Good morning, Morgan! It’s a beautiful day in the woods outside of Alexandria. Let’s have a cookout among the pines, shall we?
An armed man appears out of the woods and holds Morgan at gunpoint by his fire, but the veteran survivor doesn’t seem to mind. The new man sports a W on his forehead, and reveals that the first settlers in the area used the Native populations to help hunt wolves to extinction; “They’re back now,” he says. His team goes from town to town, raiding and murdering, nothing so civilized as sitting down by the fireside and having a chat. This particular Wolf wants everything Morgan has, including his life.
Morgan’s willing to give up his belongings, but plans to fight for his life. He does so by taking on both of the Wolves with only a bo staff, repeatedly warning them to just leave him alone. He takes them out rather easily, just as easily as a rotten-headed Walker that stumbles in to see what the fuss is all about. Morgan puts the two unconscious Wolves in the backseat of an abandoned car and beeps the horn to call more Walkers to the feast (or as Lennie James said on Talking Dead, it was to make sure no Walkers were around. Interesting). He takes a lucky rabbits foot hanging from the rearview mirror for good measure. Welcome back, Morgan!
Meanwhile, out on the open road, Daryl and Aaron hunt for more recruits. Aaron recounts to Daryl the last time their group kicked some recruits out of town. Soon, they happen upon a lone wanderer who knows some tricks about surviving out in the wild. They lose sight of him near town, but decide to make a food run at a grocery warehouse. (Aaron gets an Alaska license plate as part of his spoils.) In what was an obviously bad idea, Aaron and Daryl try to open the canned food trailers for some provisions, but the booby trapped containers hold nothing but scores of Walkers. The duo fight their way through them – some of whom have Ws carved into their foreheads – using anything they can (chains, car doors, etc) to get away. They end up trapped in a car, surrounded by Walkers. (The writers love putting Daryl in peril.) His plan is to block the windows so the monsters lose sight of them, and therefore lose interest; a note they find in the console warns them against staying (too little, too late). Daryl takes a moment of self-reflection to admit that, even trapped in a car surrounded by Walkers and mere inches from death, he feels more like himself now than back in the houses. Aaron says that when he saw Daryl lead his team to safety in the barn, that’s when he knew it was his responsibility to bring them all to Alexandria. Now that that’s out of the way, they plan to fight their way out. Lucky for them, Morgan arrives in the nick of time and clears a path for them, shutting the fence to keep the Walkers at bay. They invite him to Alexandria, but he refuses since he’s headed elsewhere, but when Morgan shows Daryl the map with Rick’s name on it, a rare moment of serendipity occurs.
Back in Alexandria, Rick – who looks like he lost a fight with a straight razor – wakes up on a cot; Michonne is sitting there waiting for him and she’s got plenty of questions about what’s going on in his cracked gourd. He confesses that, in his mind, he’s still stuck outside the walls, even if the rest of them want to make a go for it in town. Glenn, Carol, and Abraham show up to talk to Rick, and Carol is the first to ask him why and where he got the gun (even though she knows full well). Sounds like Deanna is holding a town meeting to decide whether or not to kick Rick out. Carol wants him to tell the folks whatever they want to hear, but Rick is concerned that they’ll try to oust him regardless. So his plan is to have each of his team members take hostages at knife point and threaten to slit their throats if they don’t back off, then once Rick secures the heavily guarded armory, the town will be theirs. Let’s just say that not everyone is happy with this plan of his, especially not Michonne or Carl.
Maggie takes Deanna to task about letting a group of frightened, ill-informed people make the decision to kick the hardened survivors’ leader out. Deanna isn’t sure that Rick should stay due to his recent behavior, but Maggie insists that they don’t know the whole story, and Deanna’s own husband plans to remind them that civilization doesn’t progress by excluding people.
Alone again, Carol and Rick further discuss their plan; Carol gives Rick another gun, but keeps their additional weapons cache a secret from the others. She’s emerged as the strongest and most ruthless of the team, and it will likely fall to her to see whether their group survives or not. (Pete’s life also finds its way into Carol’s hands, which doesn’t bode too well for him considering she is likely harboring some hatred for him.)
Freed from the hoosegow, Rick walks by a group of armed, yet appreciatively nodding townsfolk, and gives Deanna the stinkeye for good measure. Carl has some sage words for him, but we’ll see if Rick has the good sense to listen. Probably not, since he doesn’t show the good sense to stay away from Jessie, a fact that a watchful Pete doesn’t miss. Rick then confesses their plan (and the secret gun stash) to Michonne, whose loyalties still lie with Rick and the team, but hopes they can find a way to put their weapons aside.
While Nicholas spies on Glenn from the shadows, Maggie tells him that she plans on talking to all the townsfolk before the meeting. As she heads off to spread the good word, Glenn sees Nicholas scaling the town’s wall. After following him, Glenn happens upon a rotten Walker and draws his knife for protection; too bad he brings a knife to a gun fight as Nicholas takes a shot at him. Glenn manages to skedaddle and hide. When Nicholas is distracted by a Walker, Glenn takes the opportunity to take him down, but since he’s wounded, it’s not a fair fight. Glenn gets pinned down by advancing Walkers as Nicholas flees once again.
So now’s a good time to talk about the team’s nutjobs: Sasha, who has taken to lying down with dead Walkers in a pit, and Father Gabriel, who has chosen to walk among the undead out in the wilderness, unarmed. The latter appears to give himself up to a hungry Walker chowing down on an unlucky bystander, but not quite. He uses the creature’s still-attached noose to decapitate him, and then puts its dying victim out of his misery. (All while keeping his all-white shirt spotless!) Gabriel returns to find that the gate guard wants to speak to him in a therapeutic fashion, a request that distracts the already addle-brained Gabriel from securing the town’s gate. It’s no surprise that Sasha and Gabriel end up in the sanctuary together, but neither one is able to offer the other any kind of peace. Gabriel curses her for her choices and blames her for the death of Bob and Tyreese. Sasha snaps and the two struggle, with Gabriel ending up at the end of Sasha’s gun barrel. Maggie interrupts them before anything happens, and then blames the priest for the deaths that hang on his conscience.
We can’t forget about Rosita, Abraham, Eugene, and Tara now, can we? The two men have their first conversation since Eugene’s confession. He thanks Abraham and apologizes, an olive branch which Abraham returns. And this is pretty much all we get from this group.
Glenn miraculously survives and manages to get the drop on Nicholas once again. Glenn tearfully reminds Nicholas of the chances he gave him, and the weasel begs for his life, blaming his actions on his fear. Glenn, for some reason, keeps Nicholas alive long enough to escort him back to town.
As Rick takes up his guns and knives once again, he hears Bob’s words about the end of a nightmare coming back to him, just in time to see the town’s gate propped open with a line of coagulated blood leading in. With Walkers on the loose (and Glenn still out in the wild), Deanna unknowingly starts her townhall meeting. Rick happens upon the Walkers and deals with them (in the most inefficient use of a gun for killing a Walker yet) in turn while Michonne, Carol, Abraham and Maggie speak for him. There’s a great juxtaposition of Rick’s gritty, primal struggle against the Walker while his follows talk up his skill and sheer determination to survive in this world.
Deanna’s got a counterpoint, however, relating Father Gabriel’s words of warning that were proven true by Rick’s actions. The other townsfolk start to speak up against Rick, until he arrives bloody and covered in gore to drop a dead Walker at their feet. He tells it to them all straight: as long as they exist within the walls, the living and the dead will find their way in, but he can help to show them how to survive. He pulls no punches and makes no apologies, instead, calling on them to toughen up and become hardened survivors. If Rick’s speech and actions hadn’t won them over, then Pete’s arrival surely does. Pete’s drunken assault ends with Reg’s death, which Deanna quickly avenges through Rick’s enforcement. But while Rick may have won the town over, he also may have alienated his long-lost best bud, Morgan.
Back at the canned food trailers, the Wolves have the red-poncho man bound. They tell him to be still and then slit his throat, welcoming him home. Loud music plays from inside the trailers, luring the Walkers back into their holding pens. Though their execution of the red-poncho man was inhuman enough, it gets even creepier as we see the man-turned-Walker now shuffling through their makeshift trap/pen. I’m sure the fans of the comics know what the Wolves are all about, but this is a great introduction to the group who are sure to be the main antagonist in season six.
Before we start thinking ahead to next season however, let’s pause a moment to reflect on how truly masterful season five was. We’ve journeyed from Terminus, to Slabtown, to a church, to a long weather-beaten road and a ramshackle barn, and finally to the well-defended town of Alexandria. Major settings aside, we also got a chance to watch our heroes fight off Walkers (and other assailants) in a maze of railcars, a dilapidated hospital, a rainsoaked forest at night, a church graveyard, and within the walls of Alexandria. Though we’ve lost a number of fan-favorite hero characters this season (RIP Bob, Tyreese, Beth, and Noah), season five also featured some top-notch Walker kills.
Perhaps most important this season was the consistent, taut, and unpredictable writing that went into each and every episode, both in terms of unfolding plot points and character development. Of course, some characters ended their runs too soon (others maybe too late), but those who survived are the stronger for it. Carol has grown into what might be the show’s most capable survivor, Glenn has progressed from worry-wart to man of action, and even Carl is getting to experience some of the more mundane waypoints of adolescence. The wild card this season has been Rick himself who danced dangerously close to going full-on caveman, but was brought back from the brink at season’s end by his assembled team. Despite Carol’s claim to the contrary, it seems that Rick is able to maintain his ruthless nature as long as it’s in service of helping this new cradle of civilization survive. The question now is whether or not the Wolves will tear this new alliance apart.
Episode Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent – Though “Conquer” did play fast and loose with some of the mortal threats to the characters in this hour, overall it was one of the season’s strongest efforts.
Season Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent – Easily the best season of the show since the first.
Morgan: “Everything gets returned.”
Wolf: “Some of the tribes around here, they thought that the first people were wolves transformed into men. And now, you know, everything gets returned.”
Carol: “These people are children, and children like stories.”
Reg Monroe: “Civilization starts when we stop running, when we live together, when we stop sending people away from the world and from each other.”
Father Gabriel: “The word of God is the only protection I need.”
Aaron: “You saw it last night, there’s bad people out here.” Daryl: “That’s why we need to find the good ones.”
“Trap. Bad people coming. Don’t stay.”
Carol: “Play your cards right, and maybe you don’t have to die. I want my dish back clean when you’re done.”
Daryl: “Why?” Morgan: “Why? Because all life is precious, Daryl.”
Eugene: “I thank you, and I am sorry. I mean both emphatically and in equal measure.”
This Nicholas is a real sonofabitch, isn’t he?
Michonne: “Something’s gonna happen, just don’t make something happen.”
Abraham: “There’s a whole world of shit you people don’t know shit about.”
Rick: “How many of you do I have to kill to save your lives?”
“Wolves Not Far”