The Walking Dead, Season 5, Episode 16: “Conquer”
Written by Scott M. Gimple and Beth Hoffman
Directed by Greg Nicotero
Airs Sundays at 9pm (ET) on AMC
Long live the Ricktatorship!
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Tonight’s episode of The Walking Dead is very reminiscent of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village. For a long time, Alexandria has been living in blissful ignorance, completely secure in their own laws and doctrines, and thinking that they’re closed off from the scourge of humanity, unaware that eventually humanity creeps into any safe haven one creates. People can put up walls and create illusions of happiness and monotony, but violence will eventually trickle through.
This is evident in the final scenes of the episode, where the trio of human violence far outweighs the violence inflicted by the walkers. Surely the dead are threats, but not as much as what the viewers see with the humans’ ability to self-sabotage. Even Daryl and Aaron’s predicament is brought on by the booby traps of the mysterious cult roaming the land. This becomes especially true with Nicholas’ death threat to Glenn as the two pursue one another in the woods, as well as Gabriel’s odyssey to exterminate himself via the walkers.
Alexandria was likely very close to keeping its citizens under control by creating another monster for the kids. But there are already plenty of human monsters lurking about, with the Wolves, Jessie’s abusive husband, and the two attackers in the opening that try to murder Morgan. The aspects that truly horrify viewers are the aspects that are involved with human beings. Surely, many might paint the final death in the season as a cheap ploy to up the body count, but it can also be seen as a final selling point for the intended message. People can put up all the walls they want, but humanity will eventually begin to self destruct and turn on one another before people are left with no other option but to resort to the classic laws of the land, including execution.
Rick was right all along, and the viewers see that after he’s knocked out by Michonne. Last week’s review painted “Try” as an episode with nothing but filler, but the finale puts “Try” in a different perspective. It’s clear now what the writers were aiming for with Rick’s breakdown. Everyone, even those that love Alexandria, admits that the Alexandrians are children, and nothing more than folks unprepared to deal with the harsh realities of the outside world. Even Nicholas’ assault on poor Glenn is an act of fear perpetrated by a man who is horrified of being ousted by the Alexandrians. The materials involving the Wolves is a striking and disturbing bit of cult vengeance, one being used by people that either worship or brutally loathe the walkers, and will do whatever necessary to instill that sense of terror in to those still completely oblivious.
Not even Daryl is prepared for the trailers filled with walkers, and Aaron is thirty kinds of completely out of his league during the fight. Rick’s final speech in the episode draws heavy parallels to the final monologue during “Beside the Dying Fire”, where the people prepared to oust Rick find that they need him more than he needs them, and much is said in the final scene, involving Rick by a fireside explaining once and for all that he’s a necessity and he’s going to pull Alexandria’s foot out of the mud, whether they know it’s in there or not. Because, judging by Father Gabriel’s little deed involving the fence, they need so much more protection and help than they’re aware of, and it’s brutally easy for the intruders to creep into their community.
There are many striking visual moments during the episode, including Sasha lying with the pile of walkers that she offed just hours before. It’s a sick but interesting ode to the idea that, to quote Night of the Living Dead, “We’re them and they’re us”. Sasha has a definite death wish, but it’s a great moment to see her finally step up and defend herself when Gabriel accuses her of being a murderer and being instrumental in the mutilation and death of Bob. It’s also nice to see Carl and Judith happy, and the final moment is also good to see, when Rick’s lingering sense of humanity appears in Alexandria, perhaps to level him out and play Zen to his wild dictator side, which has arisen in a very similar fashion to the Governor. Rick’s final act is what Philip Blake would have accomplished. Even Rick’s popping of the dead’s eyeballs is similar to how the governor murders the dead in the pit during “Dead Weight.”
In either sense, Rick has a firmer grasp on his sanity and what he’s going to accomplish with Alexandria. Deanna giving leadership to him as her husband lies dying is a wonderful moment that can be tallied as pure Rick Grimes badassery. It’s nice to see Morgan again, as Lennie James is a marvelous performer who turns the striking minor character into a compelling one full of grief, redemption, and rejuvenation. It’s smart of the writers to start on his life, as the episode begins and ends on Morgan’s trek to Alexandria. Though viewers are still unsure of where he’s going and how he plans to get there, it’s nice to see that a bit of serendipity landed him in the open arms of Daryl and Aaron, both of whom were at death’s door during the final half, and prepared to be torn apart for the sake of solidarity. It’s nice to see Aaron isn’t a coward, and that Daryl can rely on him when they’re recruiting new members.
As for Carol’s moment with Pete, it’s interesting to see how she doesn’t just stand up to, and threaten, only this abusive man, but all the abusive men she’s been forced to deal with her entire life. Carol definitely has a grasp on what she wants in Alexandria, and is willing to do whatever it takes to remain an integral part of the place, whether it’s cooking casseroles until her face turns blue, or scalping an abusive husband. The episode belongs to Andrew Lincoln and Lennie James’ dazzling turns, but Melissa McBride, in all her ferocity, steals the episode away for one moment that gives her a chance to show she’s not the same woman anymore. The show is going to feel the sting of the Termites and Noah’s death for a long time, and there’s a possibility that this will be the framework for season six. All in all, season five was a rousing success, filled with new highs for a show that just gets better with age.
Who else is looking forward to Fear the Walking Dead?