“Conquer” – The Walking Dead Finale Questions Morality
“I was thinking, how many of you do I have to kill to save your life? I’m not gonna do that. You are gonna change.” – Rick Grimes.
Through its five seasons, The Walking Dead has cemented itself as a massive hit, breaking records, garnering a huge fan-base, and generating a tremendous amount of intrigue in the zombie genre. And while the show shares its moments of gore, blood, action, and cinematic zombie set-pieces, it has constantly struggled to show its true nature – the morality of humankind when the law and order of our society goes out the window. It is no surprise that Morgan made his return in last night’s episode, and it is even less of a surprise that his return ended with his reunion with Rick. There were plenty of shockers in the finale (the lack of deaths included), but mostly, it was a welcomed breath of fresh air to end the season with this immediate conflict of morality between Rick and Morgan, both of whom have undergone massive transformations since the last time they saw each other.
The last time we were treated to an extended look at Morgan was in Season Three’s standout episode “Clear.” I commented previously on how this was a landmark episode for the show. Lennie James has done fantastic work as Morgan since his very first appearance in “Days Gone Bye,” yet his reappearance in “Clear” was mostly a shock because he’d gone through significant changes since his son’s death. In anticipating his return to the finale, I knew that he would be changed man once more, considering his teased appearances had shown him to be more rational and calculating, and in fact the Morgan we saw in the cold open represented a true return to form. Letting the two men live showed him to be a clear counterpart to what Rick has become, and his line to Daryl that “all life is precious” only cemented his stance. As I mentioned, The Walking Dead is a show about morality that disguises itself as a show about zombies, and I hope that this differed state of mind between Rick and Morgan and the conflict that will surely arise can lead to a great string of episodes next season.
Last week, I predicted there would be deaths in the finale. Not a tough prediction to make, this is The Walking Dead, after all. I was wrong. Besides Reg and Pete, no major or even minor character perished. I should have done my research, because in truth, only one major character has ever died in a season finale – Andrea. There have been plenty of midseason finale deaths – Hershel, Beth, The Governor – but previous finales have largely been filled with big set-pieces, not deaths. I should have known that none of the more minor characters (Tara, Rosita, and Eugene) had yet developed enough to warrant a death. As much as I wanted Father Gabriel to die a horrific death, I should have also known that The Walking Dead would likely enlist Seth Gilliam for longer than one season. I still would not have been surprised to see Sasha’s death, but with her seeming reconciliation to the group and perhaps a return to form, I can see the show making good use of her once more.
The biggest surprise of the episode was how little actually happened, despite the monumental amount of tension that ran throughout. Last week, I also wondered if the show would be bold enough to kill one of its major characters, namely one of Rick, Carl, Michonne, Glenn, Maggie, or Carol. And while it is quite evident that the first three aren’t going anywhere, Glenn’s trip through the woods certainly had me scared. Let’s forget for a second that he somehow managed to get away after the zombies piled on him. As identified last week, the Chekhov’s Gun that Rick had stowed away was taken by Nicholas, and I for one was of the clear thought that the show wouldn’t do this unless it would be used for serious harm. Instead, it was used to prove once more that this is a show that debates morality. I also spoke in my last review about how half of our group had become entirely brutal, while the other half seemed to be hanging on to that sliver of humanity. Glenn is one of them, and he showed it last night. So while we all hoped he would kill Nicholas, I think we all knew he would not be able to do it, just as he couldn’t leave him behind after the disastrous run two weeks ago. Rick and Glenn may have been on the same page two seasons ago, but Rick is a changed man now. I do wonder if Glenn will ever be going through this same transformation. Realistically, I hope he won’t. The reason for this is twofold – one, I think that Glenn shows stronger potential as a character when he has his moral compass, and two, I think he would only ever be able to get to that point if he lost Maggie, which is not something I would say that I’m looking forward to.
This leads me to the more, should I say, muddied aspect of the finale, that ended with Maggie, Sasha, and Father Gabriel holding hands and praying. As I mentioned, I did hope that Father Gabriel would die a horrific death. I still can’t see the use of his character, but I’m a big Seth Gilliam fan and I still have hopes that the show can somehow redeem him. His quick trip outside the walls of Alexandria proved that no, he isn’t quite ready to go yet, but it also proved that yes, he is a giant coward with hardly any concerns for those around him. His story ends up tying into Sasha’s, because they’re both lost and confused, but as I said last week, I’m still not on the Sasha train, so it’s difficult to be too invested in where she might end up. I remain curious to see where these characters go from here, mostly in hope that it’s in a vastly different direction.
I also mentioned last week that Daryl and Aaron’s excursion felt like it was stalling for the finale. I was both right and wrong about this. Yes, the big zombie action set piece came tonight, as it should, but it was still stalling, because the true purpose behind this has been set up for next season – the Wolves. I can’t say I’m particularly intrigued by these characters or their motivations, but a threat to Alexandria is a conflict that we will need, and it was a clever way to tie Morgan back into the story without seeming too coincidental (though it was very close, as it usually is.) It also provided a bit more insight into Daryl’s character, who declares that he still feels more right trapped in that car than within the walls of Alexandria, and into Aaron, who once again proves himself to be a great character by refusing to accept Daryl as a sacrifice.
This all lead to the confrontation between Deanna and the group of at Alexandria. She says “‘We’re going to talk about one of our constables. Rick Grimes.” And they do talk about him, to varying degrees. Mostly, we get positive first-hand accounts from our survivors, detailing how they wouldn’t have survived without him. Rick comes in, bloodied from his encounter with the zombies that entered Alexandria through Father Gabriel’s neglect. It seems like a repeat of the previous night – until Pete comes in, Michonne’s sword in hand. In what probably proves to be the most revealing moment of the night, Carol whispers “not yet” to Rick as he draws his gun. Why? Because Deanna would still be opposed to it. That is, until Pete slices Reg’s poor throat. It was a master move of manipulation on Carol’s part to show up to Pete’s temporary home, casserole in one hand, knife in the other, and threaten him point-blank. I would argue that without that little move, Pete would never have been so furious as to show up to that meeting with a sword in hand, and I think Carol knew something to this effect would happen. It ties in to the quote that I placed at the start of this review – she was willing to sacrifice one of Alexandria’s people to prove that Rick’s way of doing things would be the right way of doing things. What a transformation Carol has undergone, the most of any of our survivors, and Melissa McBride has thrived in the role.
I have loved this last half-season of The Walking Dead. Three years ago, when our group was spending way too much time on Hershel’s farm, I never would have thought this show could become what it is today. While there are always going to be some road-bumps for the show, namely the coincidences, contrivances, and on-the-nose dialogue, I have to applaud it for taking risks (such as the episode with Tyreese’s death), for exploring themes, and for consistently striving to be more than just a zombie show. I cannot wait to see where the show takes Rick and Morgan, how Deanna handles the loss of her husband, and which minor character takes more spotlight only to be tragically killed. I await next season in bated breath.
- Zombie kill of the week easily belongs to Daryl’s triple kill with the chain.
- I don’t see why their meeting about Rick was held at night, besides for dramatic effect.
- Tara wakes up and is alive! What a cliffhanger!
- Someone pointed out that the guy in the red-hooded poncho was killed by the Wolves. Oh, symbolism.
- “Simply put, there is a vast ocean of shit you people don’t know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit, and then some.” Abraham gets the best line of the night, though Carol’s “Oh sunshine, you don’t get both,” line came very close.
- “Rick. Do it.”
Episode Grade: A-