It’s season finale time for The Walking Dead as the Alexandrians decide whether or not to cast out Rick (Andrew Lincoln) after last episode’s events.
Let’s bitch it out…
Regular The Walking Dead reviewer TVAngie asked “how do you solve a problem like Rick Grimes?” last week. It’s a great question – one that demands consideration of not only Rick’s current issues adapting to the utopic Stepford-like existence of Alexandria. but also his evolution throughout the series. There’s no denying that Rick has had a tough go of things over the last five seasons and he’s lost so many things and people that it’s hardly surprising that he looks at these people who have no awareness of what the “real world” looks like with contempt. We’ve seen the real horrors: The Governor, the Termites, hell even dull-old Dawn. These are people who felt justified in what they were doing because they thought it had to be done in order to survive. Rick always proved them wrong because he is the one who gets to decide what is wrong and right, but increasingly of late, his moral compass is wavering.
Which brings us to Alexandria and the finale ‘Conquer’. Ever since the group arrived at the protected town, there’s been a tension about whether our group would be able lay down their weapons and return to “normal” life or if they would rise up and become the new Governors, Termites, etc. We’ve been these peaceful hamlets twice before (The Walking Dead loves its cyclical storytelling), but both Herschel’s farm (snooze) and the early days at the prison were very different. The events of the last few seasons have been so much worse than anything in the early years; Rick alone has collected so much more baggage. The tension caused by living in a supposedly “safe” place has been fascinating, watching our group try to adapt, resist and rebel against the idyllic life they now find themselves in is fertile dramatic ground to explore. Or at least it should be in this expanded 90 minute finale…
When last week’s episode ended, there was a suggestion that things would really blow up in the finale: would Michonne (Danai Gurira) side with the Alexandrians and go to war against Rick? Would a zombie horde stumble onto the town? Would the mysterious W people stage an attack? It seemed as though ‘Conquer’ would once again break open all hell on The Walking Dead.
None of this ultimately comes to pass. Normally I would applaud the series for taking a subdued, unexpectedly introspective direction, but unfortunately ‘Conquer’ feels lifeless and rote instead. I had hoped that with the option to dig deeper, we would see more of Alexandria and its citizens, particularly in the wake of Rick’s troubling actions. Instead it feels like a ghost town that is populated solely by Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh), Reg (Steve Coulter), Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), Pete (Corey Brill) and our people. There’s never a sense that Rick’s actions have created a seismic shift in the community: this feels like an insular issue that Deanna will decide using her totalitarian method. Hell, even the final town meeting where testimony is given for both sides feels more like a campfire chat where people extol Rick’s virtues and a few of our people plot a bloody revolution when/if Rick is given the boot.
The fact that Rick is ultimately proven right is incredibly frustrating. Obviously the Alexandrians are ill-equipped for life outside of the walls, but clearly they have a system in place that has worked well enough to keep them safe this long. Yet all it takes is Deanna’s absent-minded son to leave the gate unguarded and suddenly there’s a walker infestation that provides Rick the means to make his argument and be the town’s saviour. The fact that he literally crashes the meeting moments before Deanna would have presumably booted him out is the cherry on top. I’m always reticent to cry foul of narrative convenience, but this feels awfully artificially created, especially when Pete stumbles into the proceedings in a drunken rage, accidentally kills Reg and prompts Deanna to concede to Rick that harsh actions must be taken in order to guarantee their safety. The final moments not only prove Rick’s thesis about the cost of safety (via more grand speechifying!), they also allow the writers the opportunity to confirm their thesis that people are just as dangerous as zombies. Truly novel <sarcasm>
Had Rick’s righteousness been the only unfortunate narrative choice, ‘Conquer’ might have been tolerable. Unfortunately there are two other eggregious developments that simply don’t sit well.
The first is a bad decision on the part of the writers to give Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) a prominent role in the finale. For as long as he’s been on the show, Gabriel has been an excruciating character and although Gilliam is a fine actor, the character’s frequent stupidity makes me wish he would become zombie chow (I might have cheered when I thought he was going to martyr himself to a walker). While the exploration of grief, PTSD and survivor’s remorse is a worthy topic, psychology has never been the show’s strong suit and scenes with Gabriel and Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) suffer as a result. We simply don’t know (care?) enough about these two for their story lines to have the intended emotional impact. The final scene when Maggie (Lauren Conrad) joins them in prayer feels especially shrug-worthy.
The second problematic story line in the finale is Glenn’s (Steven Yuen) battle with Nicholas (Michael Traynor). I’ll confess that I just don’t understand the motivations for this. Does Nicholas truly believe that his secret is worth killing Glenn for? Perhaps I could buy it if the outcome weren’t so forced – no amount of strategic editing could make me believe that Glenn escaped from the clutches of three or four walkers unscathed and then forgives Nicholas enough to carry him home. As much as I like Yuen, his character should have died or he should be infected when the show resumes. Either that or the writers risk casting doubt on their claims that “no one is safe”.
- Not everything about ‘Conquer’ was bad, however. Carol (Melissa McBride) and Michonne’s brief scenes with Rick are powerful and understated. In some ways these two have been playing Devil and Angel on Rick’s shoulders – Carol whispering about how easy it will be to take-over and Michonne pleading with Rick to be vigilant looking out for trouble, but not be the trouble. TVAngie is right about the show’s depiction of woman in power; we’ve come a long way since the days of whiny Andrea and Lori.
- Loved Carol’s interaction with Pete when she tells him that she could kill him and everyone would believe her. Badass Carol is awesome.
- I don’t love that Michonne seemingly agrees with Rick, despite everything that occurred last week. While I understand that she feels kinship to him, the fact that she knocked him out suggested that there was conflict brewing. Instead it seems like she just hopes that he’ll wake up calmer.
- My favourite scenes are those that feature Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Aaron (Ross Marquand), although I found it mildly worrying that I liked them best considering they are well within the show’s traditional wheelhouse (characters on the run, scavenging in exposed areas). It doesn’t hurt that director Greg Nicotero stages the Wolves’ trap in a tense and exciting fashion, but there’s also a sense of vibrancy that accompanies Daryl’s realization that he prefers to be free to run.
- I also quite enjoyed the cold open featuring the return of Morgan (Lennie Jones). We not only learn a little about the philosophy of the Wolves (who are a little too similar to previous human villains IMO), we get a sense of how changed Morgan is. When last Morgan and Rick met, it was the former who was feral and blood hungry. Now their positions are reversed: Rick is symbolically covered in blood and viscera, while Morgan has become a pacifist ninja who believes in the sanctity of human life. One can only hope that Morgan’s arrival heralds the start of a new chapter in their friendship wherein Morgan talks Rick off the ledge and affords much, much more screen time for Jones. It’s about time he gets to join the ensemble full-time.
- Aaron mentions that Deanna didn’t allow a small group of people into Alexandria. Want to bet that these three morphed into the Wolves? We should find out sooner rather than later now that the Wolves have pictures and maps courtesy of Aaron’s dropped bag.
- RIP red poncho guy. We didn’t know you at all or why you ultimately needed to die. Hopefully Morgan doesn’t find out that letting those two dudes live resulted in your death (though in Morgan’s defense, he did honk the car horn, so perhaps he was ringing the dinner bell for the zombies and they just never came?)
- Carol (when Michonne asks why they should tell the Alexandrians lies): “Because these people are children and children like stories.”
- Carol (threatening Pete): “I want my dish back clean when you’re done.”
Your turn: what did you think of the supersized finale? Are you disappointed that Rick was ultimately proven right or do you think that the Alexandrians needed a wake-up call? Did you find the Gabriel/Sasha storyline labourious? Was Nicholas’ rationale for attacking Glenn justified? Should Glenn be infected? And who or what are the Wolves? Sound off below, but please bear in mind our spoiler policy: stick to the episodes of the show that have aired, not what happens in the graphic novels.
The Walking Dead has now finished airing its fifth season. As TV’s highest rated series, it has already been renewed for S6 and will return with new episodes in the fall. Thanks for reading!