A little while back, a friend unveiled to me the next five years of Marvel storylines based on press releases, contract negotiations, and market trends. So far, his predictions have proven dead-on, but it occurs to me that, in the age of insider reports and deconstructed hype, it’s become increasingly difficult for studios to surprise their viewers, who scrutinise and disseminate every bit of news available. As such, I find it amazing that “Conquer” would fool us fans of The Walking Dead with the exact same tools we use to spoil ourselves.
Avid viewers have known for weeks that the season finale would be titled “Conquer”, speculating on Deanna’s downfall and which side each of our heroes would take in the oncoming revolution. After all, from Rick putting an end to his best friend’s Shane-anigans in “Better Angels” to the more recent slaughter of the Terminus clan in “Four Walls and a Roof”, so much of The Walking Dead has pertained to survival through violent moral compromise. In the past four episodes, the writers have even set up a couple of duels for the finale, banking on our imagining the bloodiest of outcomes.
For instance, “Spend” concluded with Maggie overhearing Gabriel’s betrayal, prompting the four corners of the Web to explode with gory payback scenarios. Given how much disappointment she’s had to swallow on this season of The Walking Dead, I wouldn’t have been surprised if “Conquer” had dished out the poetic justice with her locking the padre outside the gates while zombies gnaw at his flesh. Instead, the farmer’s daughter uses the power of forgiveness to rescue him from another walking ball of projected guilt: Sasha, who’s been depicted as a lost cause since “Them”. Incidentally, that, too, turns out a clever bit of misdirection.
By the same token, no one could’ve blamed Maggie’s husband for killing Nicholas after the latter sacrificed Noah in “Spend”, tried to get our heroes exiled in “Try”, and then plotted bloody murder using Rick’s gun and a pack of walkers. In light of all these transgressions, Glenn carrying the scumbag back to Alexandria in “Conquer” epitomises why he remains, to this day, my favourite character on The Walking Dead. I find it astonishing that the man’s superhuman fortitude extends beyond his already formidable survival skills. I mean, was anyone remotely fooled when his assailant left him for dead?
The most obvious red herring, though, pertains to Michonne, who turns out to have hit Rick last week for his own damn good. Their understated friendship is one of the most interesting dynamics on The Walking Dead, so I was relieved, after weeks of subtle alienation, that Constable Grimes would finally decide to trust his partner despite Carol’s hilarious counsel: “You don’t want to take this place, and you don’t want to lie? Oh, sunshine, you don’t get both.” I suspect the former sheriff’s deputy needed to come clean with his loved ones before he could “conquer” his demons and do the right thing in regard to Alexandria. Of course, Morgan might object to the term “right thing”, what with his showing up just in time to see Pete’s noggin splatter onto the pavement.
I find it interesting that, after five years of heartbreaking compromise, The Walking Dead would now switch gears into moral absolutism. Even Daryl and Aaron’s subplot, which essentially sets the stage for next season’s opening arc, makes a point of contrasting Morgan’s “all life is precious” stance with the Wolves’ unequivocally evil games. I’m not suggesting the series is morphing into Stephen King’s The Stand, but it seems obvious Rick and the gang are starting a new chapter in their lives. Maybe that’s the real reason “Conquer” managed to surprise me at every corner.
Death toll so far: thirty-two. We got a substantial body count this season, but it’s been a fantastic ride!