Season 5, Episode 16 “Conquer”
recap by Jayson Snyder
Producers of The Walking Dead made an unprecedented decision by extending the season finale into a special hour-and-a-half long episode, giving a show which had been lauded for its cinematic qualities the run-time to match these claims. Hoping to weather the long hiatus until the show resumes new content in Fall of 2015, viewers of the program rewarded this decision by tuning in in record-setting proportions to receive an extra-large helping of anxiety and suspense over their favorite characters’ plights.
Surprisingly, given the ominous lead-ins, I found the over-arching theme of this installment to be one of redemption as several of the characters came face to face with the demons of their pasts. Framed thusly, the title of the episode, “Conquer”, formed a very clever double entendre with the obvious implication of the dominant group led by Rick Grimes preparing to overtake the Alexandrians, weak and still clinging to antiquated societal trappings. The undertone is each individual character quietly trying to ‘conquer’ irreconcilable memories that shackle them to an unforgiving past.
Some of these regrets are more easily spotted and recognized than others. Father Gabriel, after selling out his mortal saviors in a previous episode, is seen despondently wondering the dangerous world outside the protective gates. The implications of his unsuccessful attempt to project the guilt from his own sorted past are obvious as he baits a walker to assist in his suicidal notions. His moral center shaken, he still manages to ultimately find the flicker of inner peace that originally drew him to the cloth.
Another example of the theme comes in the form of a smoldering rivalry between the characters of Glenn and Nicholas. Nicholas’ past is lined with cowardly acts perpetrated during critical survival moments, costing lives, notably those of Noah and Aiden. This puts him at odds with Glenn, who clearly recognizes these shortcomings. Feeling threatened by Glenn and hoping to absolve his own sense of guilt, Nicholas puts in motion a plan to draw Glenn outside the walls where he can perpetrate an ambush. The battle that ensues is a fascinating face-off fueled by Nicholas’ fear and disdain of a shameful past and Glenn’s unsuccessful struggle to relinquish his humanity despite the cold and desperate state of the world.
Perhaps the most intriguing exhibition of the redemption theme comes between the power heads of Rick and Deanna. As undisputed leader of a hardened group of survivors, Rick has had to make so many anguished decisions that his moral compass is, at times, without a needle. His raw, animalistic nature has evolved to but a single end: keeping his people alive. This is in stark contrast to Deanna who has ruled over her group with law and structure fortified by the walls of Alexandria since the earliest days of the zombie outbreak. Rick must live with the regret that his zeal for safety has at times served contrary to its purpose, instead putting people at greater risk. On the other hand, Deanna has jeopardized her people through inaction, turning a blind eye to domestic abuse with ultimately disastrous consequences. Though the episode seems to promise an inevitable physical conflict between these cultivated ideologies, we find that the two dissimilar leaders find an equilibrium, whereby Rick finds it within himself to be more expressive while Deanna stiffens her resolve and accepts what the world has become.
In a show obviously predicated on some level by violence and angst, there were still plenty of moments to quench the appetite for destruction. So don’t walk away believing that The Walking Dead had been preempted by an episode of Dr. Phil. I simply chose to focus my review on the psychological by-play, which in my opinion is the true genius of the show. Surely all of us have accumulated some regrets in our lives, which makes this type of theme so easy to relate to. The take away message of this episode is simply to gain constructive traction from those mistakes, rather than succumbing to icy lament. I, for one, plan to take this lesson to heart, and look forward to being an improved person when next I encounter Rick Grimes and company this Fall. They may be taking a break from trying to save the world, but there’s no reason for me to. I just need to remember that to truly conquer I’ll need to start from within.