The Walking Dead has always managed to deliver mind-blowing season finales that not only tie loose ends from narrative arcs that have spanned the past season, but most importantly they leave audiences with just enough of a hook to tease us without giving too much away. Conquer, however, appears to be the exception to the rule. Whilst it made for a great stand-alone episode, it fell somewhat short as a finale. Conquer may have tied things up a little too neatly.
“You don’t want to leave this place, and you don’t want to lie? Oh sunshine, you don’t get both.”
We’ve given our opinion on the whole Sasha storyline plenty of times over the past few weeks, so there’s no need to dwindle on that topic any more. What we will say is that it appears the days of seeing her struggle to battle with her own state of mind may be behind us. In a beautifully climactic shot that plays out as every kid’s nightmare sleepover, we see Sasha sprawled out across a pile of rotting walkers that have been chucked into a mass grave. It’s not merely a stark representation of just how stuck in her own personal limbo Sasha is, but it’s also a prime example of The Walking Dead‘s new found affinity with cinematography. She’s hit rock bottom, figuratively and literally, and the only way is up from here on out.
After his not-so-private meeting with Deanna last week that saw Father Gabriel seemingly turn his back on Rick and the group that came to his rescue, things also come to quite the climax for our resident religious man. Subtle hints have been embedded throughout the series that suggest an interior battle with his conscience, most notably his tendency to escape when things get a little too much. In this sense, his situation isn’t all that different from Sasha’s. Gabriel’s struggles manifest in his lack of desire to continue living any more. For viewers of the show it can be hard to distinguish between genuine mental illnesses experienced by the characters, and normal side-effects associated with living in the zombie apocalypse. Sasha has walked that line most precariously, and perhaps her no holds barred meeting with Gabriel was the exact motivation she needed to pull her out of her funk. Later on in the episode there’s a warming shot of Sasha, Maggie and Gabriel holding hands in prayer. Here we have two of the people who have lost the most in the world being united with someone who has lost all sense of reality that his world used to depend on. Their faith may be wavering, but maybe that’s not what is comforting for them. Maybe it’s being in unison with people who can truly understand your problems. As simple as it is, sometimes platonic physical contact is all we need to feel loved, understood, and accepted.
Elsewhere, there’s quite a fist fight in the deep dark woods between Glenn and Nicholas that leaves audiences begging for at least one of them to end up beaten beyond the point of repair. As much as we all love Glenn and would be completely heartbroken to see him killed off, the death toll thus far in the episode is practically non-existent. Hopefully the new season will bring a new start for Nicholas, because at this point in time we can’t see where else this storyline can be taken.
Now let’s get down to the dirty details. For the past few episodes we’ve been left yearning for answers regarding the mysterious ‘W’ carved into the rotten forehead of numerous walkers. Conquer gives us plenty to chew on. It’s revealed that the ‘W’ stands for ‘wolves’, a group of people intent on seeking revenge on Alexandria. We think it’s pretty safe to say that these ‘wolves’ will likely be the people kicked out of Deanna’s kingdom (but after our predictions last week who knows if we can be trusted anymore!). In fact, the most tense action in Conquer comes from the scenes revolving around the wolves. The opening of the episode sees fan favourite and possible new regular, Morgan, fighting off their unwanted advances in a ninja style combat that gives Michonne and her sword a run for her money. Daryl and Aaron are out in the woods again, but this time things take a much more sinister turn for the worst. After walking into a booby trap set up by the wolves, it appears that the end is very much insight for our new found chums. Daryl proves why he’s so popular amongst dedicated fans and hardcore viewers respectively with a three-way walker kill that will leave you in complete and utter awe. Trust us, you’ll never look at a chain the same way again. There’s something very unique about the relationship shared between Daryl and Aaron, and this is fully realised when we see them hatching a plan that involves the ultimate sacrifice: their own life. Whilst the rest of his group have managed to find their feet in Alexandria, Daryl has had a much rougher time with it all. The only thing he really needs is for everyone to shut up for a second and listen to his problems. Of course, Aaron was was more than happy to do just that. These two really complement each other, and they stand testament to the show’s ability to introduce new characters at the right time and at the right place.
“All life is precious, Daryl.”
The final five minutes of Conquer are where it truly comes to life. There’s not quite enough action to make up for the rather mundane pace of things that preceded it, but it’s definitely an admirable effort. Following last week’s almost insane outburst that saw Michonne put Rick firmly in his place, it would’ve been interesting to see the next season head towards a path that sees the people who once worshipped at his feet turn against him. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case. Instead we were given the equally exciting prospect of Deanna channelling Rick’s determined pessimism and giving her first order to kill. We don’t think there’s one viewer who would’ve protested the death of Pete, especially not after he clumsily sliced her husband’s throat and gave us one of the most unexpected deaths of the season so far.
With over half a year to go until The Walking Dead graces our screens once again, there’s not much that we can speculate about in terms of where the sixth season will take us. We do know that Alexandria is still standing strong, despite the shift from good to evil that appears to have struck those towering walls. We know that the wolves have got photographs of Alexandria and Rick in their possession, and all signs are pointing to a disastrous reunion in the future. But with the death toll disappointingly low and the lack of teasers to tempt us for the next season, it might take a lot to rescue audiences from the flat-line they’ve fallen victim to.
Words by Sophie Mace.