Just when it looked like The Walking Dead was about to do something unconventional and interesting – namely, have its protagonist go crazy and force the ensemble around him to deal with it – the show blinked. Rather than show Rick as an increasingly hostile, uncompromising, paranoid megalomaniac deciding to get the girl the same way he’s learned to get everything in the zombie apocalypse (by taking it), instead his group rallied around him and the people of Alexandria decided they didn’t really have a problem with his erratic behavior.
With just a little sweet talk – “I was thinking, How many of you do I have to kill to save your life? But I’m not going to do that. You’re going to change.” – Rick is back in charge. Oh, and he got to kill Pete, the abusive husband, when Pete (accidentally?) killed Deanna’s husband with Michonne’s katana.
Heading into season 6, it seems clear that Rick and co. will assume prominent positions of responsibility at Alexandria, Rick and Jessie will shack up, Carol will continue scheming and secretly threatening people, and the Wolves, or whatever the cult of human sacrificers with the Ws on their heads is called, will antagonize Alexandria and give Rick someone to teach them to defend themselves against.
Alan Sepinwall of HitFix likes where the story is going but quibbles with some of the details:
No matter what happens in the middle of a season, good or bad, “The Walking Dead” tends to do premieres and finales very well. This is the first time, though, that the series has ended a season with a 90-minute episode, and while the extra-long “Conquer” had some excellent things in it, it also had a number of stupid things, even if the latter occasionally got overtaken by the former. Case in point: the open gate. There is giving Rick an opportunity to prove to the Alexandrians how naive and defenseless they are, and there is having Deanna’s other idiot son asking Father Gabriel to close the gate for him, then bolting for no particular reason (maybe he had to do some upper body work before the town meeting?), and having no one else in this community(*) notice that the gate was left unlocked for the next several hours. If they’re careless idiots to that degree, then it’s impossible to imagine them having survived all this time, even with the walls that Reg set up.
Vulture’s Richard Rys is more effusive:
Was this the best Walking Dead finale ever? Fresh off watching these 90 minutes of mayhem, it’s tempting to holler, “Hell yeah.” But remember, season two’s conclusion set the bar high. Consider all its game-changing moments — the revelation that everyone turns into a brain-eater when they die, the first appearance of Michonne as she and her pets saved Carol, the establishment of the Ricktatorship, and the glimpse of the prison where so many very bad things would eventually go down. Still, last night’s episode ranks a close second. Morgan returns with some new skills, the mystery of the W marks is revealed (sort of), people die, and Alexandria’s future seems to be in Rick’s hands. Also: Morgan returns!
Laura Prudom welcomes Morgan back to the fold over at Variety:
Obviously, something transformative happened to Morgan between “Clear” and now — something that allowed him to push past his grief and find a new focus: to track Rick down at any cost. From season one, Rick and Morgan served as a kind of distant but ever-present tether for each other — a last vestige of civilization in an otherwise brutal and unrecognizable world. While Rick found others to help ground him and maintain his humanity — including his wife (for a while) and son, Morgan represented a counterpoint to Rick’s journey; someone who lost a family instead of gaining one. It’ll be fascinating to explore the catalyst that restored Morgan’s perspective next season, and see whether he can share a little of his newfound clarity with the equally damaged members of Rick’s group.
And The A.V. Club’s Zach Handlen is relieved that the season didn’t end the way he thought it would:
First, let’s share a moment of silence for that time I thought I knew how the season was going to end, and was stupid enough to mention my prediction in a review. It’s a mistake I’ve made in the past, but one which I seem incapable of learning from. This season did not end with a massive fight between Rick and the town, nor was Alexandria destroyed by a wave of walkers; and while we now know roughly what those “W” symbols mean, it turns out to be more of a tease than anything else, setting up what’s presumably going to be a big conflict next fall. Instead of all my dumb ideas, we got Rick making a rhetorical point via corpse; Father Gabriel attempting suicide, first by zombie, then by Sasha; Aaron and Daryl getting caught in a trap; and Glenn and Nicholas sorting out their differences in the woods. These storylines were varying degrees of effective, but cumulatively, they added up to—well, not a whole hell of a lot. For a season finale, especially one that should be the climax of a series of gratifyingly tense hours, “Conquer” just sort of sits there. It gets some pieces moved to where they need to be, and it had a hell of a lot of style (if nothing else, this show has gotten very good at looking and sounding like great TV, even if the script and the acting don’t always hold up), but the ending was disappointingly flat.