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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

THE WALKED DEAD Did "Conquer" Story and Ratings

Article originally written for Seat42F.

The central question of the season finale of AMC’s THE WALKING DEAD is, what will the Alexandrians do with Rick (Andrew Lincoln)? After Rick’s gun-waving breakdown at the end of the previous episode, Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) is leaning towards kicking him out of the settlement, but she holds a town forum first to get opinions. As scary as Rick may have been in the moment, though, is he wrong, and do the people see that?

Rick’s contention is that the Alexandrians have been lucky thus far and they are not prepared to take care of themselves when that luck runs out. He and his people have been out in the world and have seen firsthand how bleak it can get and how cruel people can be. This darkness may not yet have touched Alexandria, but it will.

“Conquer” begins by showing us some of that evil that Rick is so worried about. Morgan (Lennie James) has been tracking Rick all the way to the D.C. area. Stopping for a little breakfast, he is set upon by two “Wolves,” people who ruthlessly take all they can, set traps of brutalized Walkers, and have no qualms at all about killing people that they come across. Morgan is able to deal with two of them and walk away, but that doesn’t mean they don’t still pose a threat, especially as we don’t know the size of their group.

Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Aaron (Ross Marquand) run into this same contingent on the road. They lose a man they are considering recruiting, distracted by one of the Wolves’ traps. Not prepared, they realize too late what is happening, and are soon stuck, finding an ominous note that bad people are coming. Thankfully, before the duo perishes, Morgan shows up and saves them because he’s just a good dude.

THE WALKING DEAD presents a world where two types of people survive. One type is the bad sort, like the Wolves or The Governor, but another is the kind that look out for others and stick together like a family. Morgan is an example of the latter, altruistic towards innocents, and not even killing the Wolves that attack him. Daryl and Aaron are, too, each willing to sacrifice themselves for the other before deciding to make a break for it together, which they thankfully don’t end up having to do.

Glenn (Steven Yeun) proves himself in the same category in “Conquer.” Nicholas (Michael Traynor) feels threatened, not understanding the gift of protection Glenn is offering him. Frightened, Nicholas strikes, luring Glenn outside the walls and shooting him, trying to kill him. Multiple times the two scuffle, Glenn tough enough to survive one idiot and a handful of Walkers. In the end, though, while Glenn could easily kill Nicholas, he does not, instead limping back to Alexandria together. Not many would spare Nicholas as Glenn does, likely seeing Nicholas the scared child that he is.

Nicholas will likely come out of this learning something about Glenn and having a new-found respect for him. He isn’t the only one changed by his encounter with Rick’s people, Tobin (Jason Douglas), Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge), and even Deanna’s husband, Reg (Steve Coulter), believing Rick should stay and maybe is needed to save them. The weaker in this world have to put their faith in someone, and those like Glenn and Rick are the types to earn that faith.

Which brings us back to the start of this review, and that is to Rick himself. His gun swinging does feel a little crazy, but “Conquer” gives us a little more insight to the sheriff. Despite Carol’s (Melissa McBride) assertion the two of them should continue their deception, Rick doesn’t feel comfortable lying to the others, especially Michonne (Danai Gurira). He’s worried Michonne won’t side with him against Deanna (though of course she says asserts her continued loyalty), but he thinks Michonne deserves to know what’s going on. Here, we see Rick’s nobility, and as he explains to her, he snaps a bit because he is totally frustrated at how blind these naïve people are, which is understandable. He refuses to apologize to the group, but he does offer to make them his family and teach them how to survive, being open and honest. This puts him firmly in the good column.

There is a slight snag in the neat ending, as Deanna orders Rick to execute Pete (Corey Brill) after an angry Pete accidentally murders Reg, a regrettable happenstance. This seems to be Deanna deciding in Rick’s favor and putting to bed the debate, but Rick murders Pete just as Morgan walks in, and Morgan is all about zen-like non-violence these days. Fans of THE WALKING DEAD widely love Morgan and wish him to be a part of the cast. Will Rick’s brutality, necessary as it is, scare him away? Will Morgan’s journey have been for nothing?

Two more intersecting subplots of note plays out in “Conquer,” making more obvious some of the internal struggles Rick and the others go through as they try to adapt to civilization again. In the first, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) tries to literally bury her demons as she cleans up dead Walkers outside the wall. She’s at a very low point, even lying in the mass grave with them because she feels as dead as they are. Still, she is clearly trying to get better as she goes to Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) for advice and spiritual guidance.

The good father is in no position to counsel her, or anyone else who asks, for that matter. He hates himself so much for not saving his parishioners that he goes outside the walls and tries to commit suicide-by-Walker. When he can’t bring himself to do that, killing his first undead, he tries to goad Sasha into taking him out. I do think the emotional confrontation that follows, which they both walk away from, should be cathartic enough to help them begin to move on, but it’s very charged and it takes us into the depths of their pain.

THE WALKING DEAD packs a lot into this final hour and a half. All of the stories mentioned above are deeply personal and complex in their highlighting of personalities. We also see Maggie (Lauren Cohan) be set up as a spiritual healer, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and Eugene (Josh McDermitt) make peace, and Tara (Alanna Masterson) looks like she’s recovering. So much goodness, and still with pacing that doesn’t feel rushed.

“Conquer” does succeed in overcoming the strife of the past eight episodes, though, bringing everyone, Alexandrians and our group alike, which are now one and the same, into a common cause. This is super necessary, as we know the Wolves will soon be coming. Thankfully, Rick has a bigger group than ever to help fight those that are evil and give those that deserve to the best chance possible to survive. It’s going to be a hell of an exciting sixth season.

THE WALKING DEAD will return, likely around October, to AMC. The companion series, Fear The Walking Dead, which takes viewers to L.A. in the early days of the Walker outbreak, launches late this summer on the same network.

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