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“Conquer” was just a good episode of The Walking Dead. And that isn’t a bad thing. It did what it set out to do: ratchet up the suspense, resolve some lingering plot points, and set things up for season six. I have a feeling there might be some complaining about the episode, as it was light on the body count, but considering the modus operandi of the Wolves, I think that might be rectified next season. There were some strong story and character elements in “Conquer,” but, as with most of this season, there were also a number of moments that simply didn’t land. I feel a bit like a broken record here, but it’s hard to care about a character’s internal crisis when we haven’t had enough one-on-one time with them to understand why they are so emotionally battered.
The most clear example of this is poor Father Gabriel. I may be misremembering, but I seem to recall that we already went through this “I killed them all” song and dance (and, really, after The Jinx and Robert Durst’s own “I killed them all” line reading, Gabriel’s wasn’t nearly as effective – just saying). The Gabriel story would have been much more effective if we had a chance to understand why Gabriel seemed to overcome his guilt only to backslide into it again. Was it returning to civilization (or, at least what passed for it here)? Was it seeing someone who reminded him of someone he left to die? I don’t buy that the massacre at the church triggered it, since we’ve seen him interacting just fine since then (if a bit broody). There wasn’t a strong character build here. It’s fine to have an arc like this, but the writers can’t keep giving arcs to characters without defined characterizations. We need a reason to care about what they are going through.
Along a similar vein, Sasha’s PTSD has been a wasted opportunity. I was hoping that after Michonne and Rosita managed to get Sasha to open up a little bit last week, she might seek them out again to talk. But instead, we were treated to another week of Sasha roaming the woods for most of the episode. Yes, the imagery of Sasha laying on the pile of walkers was strong, but I still don’t feel like I understand Sasha. When I think of her, all I know is that she was Tyreese’s sisters, Bob’s girlfriend, and she has PTSD. That’s it. And that’s not enough. I suppose it says a lot when Sasha’s big speech to Gabriel about being angry and wanting to die includes the phrase “I don’t know.” Because if the character isn’t sure why she feels that way, you can bet the audience isn’t completely sure either.
But there were definitely some elements of “Conquer” that worked. We resolved the great banish Rick debate in excellent fashion. I’m not sure if it’s because Deanna has become a more fleshed out character than some of our long-standing characters, but man, was that an interesting arc for her. She started this journey with two sons and a husband, and ended the season with just one idiotic son. Brilliant work from Tovah Feldshuh and Andrew Lincoln both during that meeting scene. Watching the anguish on Deanna’s face as Rick waited patiently for her to come to the realization both he and Carol made weeks ago was harrowing. Then seeing, clearly, the moment when Deanna decided to trust Rick? Amazing.
The culture clash between the Grimes Gang and Alexandria seems to have been resolved, which means that the main focus of season six (at least the early parts) should be on building up the Wolves as the newest batch of bad guys. In “Conquer,” we were given a taste of who they are and what their code seems to be. For all their brilliance (the trap with the walkers at the food factory was genius – particularly the part where they got the walkers back into their trucks), they also don’t seem all that skilled. Walking around with an unloaded gun? All it takes is running into someone like Morgan (or really, someone less kind than Morgan, since he let them live) for that ruse to fail. As Rick has said, the people out in the world now are the survivors. They are the people who can and will kill you. The Wolves need to work on their one-on-one game.
Outside of the threat from the Wolves, the only remaining unanswered question for season six is Morgan. What happened to turn him into, as Chris Hardwick said on Talking Dead, a Jedi master? Because last we saw (outside of his minor glimpses this season), he was mentally unstable. This is a really new Morgan. And I’m super excited to hear his story.
— Glenn is an idiot for not putting a bullet between Nathaniel’s eyes. An idiot.
— I suppose we should have known that Michonne’s katana would become an issue. After all, she put it on the wall and we know what Chekhov has to say about that.
— This Rick-Jessie romance still feels like it came out of nowhere, right?
— Oh Carol, getting the best lines of the episode. “You can’t have it both ways, Sunshine,” is an instant classic.
— Now that Alexandria is a Ricktatorship, does that mean badass Carol can come back?
— And, for comic readers, the Wolves has to be you-know-who’s gang, right? Because he has to be on the horizon now . . .
— Season six of The Walking Dead will start up in October. The Los Angeles-set spin-off, Fear the Walking Dead, (which is the worst possible name you could ask for) will be out later this summer, if you just can’t wait for your walker fix.