The Walking Dead: "Conquer" (Season 5, Episode 16)

Flabbergasted

Call it the Good, the Bad, and the Meh. This year's finale was an odd mixture of things interesting and silly, things that ultimately worked better in the closing moments than they really deserved to, right up until the moment...

It just kind of ended. It almost felt like they ran out of film. Or megabytes these days, I suppose.      

"The Good"

We got an absolutely kick ass opening with the amazing Lennie James having transmuted his long absent Morgan into a true Zen Warrior of the Apocalypse. The death trap set by the Wolves that snared Darryl and Aaron was also visually spectacular. The duo were subsequently rescued by Morgan, who was so completely awesome I won't even question how unlikely that rescue was.

The final convergence of the Trial of Rick Grimes amid three separate struggles to the death also pulsed with sufficient energy to overcame the lackluster nature of two of those struggles. Or at least it did until the whole thing hyperventilated into lunatic giggles.  

"The Bad"

Father Gabriel simply can't do anything right. He's not even within hailing distance of being pathetic. I know Sasha was reclaiming her humanity by not killing him there at the end, but come on. Somebody could kill him. Anybody.

Pretty please?

The wife beating husband Pete has been a punch line from the moment he appeared on screen. His accidental murder tonight descended into the sort of slapstick worthy of Gabriel.

"The Meh"

Glen passes up his second attempt to kill that murderous coward Nicholas. He really shouldn't have. Should have plugged the punk even if tonight's theme was "all life is precious."  

Except for Pete, that is.

**** Pete.

Sasha's Post-Traumatic Stress routine has become picturesque enough. The problem is that it also comes across as a mile wide and a millimeter deep, a montage of too many artistic images and not enough meaningful interactions.     

And now on to tonight's recap.

Morgan is on the road. He'd fixing some breakfast when along comes a young man with a W scrawled on his forehead and a gun in hand. Morgan is unperturbed. He asks about the W. The young man rambles on about the original settlers putting bounties on wolves that drove them to extinction. Now the wolves are back. It doesn't make a great deal of sense, but Morgan rolls with it. The two have an odd little conversation that ends with the young man lamenting how much he misses the movies.

So much for pleasantries. It's time to take both Morgan's stuff and his life. Another Wolf leaps in from behind only to find Morgan is a different type of prey altogether, one lightning quick with a very solid staff of wood. Morgan beats both men unconscious before going on his peaceful way.

It's a good scene expertly crafted. It's also our first introduction to the Wolves, the rising menace that's been hinted at throughout the second half of this season. As such, it's intrinsically interesting.

The remainder of the episode tries to weave together five separate pieces with varying success. The five pieces are: (1) an Alexandria Safe Zone gathering to discuss Rick Grimes; (2) Rick and company preparing for said gathering: (3) Nicholas trying to kill Glenn; (4) Father Taylor and Sasha emoting; and (5) Darryl and Aaron falling into a trap set by the Wolves. That's a lot of stuff even for a ninety minute episode.

Deana intends to have a town meeting after sunset to let everyone debate what to do about Rick after his over-the-top rant last episode, complete with some psychotic gun waving. She's also pulled wife-beating doctor Pete out of his house and into isolation. He's not taking that very well, particularly after Carol threatens his life.

Rick, Carol, Abraham and Glen talk about taking over if the town meeting goes poorly. Rick gets conflicting advice until Michonne appeals to his better angels. She'll stand by him, but seems to be going a little Zen herself: "Something's going to happen. Just don't make something happen." So what is the sound of one hand clapping anyway?

Darryl and Aaron are tracking some guy in a red poncho to see if he's worth saving. They lose him, which brings to mind a less well known Koan of the master: how the heck do you lose a guy wearing a red poncho in the woods? The duly embarrassed would-be saviors stumble instead across an old distribution warehouse that has big rig trucks, apparently filled with canned goods, lined up along its loading dock. Of course, you know that old saying about things too good to be true...

There are Walkers inside the trailers. What's even worse is that the whole thing is booby-trapped. Open one trailer and all the rest spring open, all equally filled with Walkers. Darryl manages the neat trick by decapitating three Walkers at once with a swinging chain, yet he and Aaron are ultimately forced to retreat inside a nonworking car where they are besieged. It looks hopeless. Just as they are about to try a suicide run, however, SMACK-WHACK-KABLAAM-ZOWIE! Morgan is taking out Walkers right and left. That doesn't seem possible from what we saw. It's still darn cool. And once everyone is safe, Morgan neatly sums up tonight's theme when asked why he saved them: "All life is precious."                     

Except for Pete, that is.

**** Pete.

Sasha is throwing dead Walkers into an open trench and lying down with them to do some artsy musing. Artsy, that is, if you don't ponder how bad it must smell. Obviously she's reached her limit.

Father Gabriel. Sigh. He goes outside to commit suicide by Walker. Of course he can't even do that right. Gabriel pronounces himself ready to go while presenting himself to a Walker whose meal he's interrupted. Sadly, faster than you can say "this man chickens out of everything" he chickens out and scores his first Walker kill. On his subsequent return to the Alexandria Safe Zone, the guard there asks him to close the gate. It's two gates, mind you, an inner one and an outer on.  Gabriel gives a half-hearted shove to the outer one alone and latches nothing. It bounces open behind him.

What a total loser.

The grotesque coward Nicholas lures Glen out beyond the walls to try and murder him. His shot grazes Glenn's shoulder. A dull game of cat and mouse follows that ends with Glenn pounding Nicholas senseless. He almost shoots him. But since all life is precious, even the life of sniveling scumbag murderers (Nicholas has already effectively killed Noah and tried to abandon Glen, Eugene and Tara to certain death), Glenn spares Nicholas. It feels less redemptive than kind of silly under the circumstances.

Sasha goes to the worthless Father Gabriel for counseling, thus proving that she is insane. He's decided to commit suicide again, or maybe he just couldn't go out being as mindlessly cruel an oaf as he wants to at the hands of a Walker. Gabriel taunts Sasha that Bob and Tyreese died for her sins, that she deserves no comfort of any kind. She almost shoots him. Maggie's intervention cements Sahsa's refusal to do so because... you know... all life is precious.

Not this life. Not by a long shot.

Gabriel's incompetence and self-serving stupidity works out in the end, though. His half-ass job on the gate lets three Walkers in for Rick to kill. Real man Rick thus gets to saunter into the town meeting, slap Walker remains into the middle of it, and lecture everyone about what morons they are. And to be fair, the Alexandrians did trust Father Gabriel to do a simple menial chore well within the capabilities of your average eight-year-old, so they are morons. All in all, it's a cheap way to resolve the philosophical arguments of the last few episodes. It reminds me of a Hulk comic from the old days. "Me am Rick. You stupid. Me smash."

The buildup to that point nonetheless had some real dynamism. The crosscutting scenes of Rick killing Walkers while Glenn fought Nicholas, Sasha squared off with Gabriel and the town meeting yammered on actually worked. It was almost riveting. Too bad its crescendo turns into a cartoon.

Rick's winning the crowd over. So if you're stupid wife-beating Pete, already in trouble for being such a hot-head, what do you do? If you answered sneak into Michonne's house off screen, steal her katana, and run into the crowd waving it while screeching wildly, then I'm sorry to inform you that your life alone is not precious in this episode. Pete seals the deal by not understanding that swords are sharp. When Deeana's husband Reg tries to calm him down, Pete finds it perfectly reasonable to shove Reg away with the sword blade. Because what could possibly go wrong when you shove someone away with the sharp end of a sword, being sure to make a sweeping motion with it as well so they'll know that you're shoving them away?

Well, you could cut their throat. As in did cut their throat. So while Abraham pins Pete down, Deanna watches the life drain out of Reg's eyes. Pete's still arguing with everyone. And honestly, who can blame him? Again, he just shoved the sharp end of a sword at someone in a harmless sweeping motion. How could anyone know that might end badly?

Father Gabriel wouldn't.

Deanna tells Rick to just do it. Rick plugs Pete with a bullet in a New York second, cuz Rick Grimes doesn't need to be told twice to plug people.  

Morgan, having conveniently just arrived, calls Rick's name. Morgan looks stunned. Rick looks stunned. Pete looks dead.

Fade to black. It's more of a petering out than a grand closure or cliffhanger.

Join us in six months or so when the Alexandria Safe Zone, now under new management, battles the Wolves. We know The Wolves are really bad because they found the Red Poncho guy and slit his throat.

Poor Red Poncho guy.

**** Pete.                         

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