Warning: Spoilers ahead for those who have not seen the season 5 finale “Conquer.”
Just by virtue of the term “finale,” most people associate season finales with some sort of ending or loss. In fact, viewers have become so accustomed to either deaths or a major cliffhanger leaving characters on the brink that they often become annoyed if it doesn’t go down this way. Of course, this is even more true with a show like The Walking Dead where death and danger lurk around every corner, and not just in that final hour of the season. For the first 4 seasons of this series, the writers have kept close to this formula, and each one ended with at least one major character death or someone in peril. This year, the writing team decided to deviate and end the season on something very surprising and unexpected — healing, hope, and a new beginning. Granted, we didn’t get through the 90-minute episode without some losses, but in some ways, those losses and the associated heartbreak were necessary to open the doors to unity, solidarity and better times.
UNITED WE STAND — DIVIDED WE FALL
As much as we saw Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) team unite in the episode “Them” when the storm passed through the area, there still were some major fissures in this group. Unable to cope with Bob, Tyreese, and Noah’s deaths, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) has continued to isolate herself more and more from everyone. The battle lines between Maggie (Lauren Cohen) and Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) had been drawn, and Gabe made the gap even bigger in “Spend” when he ratted out the group to Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh). Tonight, these characters are able to put all of that behind them and do what they should have done a long time ago — come together and hold each other up, instead of trying to pull each other down.
It starts with Gabriel. He takes another stab at facing his past sins, but this time it includes going outside the walls and trying to commit suicide by walker. In the end, he doesn’t go through with it and goes back to the church where he finds Sasha waiting for him. By this time, we’ve been witness to the super-creepy scene of Sasha digging a grave for some walkers and lying in it herself. This girl needs help, and fortunately, she decides to come to Father Gabriel for it.
But, Gabriel wants to die. Gabe makes a snide comment about Bob, which sets Sasha off and causes her to attack him. Maggie comes in at this exact comment and pulls them apart, but not before Gabriel yells that Sasha should have gone through with it. He left all of his people to die, and he deserves nothing less than death. Maggie takes Gabriel’s hand, and the scene ends with all 3 of them praying together.
2 major conflicts resolved here, but still plenty more to iron out before this group is anything more than a dysfunctional family.
A SAD LOSS BUT A NECESSARY SACRIFICE
If all these people in Alexandria are going to live and work together, something was going to have to change. Deanna running the safe zone completely oblivious to all the threats around her wasn’t going to work, and Rick pointing guns at everyone, all wild-eyed definitely wasn’t going to work either. Something would have to happen — something major — that would make both of these characters see that there’s another solution, and one besides their own.
The episode begins with Rick not really wavering from his original plans, even after having the crap nearly beat out of him in front of everyone in the community. Rick wakes up about the time that Carol (Melissa McBride), Glenn (Steven Yeun), and Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) arrive to discuss what Rick should say at the meeting they are holding later that night. The meeting is to decide what Deanna should do with Rick, and Carol’s plan is for Rick to say exactly what they want to hear: that he was wrong and that he will follow their rules from this point on. Of course, Carol really doesn’t mean it, and it’s just a ploy to buy them more time before they make their move, as she explains to Michonne (Danai Gurira) when she asks why:
Because these people are children, and children like stories — Carol to Michonne
Rick then steps up and reveals his new plan to reinstate the Ricktatorship: Hold Deanna and her family at knife point and simply take over. Wow, Rick. Some things really never change. You really think everyone else in Alexandria would respect you and see you as their new leader? You know, a true leader is someone who makes everyone else think his ideas are their own and that there is no other way. Somehow I don’t think everyone in the safe zone will believe the best solution is for you to take their home by force. One good thing that did come out of this — Rick at least admits he was wrong, and that’s a step in the right direction.
I hit my limit, I screwed up and here we are. Excuse me, I want to sleep some more — Rick Grimes
Unfortunately, Carol isn’t much better. While Deanna certainly did not agree with killing Pete Anderson (Corey Brill), she did take one piece of Rick’s advice and separated him from the rest of his family. Pete decides to strike back by refusing to continue to treat Tara (Alanna Masterson) which prompts Carol to act. On the pretense of bringing Pete some food, the Betty Crocker homemaker facade quickly comes down, and Carol threatens him right there with a knife unless he continues to care for Tara. Again, blatant violence isn’t the answer here, and Carol doesn’t really get the results she had hoped for.
Two very critical things happen that end up resolving this situation all on its own. Rick finds the gate that had been so carelessly left unlocked by Gabriel when he came back and immediately knows that walkers are now inside the walls. He’s right too, because it doesn’t take long for him to find 3 dead ones, which he is able to take down by barely lifting a finger. This is exactly the evidence Rick needed to prove to Deanna that her plan is careless and will only get people killed.
So, Rick crashes the town meeting that is being held to decide his fate, and throws the dead walker right at Deanna’s feet.
The ones out there will hunt us, they’ll find us, they’ll try to use us, they’ll try to kill us. But, we’ll kill them, we’ll survive. I’ll show you how. I was thinking how many of you will I have to kill to save your lives but I’m not going to do that. You need to change now — Rick to Deanna
At this very pivotal moment, the 2nd major event plays out with Pete barging in and waving, Oh My Freaking God, Michonne’s katana. Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) had said in the last episode that locking up her husband would never work, and if anyone knows the man, it’s certainly her. For those who are familiar with the comics, you’ll know this scene goes down exactly like in the source material. Pete lunges for Rick but poor Reg (Steve Coulter) steps in and ends up getting his own throat slashed instead. Poor Deanna! She just lost her son, Aiden, and now, her beloved husband is dying in her arms, which could have been avoided if she had just listened to Rick. She then says those 2 very famous words that Douglas Monroe uttered in the comics after his wife, Regina, is killed in the same manner — “Do it.” Rick obliges without hesitation, and Porch Dick is no more.
We will have to wait until season 6 to see the aftermath of this heartbreaking event, but my guess is Rick will become the new leader of Alexandria or will lead it alongside Deanna. And, as sad as these losses are, they unfortunately were very necessary. Pete was an extremely violent man and would continue to cause nothing but divisions among the group and quite possibly would get someone killed. And, Deanna was too blind to see it unless something so big, so earth-shattering were to happen to get her to turn around and see Rick’s point of view — and that turned out to be the death of her Reg at the hands of Pete.
WELCOME BACK, MORGAN JONES
Of all the theories about what would occur in the season 5 finale, the one thing that I was fairly certain would happen is our seeing Morgan (Lennie James) again, and I mean more than some post-credit scene. It’s been a full year since we learned that Morgan had gotten past his brief stint in Crazy Town, and his finding Rick’s map in the mid-season finale made it likely that the 2 would cross paths fairly soon. It turns out my suspicions were right on target, and I don’t think I could imagine a better to re-introduce the character.
The writers didn’t waste any time either, because we get to see Morgan right in the opening scene. The scene shows Morgan waking up in a car and then proceeds to make some food by the fire (I wonder if the light that Daryl saw in the dark last week was, in fact, Morgan and not the Wolves like most people had assumed). Here we get our first glimpse at one of the Wolves (Benedict Samuel) who sneaks up behind Morgan and holds him at gunpoint. Morgan asks what the W on his forehead means, and he replies with a very cheesy, clichéd story:
You know, the first settlers here put bounties on wolves’ heads, brought the natives into it, made them hunt them. It didn’t take them too long to kill them all (points to the W on his forehead). Well, they’re back now. Thoughts? — Wolf #1 to Morgan
Uh, what? Of course, when he said this I rolled my eyes first because it was stupid, and second, because this guy had no idea who he was dealing with. Morgan has literally been on his own and by himself since the outbreak, and the man is still alive! If anybody knows how to handle himself, it’s Morgan, which he demonstrates by knocking this jerk-off “wolf” right on his ass as well as his sidekick (Jessie C. Boyd). Morgan then ties them both up, put them in the car, honks the horn and walks away. If only we were so lucky that these 2 assholes wouldn’t make it…
But, the best Morgan scenes are yet to come, the first one being with Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Aaron (Ross Marquand). The 2 spot a guy wearing a red poncho (Haha! Love the reference to Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolves. The writers must have had fun the day they wrote this one!), but lose him as they stumble on a food warehouse. They open a truck, which turns out to be a trap (no doubt set by the Wolves) that releases 3 truckloads more of walkers. What a mess. They are finally able to get away and take refuge in a car, but within just a few moments it’s surrounded by walkers beating on the windows. What now? With Daryl used to being in the hero role, he wants to fight as many off and clear a path for Aaron, but Aaron says they’re a team and should work together.
We fight together. Whether we make it or not, we go together. That’s how it has to be — Aaron to Daryl
Ah, love how close these 2 have become.
Well, they don’t have to decide because Morgan decides for them. He shows up just in time and is able to save both of them. You go, Ninja Morgan! Aaron is thoroughly impressed and begins to tell Morgan of the Alexandria Safe Zone. Morgan doesn’t seem that interested because he is on his way to somewhere else but is lost. It is here that he pulls out the map that he found in Gabriel’s church, the same one that reads, “I’m sorry I was such an asshole. Come to Washington. The New World’s gonna need Rick Grimes.” Daryl’s eyes get big, he looks at Morgan, but he doesn’t acknowledge knowing anything about the note or the map.
At this point, we really don’t know what is going to happen with Morgan next. But, then I remembered why Aaron asked Daryl to join him as a recruiter in the first place — because Daryl knows the difference between the footsteps of a walker and a human AND because Daryl can tell if a person is good. If this is true, Daryl will be able to glean immediately that Morgan is a good guy and should be on their team. Well, that must have been what happened because in the final scene of the episode, we get the reunion that fans have been waiting for.
Pete has been killed, and the conflict between Rick and Deanna has been resolved de facto. Gabriel, Sasha, and Maggie are praying together. Glenn is carrying Nicholas (Michael Traynor) back even though he tried to kill him. Tara is waking up. All problems have been solved, and we now have Alexandria United. Yay. Rick hears a familiar voice, and when he looks up, he sees Daryl, Aaron and yes, Morgan. What an amazing scene in an already amazing episode. In my eyes, the group is now complete.
I absolutely loved this episode, I really did, but I suspect there will be plenty of fans who won’t. It will be called dull, boring, and a whole slew of other less-than-flattering adjectives all because it wasn’t 90 minutes of walker-crushing action or because something major like a full-blown attack on Alexandria by the Wolves didn’t happen. But that is exactly what made this episode so good, and in fact, close to perfect. In addition, we actually needed an episode like this going into season 6, knowing some of the storylines that are yet to come.
Last week’s episode left the characters all over the place. Michonne had to knock Rick out because he had gotten so out of control. Crazy Carol’s solution to the Pete problem was to commit murder. Gabe and Maggie were still at odds, Sasha was continuing to show the signs of being unhinged and quite possibly suicidal. And, Abraham and Eugene still hadn’t spoken since Eugene’s lie had been revealed. This is definitely not a group that I think could live together, work together, survive together inside the same walls.
But, with a new threat lurking outside the gates and the possibility of a herd attack in the near future, these people really needed to get their sh*t together. Seriously. And they did, which is what this finale was all about — unity and solidarity and through the eyes of the characters. By the way, such an episode is not easy to pull off, folks and still be engaging and able to keep the viewers’ attention. A season finale with big fight sequences against the Wolves or an attack by a horde would have been easy to do, but it would have also been a cop-out. The writers could have whipped a finale like that together in no time at all and be home by early evening for dinner with the kids.
But, that’s not what they did, and the result was a fantastic episode full of some great character development, to get these people where they needed to be. This is also why the finale needed to be 90 minutes long. You can’t have all of these conflicts between characters just magically resolve themselves. That would be stupid, and it wouldn’t be believable. You need to take the time to examine each character up close and personal and see how each issue resolves itself over time.
It takes an enormous amount of talent to pull something like this off, and Scott Gimple and Co. did a superb job doing it every step of the way. In fact, the entire cast did an exceptional job, making each character feel real and creating a connection with the fans, even with some of the relatively minor characters like Father Gabriel and Sasha. Who would have thought that we get to the point of actually liking Father Gabriel and viewing him a possible asset to the community?
And, of course there’s the re-introduction of Morgan, along with Lennie James’ amazing delivery. Here you have a character from the comics that is uninteresting and singular at best, and the writers managed to take that and create one that is very well-developed and captivating. What’s more, they did it with the character being in just 2 episodes and 2 post-credit scenes. That should tell you volumes right there.
So, what does this all mean going into season 6? No doubt not everything is going to be a rose garden, because we know the Wolves are a very real threat now that one of them managed to find the pictures of Alexandria in Aaron’s backpack and due to that post-credit scene. If these Wolves turn out to be a souped-up version of the comic-book Scavengers, we know they are nomads who have been looking for a place to settle down for quite a while, and those pictures gave them a glimpse of exactly what they have been searching for. Make no mistake, they will attack, but with Alexandria now being a place of truly united, strong people, free of conflict, I’m certain they’re able to take on just about anything — and most definitely a group of punks like the Wolves.
I think what Noah wrote in his journal right before he was killed sums up this episode fairly well. Noah’s final notation was, “This is the beginning.” This may be the finale and we may have even lost 2 people, but this truly is a new beginning, and things will never be the same on The Walking Dead again.
The Walking Dead returns for Season 6 this October.
Critic Grade — A+
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com