesn’t – apparently feeling so guilt ridden he decides he and everyone else deserves to die. After how he’s been acting, it really makes me wish Gabriel could have gotten trapped in that revolving door at the warehouse instead of Noah.
Glenn was one of three characters (in addition to Rick and Sasha) who held a life in his hands in this episode. When he sees his nemesis Nicholas climb the wall, Glenn immediately follows him, and it’s clear this will lead to a showdown. Nicholas wastes no time and shoots Glenn – but it’s only a shoulder wound and Glenn gets away. When Nicholas has to give his position away by shooting a walker, the game is on. Their fight was actually pretty suspenseful, because you just didn’t know who would win. Nicholas overpowers Glenn, cruelly shoving his hand in Glenn’s bullet wound and leaving him to the walkers. For a moment it seemed like Glenn would be the casualty of the episode, but he managed to escape, even if we didn’t see how he fought off three walkers closing in on him while he was flat on his back. But I know by now that the show doesn’t concern itself with the “how” when it comes to battling walkers – each survivor seems to have a varying degree of capability , depending on whether or not they will make it through an episode. But I like Glenn, so I’ll go with his unexplained resourcefulness.
There were many touching moments between our survivors woven throughout this finale, including Rick and Michonne’s moment together. When Rick comes clean about the guns and secret meetings with Carol and Daryl, Michonne is understanding. She thinks they can work it out with the Alexandrians, but if they can’t, she tells Rick, “I’m still with you.” It was nice to see that despite initially pushing Alexandria onto Rick, and even knocking him out, her loyalty to him will never waver.
Rick is obviously ambivalent about how things will go down at the meeting, recalling Bob’s prophetic words about how “You’re gonna find yourself in a place where it’s like how it used to be. And if you let too much go along the way, it’s not gonna work.” Rick got some reprieve from the nightmare they were all living, but somehow Alexandria wasn’t the dream they all hoped it would be. But before Rick can make his move at the meeting, he notices the entrance gate and metal wall are wide open, causing him to race outside and investigate.
Sasha finally returns from her walker killing spree and finds her way into the chapel to see Father Gabriel. She asks for help, but Gabriel isn’t in a helping mood. He rants about how she and the others don’t deserve to be there, and when he mentions how Tyreese was a part of the bloodshed the survivors perpetrated, Sasha is ready to take Gabriel down.
The fateful meeting – and the climactic action in the episode – begins, and Rick’s people have his back, talking about his skills and how he has a knack for doing what needs to be done and keeping people alive. Rick’s absence is seen as apathy, especially to Deanna, but Rick is busy fighting off the walkers that shambled in through the open gate. He takes care of all but one, and it starts to overpower him. I hate to bring up this point again, but I don’t understand how a survivor could have so much trouble with one walker in an episode when many times, he or she has singlehandedly fought off a small herd in another episode. Heck, Glenn took care of at least three in this finale. I’ll just have to chalk it up to varying degrees of fatigue and move on. Rick does eventually squeeze the “life” out of the walker, exploding the zombie’s face guts all over himself.
Meanwhile, The Wolves take poncho man and kill him. They herd the walkers back into the trailers in order to trap more people, because that’s what they do. But then they get an unexpected gift when they find Aaron’s backpack with pictures, papers, and everything they will need to terrorize the Alexandrians next season.
Sasha’s moment of truth with Father Gabriel comes at the same time as Glenn’s with Nicholas. Glenn’s built up rage over Nicholas’ responsibility in Noah’s death – not to mention Nicholas’ multiple attempts on Glenn’s life – results in Glenn putting a gun to Nicholas’ head. Simultaneously, Sasha also reaches her breaking point after Gabriel’s tirade, and points her rifle at the priest’s head. But unlike Nicholas, Gabriel won’t plead for his life – he wants Sasha to pull the trigger. But neither Glenn nor Sasha go through with it, Glenn on account of his inherent humanity, and Sasha with the help of Maggie, who acknowledges Gabriel’s grievous sins in order to help him overcome his guilt.
Rick finally arrives at the meeting (better late than never) with a walker on his back, and when he drops it on the ground (to everyone’s horror), he fills Deanna and the others in on what has happened due to substandard security. Then Rick does what Rick (and Andrew Lincoln) does best, giving an impassioned speech about survival, and those who would try and take it from the people in Alexandria. Ultimately, he knows what needs to be done. “We’ll survive,” he tells the others. “I’ll show you how… I was thinking how many of you do I have to kill to save your lives? But I’m not gonna do that. You’re gonna change.”
Juxtaposed with Rick’s speech are shots of Sasha, Maggie and Father Gabriel holding hands in prayer, Glenn helping Nicholas up and walking him back inside the walls, and Tara waking up to a smiling Rosita. When all seems as well as it gets on The Walking Dead, Pete comes in, brandishing a sword and raging about Rick. Reg tries to intervene, and Pete – in the most freakish accident ever – slashes Reg’s throat. As Reg dies in a horrified Deanna’s arms, she gives Rick the ok to kill Pete, which he does without hesitation. And as fate would have it, Daryl, Aaron, and Morgan arrive, just in time to see Rick executing a community member.
This finale tied up all the loose ends (answering every single question I posed from last week). It was no easy task, and Scott Gimple did a great job with the script, blending action and emotion together seamlessly. So much happened so fast, with scenes passing on the screen at a very quick clip – yet nothing seemed disjointed (though it did make for a difficult review trying to pull it all together). Moreover, building blocks were set in place for potential stories next year, including Morgan and Rick’s reunion, Morgan’s transformation into a Zen master, The Wolves infiltration of The Safe Zone, and the Alexandrians readying to defend their territory.
It’s been a long road from episode 5.1, which is a testament to how much story was told. It brings about a strong sense of a long journey, which is exactly what the show aims to do with Rick and his people. By the end of the season, you feel like you’ve experienced it all with characters you care about. And for any drama series, that is a job well done.