Even in our seemingly normal first world lives, we seek escapism. Whether it’s in material things or the mental denial of our situations, we often separate ourselves from reality as much as possible. It’s obvious then, that in the throes of a dystopian society you would shelter yourself in the illusion of peace or guard your mind against believing that the safety of a home was ever possible.
That’s what this entire season of The Walking Dead has been about. Everyone on this show has had their emotional walls beaten down until they can accept the current reality of the world. Some of them came to it sooner than others, like Glenn, Maggie, Michonne and even Carl, others like Sasha and Rick needed to have mental breakdowns before they came to terms with their lives.
“Conquer” starts with someone who’s already accepted this world for what it is, Morgan. We met him first in season one and again season three and we’ve caught glimpses of him in various episodes since then.
The Morgan we see now is quite different than the man of previous seasons. He wakes up in a car and smiles at the new day. He’s probably one of the only people on the show who smiles in the morning.
While he eats, a stranger comes up to him, gun in hand, and sits down across from him. We don’t see his face until Morgan asks him,
“What’s the W for?”
He responds saying that the first settlers in Virginia put bounties on wolves heads, eventually getting the native people to hunt them, too. Before long, there were no more wolves in Virginia. Later he mentions that some of the tribes believed that the first people were wolves turned human. He and his people are the wolves, coming back to claim their land.
He tells Morgan that he wants all of his supplies, and he wants to take Morgan as well, but not necessary alive.
Morgan says the wolf can have everything, but he will not allow the wolf to take him.
Another wolf jumps out of the woods, but Morgan takes them both out quickly with his walking stick. He’s as good with a bo staff as Michonne is with her sword.
After the opening, we check in with Daryl and Aaron, who are on the trail of a man in a red poncho. Then we jump to the safe zone where Rick is waking up from having been knocked out by Michonne in the last episode.
Michonne tells Rick that he should have told her what happened. He knew how much she wanted this place and didn’t want to ruin it for her.
Glenn, Carol and Abe walk in, questioning him about where he got the gun. Carol acts as if she doesn’t know. Glenn tells them about the town meeting, which will likely result in Rick’s exile. Carol gives advice on what to say about his fight with Pete. She says that Rick should tell them a “story,” but the story she offers is pretty much exactly what happened.
Rick says that if things go bad, he’ll whistle and Carol will grab Deanna and threaten to slit her throat.
Glenn wisely asks Rick, “did you want this?” He says no, but I’m not convinced and neither is Glenn. Rick is so afraid of losing his family that he craves control. He does not believe any other leader can keep them safe.
Maggie goes to Deanna in hopes to sway her decision. Maggie’s words don’t have much effect. Instead of humbling her group, Maggie says that Rick has lost so much, which doesn’t go over well with Deanna. Rick’s group does have a bit of an ego about their losses. They have no idea if others have lost the same amount, if not more, than they have. They are the heroes of their story, but they need to stop acting like they are the heroes of everyone’s story.
Reg has a different view than Deanna. He acknowledges that both parties are wrong. He likens Rick and his group to ancient nomads, but goes on to say,
“Civilization begins when we live together and we stop sending people away from the world and from each other.”
Out in the woods, Sasha has dug a mass grave for her kills. As the scene progresses, we see it’s not merely a grave for the zombies. It’s a pseudo-grave for herself as well. She climbs in and looks up at the sky while she lays on a bed of zombies.
Carol tells Rick that she thinks what happened the night before was a good thing. It gives them more cover because the rest of the town will believe that Rick is the only wildcard. Rick questions why she didn’t tell the rest of the group. She believes they will stand by her, but it’s a belief she doesn’t want to test. Rick, however, says he doesn’t want to lie anymore and he doesn’t want this to turn into a war.
Carol scoffs at this.
“Oh sunshine, you don’t get both.”
Carol’s character development has gone so dark. In some ways, it seems like some of Lizzie’s darkness bled into Carol out there in that field of flowers.
Father Gabriel leaves the safe zone without a gun and without his collar. It appears as if he’s going to commit suicide via zombie, but at the last minute, he kills the zombie and breaks down into tears.
Aaron wants to head back to the town since they haven’t been able to catch up with Red Poncho. He doesn’t want to press their luck and encounter trouble.
Aaron: “You saw it last night, there’s bad people out here.”
Daryl: “That’s why we gotta keep looking for the good ones.”
(Everyone remember that when everyone you meet seems to be awful excuses for humans. Keep looking for the good ones.)
They come across a canned goods factory, but instead of finding canned tomatoes when they open the back of a delivery truck, they find canned zombies.
Of course they do. I thought Daryl and Aaron were both smart men. I knew there would be zombies in that truck. They should have known it too.
In only a few short episodes, Aaron has become one of my favorite characters. I’m a bit panicked for his life during this scene, but it’s intense for both men as the zombies trap them inside of a car.
It’s difficult to imagine either one of them making it out alive, regardless of their fighting skills.
Aaron finds a note in the car that says “Bad people are coming. Do not stay.”
Back in Alexandria, Carol goes to Pete’s house, with food, to get him to check on Tara. He snarks at her, she pulls a knife on him telling him that she could kill him. He looks legitimately afraid of her
“You’re small, weak and nothing. Play your cards right and maybe you don’t have to die.”
Back in the car, Daryl lights a cigarette and says he will be the bait for the zombies. Aaron won’t allow it. He insists they do it together, whether they make it or not.
Before they open their doors, someone begins to kill the zombies. It’s Morgan.
Aaron offers to bring Morgan into the community, but Morgan declines. He says he’s lost and show’s Daryl the map with Abe’s note to Rick.
Nicholas and Glenn get into a fight outside of the town. Nicholas gets the better of Glenn. Glenn is screaming for his life, which also means he attracts walkers. They approach quickly. Nicholas moves out of the way just in time. Glenn is left defenseless on the ground. The scene cuts out as they descend on him.
Rick confesses the gun theft to Michonne. He offers his gun to her. She declines and says that she believes they can find a way to make things work in Alexandria and if they can’t, she’s still with him.
He apologizes for not telling her about the guns, saying,
“I was afraid you’d talk me out of it. You could.”
Many people have suggested that the Ricktatorship is once again in effect. I disagree and this line is one of the many reasons why. The group still isn’t a democracy, but it’s not a dictatorship either.
Michonne uses her influence to talk Rick out of killing people at the meeting, telling him,
“Something’s going to happen, just don’t make something happen.”
When Michonne leaves, Rick recalls one of his last conversations with Bob.
Rick: “This is the real world.”
Bob: “Nah, this is a nightmare. Nightmares end.”
But the nightmare won’t be ending tonight. Rick discovers that someone has left the gate to the town open.
Gabriel returns to the town just as Spencer is heading to the meeting. Spencer asks the priest if he can close the gate. He says “sure,” but he merely pulls it shut and doesn’t lock it. We see it bounce back open as Gabriel walks away. This is the reverse of what he did to the members of his church. He locked them outside with the zombies, now he’s essentially locking people inside with them.
Gabriel enters the church to find Sasha waiting. She asks for his help, but he simply says “no.” She tells him she wants to die. He responds “why wouldn’t you want to die? You don’t deserve to be here.” He may think he’s talking about what happened to the people of Terminus, but he’s really projecting how he feels about himself. He berates her telling her she’s responsible for Bob and Tyreese’s death.
The town meeting has begun, but Glenn, Rick and Gabriel have yet to appear. Everyone in Rick’s family advocates for him to stay. Deanna tells the townspeople about Father Gabriel’s concerns regarding Rick. Meanwhile, Rick fights off the walkers that have entered the town.
We meet Red Poncho. He’s accompanied by the men who attacked Morgan. They arrive at the canning factory and red poncho is nervous about the walkers on the other side of the fence. The other men tell him to be quiet, so as not to rile up the zombies. But then, they unexpectedly slit his throat. As he falls to the ground, one of them says “welcome home.”
Thankfully, Glenn survived the zombie attack and now he has the better of Nicholas. He has him pinned to the ground with a gun pointed to his head. It’s intense and you can feel Glenn struggling with his decision. He knows that if he lets Nicholas live, this will happen again. Nicholas will never give up trying to kill him. But, if he kills Nicholas, it will forever change Glenn into someone he does not want to be. In the end, he stays himself and lets the man live.
Maggie walks in on Sasha pointing her gun at Gabriel. Sasha is in tears and easily gives up the weapon. Gabriel tells Maggie that she should have let her kill him. Then he confesses his own sins, admitting that his parishioners died because of him. Maggie matter of factly says, “they did.” And then she helps him up.
Back at the canning factory, we discover how the wolves herd the zombies into the trucks. They lure them in with blaring music and flashing lights. Once you realize how they do it, it’s amazing no one else figured it out that a loud rave is all it would take to bring the zombies under control.
Rick enters the meeting and drops a dead zombie on the ground before everyone, like a hunter bringing home prey.
He launches into one of his emotional and motivational speeches. He wields his mind and heart, rather than a weapon, to convince the people of Alexandria to accept him.
“The ones out there, they’ll hunt us. They’ll find us. They’ll try to use us. They’ll try to kill us. But we’ll kill them.”
He is completely honest and tells them that he was wondering how many of them he’d have to kill to save the lives of the whole town. But he says he believes that, even though they aren’t ready now, they can be ready. They can survive, just as he and his family learned to do.
Pete shows up raging that Rick is not one of them. He moves to kill Rick, but kills Reg instead. Deanna falls to the ground with her husband, screaming. She has lost both her son and her husband in days. Determined, she stares at Rick and says “do it.”
He shoots Pete in the head.
Then we hear Morgan’s voice say “Rick?” He looks saddened at what he has just seen. In turn, Rick recognizes the tragedy of his reunion with Morgan happening under these circumstances.
In the most beautiful shot of the episode, that I sadly couldn’t get a decent screen grab of, Michonne takes her sword from the wall and puts it on her back.
This is a symbol of what everyone has learned this episode. There may be civilization and the potential for a new family, but there will never be safety.
Likewise for Sasha and Rick, there may never be safety, but not everything is war. There is still family and community.
The last shot of the finale is zombie Red Poncho walking across the lot. The camera pans to a car with the graffiti, “Wolves Not Far” scrawled on it.
Unfortunately, we have a long time to wait before we find out what the wolves are planning. Are they collecting these zombies to release them on the citizens of Alexandria? And what of the Alexandrians themselves? Will they accept Rick now or will they still fear him?