The Walking Dead Review: 'Conquer'

Monday, 30 March 2015 - 10:33AM
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The Walking Dead
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Monday, 30 March 2015 - 10:33AM
The Walking Dead Review: 'Conquer'
Like this year's midseason finale, this was one of The Walking Dead's more cynical episodes. It wasn't a bad episode necessarily (or not always anyway), but it was manipulative enough that the audience could see the writers' wheels turning, and for all the exciting individual moments it ultimately added up to a big tease.

For all our predictions, none of the major characters bit the dust this episode. Usually, I would commend them for diverging from the formula, but that small victory was overshadowed by the fact that the writers were clearly manipulating the audience. In a zombie apocalypse show, the characters will obviously be in peril at some point or another, but this episode was especially gleeful in tricking the audience into thinking that one of their favorites would die. Glenn, Daryl, Rick, and Father Gabriel (not a favorite, but a major character nonetheless) all came extraordinarily close to death, to the point that it's not even realistic that they all would have come out relatively unscathed. Since it was a season finale, we all expected someone to die, which made these teases seem even more calculated. You could practically hear the writers saying, "Oh, you thought someone was going to die this episode? Gotcha!"

"Conquer" was manipulative in several other ways as well; Reg's death, for example, was storyboarded to a laughable degree. The moment he started taking on the mediator role and talking about reconciling the two groups, it was obvious that his death would be used to either unite the Alexandrians with the Rickettes or drive the wedge further between them. Like the architect scene with Noah, or the Slabtown storyline with Beth, once again a character was developed in a somewhat interesting way for the sole purpose of adding emotional stakes to their death.

And in contrast to some of the interesting work the writers have been doing in the last few episodes with the philosophical difference between the Alexandrians and the Rickettes, this episode seemed to be gunning for us to root for Rick's philosophy to a discomfiting degree. Last week's episode effectively set up a tension between the merits of Rick's concerns and the arrogant, tyrannical, Shane-like way in which he tried to impose them on others. "Conquer" was pretty much pro-Rick, with Jessie flat-out telling him he was "right," Deanna making her peace with executions in an overly melodramatic change of heart, and perfectly reasonable characters like Glenn and Maggie staunchly defending him. Even Michonne, who rightly punched Rick's lights out last week, told him that she would support him no matter what happened. These were sweet moments and everything, but are we really supposed to believe that? If Rick had pulled a Pete and killed an innocent, as he told Carl he was willing to do, would Michonne have stood behind him then? 

The Walking Dead Review: 'Conquer'

[Credit: Nancy Nale]



Most annoyingly of all, their defenses of Rick's behavior were entirely thin. He's lost people, but so has Maggie, Daryl, and everyone else who manages to act like a human being. He "just wants everyone to survive," and yet is willing to kill an innocent to make a point. No one was acknowledging that regardless of the validity of his concerns, he's taken them way too far. Rick is right that the Alexandrians should be better prepared, but he should really turn his hubris down a notch considering that they've made it this far without them. This last grievance is probably the result of the storyline being rushed; the writers haven't done a good job in this back half of making this seem like a time-sensitive situation, so there's no reason for Rick to "conquer" Alexandria quite yet. Up until Spencer/Gabriel were stupid enough to leave the gate unlocked, the Rickettes seemed to have time to calmly and rationally get the Alexandrians to see their side of things.

Overall, this episode was a tease. Daryl and Rick were almost killed by walkers, but weren't. Glenn almost killed Nicholas, which would have been an interesting (although depressing) departure from his established character, but then he didn't. Father Gabriel tried to kill himself, but didn't. Sasha almost killed Father Gabriel, but then didn't. Rick sort of tried to "conquer" Alexandria, but then the whole Pete incident essentially made it a moot point. The Wolves are at Alexandria's doorstep, but they're not actually here yet. Morgan returned, and his scenes were among the best, but we'll have to wait to see his role in the group until next season. It felt almost more like a penultimate episode than a finale, with all these moving parts setting up future storylines without much actually happening. 

Afterthoughts

-Although I stand by my assessment that teasing so many major character deaths was manipulative, the fan in me is really glad we didn't lose Glenn or Daryl. Rick or Father Gabriel would have been fine.

-Correction: Father Gabriel wouldn't really have been fine, because racism

-Still don't care about Sasha's PTSD, and the scene in which she lies on top of walkers in order to be closer to death was ridiculously over-the-top. It's the kind of thing that looks great on film, but is not something that a human would ever do.

-My favorite part of this back half has been Stepford Carol. The entire casserole scene was amazing, and we all need more Stepford Carol in our lives.

-A few random things I liked: Glenn telling Nicholas to "shut up" was a nice bit of acting from Steven Yeun. His tone immediately conveyed that he couldn't bring himself to kill someone in cold blood.
Pete's "this isn't my house" scene, because showing it offscreen made it much more unsettling than this one-dimensional character deserves.
The scene between Maggie and Father Gabriel, because her characterization as a compassionate, forgiving person has been consistent throughout the show. Father Gabriel's characterization is a different story, although I also liked that he was too cowardly to commit suicide.

-I'm so sick of people excusing Rick's behavior on the grounds that he "just wants his children to survive" when he almost never even pays attention to them. Pro tip, Rick: if you want your kids to be safe, why don't you try looking after them for a change?

-One thing this episode got right was setting up the next season, and I'm looking forward to the Wolves as villains. Their trap was elaborate and cruel, and the scene in which they lure the walkers back into the trucks using music and what looked like strobe lights may have been my favorite of the episode.

See you in the fall!
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