When it comes to a successful season finale, there are a few keys things that need to be accomplished. It should close up a lot of loose ends that have been left throughout the season, leave a few more open to give fans something to talk about during the show’s hiatus, and do it all utilizing themes and developments built up over the course of the season. The season five The Walking Dead finale does one of these things. Poorly.
Full spoilers for “Conquer” ahead
When it all comes down to it, the entire episode is a build up to the final shot in which Morgan watches Rick mercilessly execute what would appear to Morgan as an innocent man. As Morgan stated earlier in the episode, “every life counts,” and he just witnessed the man who he believes to be his last friend in the world take a life. It’s a tragic moment that is a proper emotional reunion for Rick and Morgan. This would be all well and good were it not all set up through a series of conveniences and nonsensical character actions.
It all starts at the beginning of “Conquer” with a great cold opening of Morgan being accosted by a member of the Wolves, who shares the same ‘W’ etched on his forehead that The Walking Dead has been so prominently showing throughout this season. Morgan has apparently been taking ninja classes during his time following Rick as he takes down both Wolves members with ease using a makeshift bo staff. I honestly have no issue with Morgan having this sudden fighting skill. We have no idea what he went through during his time travelling in the apocalypse, but we know from Morgan’s few appearances on the show that he is resourceful, so it’s not far out there to think that he either learned this fighting before everything went down, or he took the time to do it as a way to pass time after his son died. Either way, he knows how to wield a big stick, and it’s fun to watch.
We then get back to Rick and the others safe inside the walls of Alexandria dealing with the fight one night ago. Rick wakes up, Michonne more or less confesses that she did what she did to save Rick, not to help the citizens of Alexandria, and they hatch a plan to make sure that if things go south at a planned forum being put on by Deanna, Rick’s group will be able to take control of the armory so they can’t be forced out. Surely this exciting and action-packed plan will come back later?
While everyone else is doing these completely normal planning-type things, Sasha continues to have no characterization whatsoever and decides to lay down in a pit of dead walkers. It’s revealed later that she apparently wants to die, but that’s as far as The Walking Dead goes towards explaining why she is just such a useless and broken character at this point.
Nicholas, playing the role of generic super villain, comically hides out behind a building (complete with pointless zoomed in shot straight out of a Lifetime Original Movie showing him doing so), to spy on Glenn and Maggie as they discuss the plan. Then, for some mysterious reason that also never gets explained, Nicholas jumps the fence and makes off for the woods, and Glenn sets off after him. Again, there is never any kind of explanation given for this, but somehow Nicholas knows Glenn is following him, lures him into an open spot and shoots him. Since Glenn is a main character and this is The Walking Dead, he is fine and ends up fighting off several walkers all while suffering a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
One of the more interesting shots of perhaps the whole season happens once Rick gets up and starts roaming around the town. Maybe not the best idea in the world, but he decides to go talk to Jessie. While doing so, his reflection is shown in a perfectly fine window while Jessie is repairing the window that Rick and Pete broke in their scuffle. The theme of intact windows being a sign of an intact civilization and a broken one meaning a broken civilization comes into play again as Rick is mostly fine while Jessie’s personal world is shattered by the end of the episode. Sure, I could be looking too much into one shot, but the way it was purposefully set up to show Rick’s reflection during the whole conversation instead of a bunch of shot-reverse-shots leads me to believe they were going for something, and I think it worked quite well.
And of course, the big highlight of the episode is Carol and her “come at me bro” moment with Pete where she threatens him with
a casserole dish a knife. Melissa McBride has really mastered the part of playing Carol, and her ability to switch between kind and caring housewife and merciless killer is as impressive as always.
Speaking of performances, but back on the bad side, has Lauren Cohen always been such an awkward actress or does it just seem that way because it’s been so long since she’s had more than one line in an episode? The whole scene with Maggie on the porch with Deanna and her husband just felt like Lauren was forcing out her lines and completely emotionless when she should have been at least feeling something.
The story of “Conquer” begins to fall apart with Father Gabriel going absolutely crazy cuckoo pants for no reason. He wanders out of the gate, without a weapon and somehow with inhuman reflexes decapitates a walker with nothing but a rope. Then, upon returning, the guard for absolutely no reason, asks Gabriel to close the gate as opposed to closing it himself. Instead of actually closing it Gabriel lazily tosses it aside and it ends up staying open. It became clear at this point that the show was going to neglect all of the themes and plans that it had built up and instead make the ending based on a random walker attack. While it thankfully wasn’t the big walker-stabbing extravaganza it could have been, Rick does end up having to kill a few of them that are wandering Alexandria and there are hints that more are also roaming the city.
While Rick is busy cleaning up the town, the rest of the citizens are having their forum about what Rick did in the last episode and why he did it. Just as Deanna seems to be creeping closer to the decision of banishing Rick, he conveniently stumbles in with a walker over his shoulder to show that the town needs protecting. No one seems to question the idea that, during his own trial that he is late to, he may have just killed the walker somewhere else and is making up a story to make Deanna thinks she needs him. Instead, they all just sort of accept it as the plot conveniences continue to roll in.
Scott Gimple, who is normally one of my favorite Walking Dead writers, forgoes everything set up previously in the season and instead has it hinge on Pete accidentally swinging a sword and slitting the throat of Deanna’s husband. As it just so happens, seeing her husband’s throat slit is the thing that pushes Deanna over the edge and she orders Rick to execute Pete. Naturally, Rick obliges, and naturally, this just happens to be the exact moment that Daryl and Aaron made it back with Morgan so he’s standing at the gate the exact moment that Rick pulls the trigger. If all of that sits well with you and you actually enjoy a series of characterization-breaking moments, then by all means you have just enjoyed yourself a great finale.
However, on a technical level, the finale failed on nearly every front. Nearly nothing is resolved, Pete is the only one dead thanks to a convenient bout of stupidity, and every other character is more or less left off right where they were at the end of last episode, but a few (such as Sasha and Gabriel) are just a tiny bit more insane. Instead of leveraging all the storylines developed over the past three fantastic episodes, The Walking Dead decides to end its fifth season with a series of lazy writing conveniences and just falls flat on all accounts. This all may have worked as a setup episode, since there is a lot that still needs to be resolved, but as a season finale this is going to leave a sour taste in a lot of fans mouths until Season 6 mercifully rolls around.
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