NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of The Walking Dead are present in this review
With last week’s especially great episode, “Try”, the show effectively geared up to a very tense and exciting season finale for The Walking Dead this week. The fact that AMC gave this episode a 90-minute timeslot, something that hasn’t been done since the Season Two premiere, felt like even more cause for excitement! Something big was clearly about to go down!
… Except that didn’t really happen. “Conquer” was a disappointing sour note to end Season Five on, with everything building up to one enormous anti-climax for the most part. It felt like a waste of the extra half-hour, with plenty of material left to speculate on for the already-confirmed Season Six, but few things of note being accomplished in the actual Season Five finale. Hell, it’s not even until the very last thirty seconds of the episode that the series actually feels like it moves forward, and even then, not by much.
At the very least, “Conquer” begins on a cool note. Morgan runs afoul of some bandits, who set up inevitable Season Six baddies, The Wolves, and takes them out, honking a car and leaving them with no means of escape. It’s a great intro that’s filled with intense dialogue, and plenty of badass appeal on Morgan’s part, even if it does eat up a somewhat excessive ten minutes at the start of things.
From there though, the season finale slows to a crawl, and doesn’t really accomplish much. In fact, what’s especially frustrating about it is that it cancels out a lot of the effective dramatic momentum from “Try” last week. Rick wakes up to confront Michonne after Michonne punched him out at the conclusion of last week’s episode, in full view of the entire community, and… Nothing. Michonne and Rick make peace immediately, with Michonne saying that she’s behind Rick 100%, and simply did it for his sake. Then Rick forgives her. Well, so much for this group divide that’s been teased so much. That gets even worse later, but I’ll get to that.
Meanwhile, Daryl and Aaron are trying to track down a man in a red poncho, and end up stumbling across a large supply of food. Unfortunately, this ends up being a trap set by the Wolves, with Daryl and Aaron appearing to be cornered in a car. Surely, this is the end for them, right? Nope! Morgan bails them out, and nothing of value was lost or gained. Another zero sum.
This does at least lead to Morgan meeting up with Daryl and Aaron, and puts Morgan on the final steps to another reunion with Rick, sure. With that said, for a situation that was made to be so hopeless (how did that car even hold up with all of those Walkers’ weights against it?), Daryl and Aaron getting out of it completely unscathed felt like a cheat. The trap itself is clever, with the Wolves showing that they lure the Walkers in by making noise inside of the trucks, then use them so that passersby inadvertently kill themselves, but this doesn’t mean anything until Season Six. The Wolves are only around to tease the new season, and serve no other purpose.
Since the Rick/Michonne conflict was a dud, two other conflicts remained in Alexandria outside of the issues with Rick; The first being Gabriel, who is being his typical contrived drama/peril device, leaving the gate open after chickening out of a suicide attempt, then fighting with Sasha in his church, while Nicholas lures Glenn outside to try and kill him. In both cases, it looks like everyone is screwed. Rick discovers that Walkers got into the town, Gabriel appears to be ready to murder Sasha after she confesses that she wants to die, and Glenn has three Walkers piled on him, all ready to chow down, after Nicholas shoots Glenn in the shoulder. Glenn’s definitely going to die now, right?!
Nope! Glenn gets out of that jam (completely off-screen, which feels very lazy on the part of the writers), and overpowers Nicholas. Personally, I actually find it downright hilarious that people still think Glenn is doomed. He’s clearly the luckiest S.O.B. on this entire show! The amount of times that he’s cheated death in Season Five is astounding, and I think the showrunners have made their point by now. Glenn isn’t going anywhere. Every time you act like he is, the show is literally making fun of you.
While this is going on, Rick’s group is forced to speak for him during a council meeting, with Carol, Abraham and Maggie delivering testimonials about why Rick is essential to their survival, and the survival of Alexandria, in the new world. This is effectively off-set by Rick having to fend off Walkers unarmed, and even having to literally rip the head off of one from the eye sockets, which is an effectively tense and gross scene. Seeing Rick stumble into the meeting covered in Walker goop was an effective and chilling allegory for him being the one to have to do what is necessary, so that the others may live.
Unfortunately, this scene was also off-set by the ridiculous Glenn/Nicholas and Gabriel/Sasha fights, with Glenn and Sasha managing to hold guns to the faces of their attackers, and… Refusing to kill them. Are you kidding me?! Both of these characters clearly deserve to die. They are trouble. They serve no other purpose than being trouble. Glenn and Sasha of all people letting them live makes no sense at all either. It just tied back into the frustrating final minutes of the season finale, which make Glenn and Sasha look like even bigger idiots for sparing these murderous troublemakers, and again, it felt like a major cheat.
What were the final minutes? Pete conveniently comes along in a rage, holding Michonne’s sword, and somehow cuts the throat of Deanna’s husband when he tries to control the situation (in a pretty contrived way), with Deanna then finally giving Rick the go-ahead to just put the bastard down, rendering all of Alexandria’s and namely Deanna’s issues with Rick’s methods entirely pointless in the end, since everyone just inevitably falls in line behind him. Daryl and Aaron also coincidentally lead Morgan right to Rick’s side, just as Rick takes charge of the community, and shoots Pete in the head. What happens next? Well, tune in to Season Six in the Fall to find out!
As you can see, “Conquer” felt like it took the easy way out in too many instances. The conflicts with Rick and the rest of the group went completely nowhere, the Alexandria arc is still in effect, all of the characters that should have ended up dead wound up living (whether it made sense or not), Deanna’s husband was the only fatality (which feels like a small miracle for a season finale of The Walking Dead), and the new villains have yet to really interact with the heroes. The whole episode just felt like one giant cheat, and it completely failed to be the huge conflict that the series was promising to close off Season Five.
To be fair, there were still good moments. The episode was well-directed, particularly with the Morgan intro, and the council meeting to decide Rick’s fate, but the story itself was a huge let-down. Season Five has been rife with high’s and low’s, and unfortunately, “Conquer” falls into one of the low’s overall. It’s probably one of the most infuriating missed opportunities in the show’s history, and with a 90-minute timeslot, there’s especially no excuse for so little to have ultimately been accomplished!
- Cool Morgan intro
- The Wolves' Walker trap
- Nicely tense Rick council
- Rick conflicts all ultimately went nowhere
- Too many improbable survivals
- The Wolves serve no real purpose yet