‘The Walking Dead’ Season Finale: The Beatification of Saint Rick

RICK

Old Saint Rick. (photo: Gene Page/AMC)

Rick Grimes has an important question for Alexandria, and for us all: What is a wall?

Is it a means of keeping you safe? Of keeping walkers and wolves at bay? Does it mean security, protection, freedom? Or is it a way of keeping yourself penned in? Closed off, sheltered—trapped, even?

The answer is, of course, that it’s both. Just like everything else they use to defend themselves in their blasted world—guns, knives, swords, tanks, fire engines—a wall is just a tool. And tools are only as good or bad as the person using them.

Alexandria’s walls are important, valuable, crucial. But the residents are going to have to become better, smarter, more skilled and more willing to make hard choices if they want to keep those walls standing and secure, rather than just letting the walls make them soft, complacent and easily overrun. Because as great as the threat from outside forces is, they will still always have to contend with whatever monsters they’ve locked themselves inside with.

From the title of last night’s season finale, “Conquer,” one might be forgiven for supposing one of two things was going to happen in the episode: either Team Rick was going to be forced to take control of Alexandria following Rick’s trial (sorry, “public forum”), or some other group was going to attack and possibly take over the city.

The show did a good job of teasing both possibilities, with the carvers of eerie forehead-Ws finally revealed as a marauding group of psychos that seems to call themselves the Wolves. But the episode ends before they find their way to Alexandria’s gates. And Rick and his war tribunal have a discussion what they will do if Rick’s trial ends with an expulsion order: they’ll be forced to stage a coup.

It never comes to that, of course, and whatever conquest takes place happens primarily inside the psyches of the main characters.

Rick actually misses most of his “public forum,” but the Alexandrians proceed to discuss his fate without him. In this world where anything and anyone can turn out good or terrifying, the most important currency anyone has left is trust. And so Rick’s trial is primarily each member of Team Rick saying various versions of “I’d trust him with my life.”

It all ends up not mattering, because when Rick finally shows up, he has a doozy of a visual aid: a zombie slung over his shoulder. Someone just left the gates hanging open. Because they’re children, who can’t be trusted with their own protection. And so these zombies were already inside the walls—and if he hadn’t been there, they’d have been quickly overrun.

In other words, saith Saint Rick, the call is coming from inside the house.

As if on cue, Pete proves his point, storming the meeting with Michonne’s sword, and killing Reg when he tries to stop him. Deanna realizes too late that she’s been operating under a false illusion of security this whole time. Rick is right: the monsters are already here.

Like Nicholas, who basically just up and shoots Glenn so he can stop feeling judged by him. Glenn shows remarkable restraint in not returning the favor, and they limp together back to town.

Or like Father Gabriel, who, it now appears, mostly tried to get Deanna to kick Team Rick out of Alexandria to alleviate his own guilt over neglecting (and pretty much killing) his congregants. After all, Rick and company are the only ones who knows what he did. Now, wracked with guilt, he goes outside the walls to try to commit suicide by zombie—stretching his arms out goofily like he’s on the cross (really? C’mon.)—but can’t bring himself to do it.

So he goes and tries to commit suicide by Sasha instead, egging her on by slamming Bob and Tyreese with some fairly on-point insults. It probably would have worked, too, considering Sasha is now way off the reservation, wracked by survivor’s guilt and who knows what else, and spending her afternoon lying down in a mass grave with the walkers she’s killed. But Michonne leaves the “public forum” to intervene at the last moment, and the three end up praying together instead—further cementing Michonne’s role as the real spiritual center of Team Rick, and averting this particular crisis, at least for now.

The real problem is that the good Father spent so much of the episode in apparent mental anguish that he managed to leave the gates open in his daze, letting in the zombies that Rick battles while the rest of Alexandria discusses his fate.

Good thing Rick manages to close it before the Wolves show up. We finally meet the creeps who have been carving Ws into zombie foreheads, and they seem to be pursuing some kind of mission to hunt, trap and kill every other human they encounter. They can’t get one over on Morgan Jones, however, who has been following Rick all this way, and who manages to disarm and wound his attackers using only a staff that he carries.

Less lucky is a man in a red poncho who Aaron and Daryl have been tracking a potential recruit for Alexandria. While looking for him, the odd couple finds what looks like a huge warehouse full of food, but turns out to be an elaborate trap set by the Wolves. They escape with the help of Morgan, who rides out of the blue to rescue them. When Daryl asks him why, he says, “Because all life is precious.”

Which makes it a bit disturbing, then, that the first time he sees Rick again after all of these months, Rick is acquiescing to Deanna’s grief-stricken request and shooting Pete dead. Of course, it’s easy to say “all life is precious” when you’re traveling alone with no attachments, and when you happen to be a stone-cold ninja whose weapon of choice is basically nonlethal. But still.

Michonne certainly makes her choice, strapping her sword back on over her constable’s uniform at the episode’s close.

All in all, a great episode but not a particularly satisfying season finale. It was great to see almost every main character’s life put in danger at the same time, but the stakes still seemed rather low. The Wolves may be “not far,” but they’re not yet at the door, and we all knew Pete had to die episodes ago. Watching Deanna finally catch up makes for a great climax to an episode, but not to a whole season.

Also, did this episode really have to be 90 minutes long? Some parts could surely have been cut. I didn’t even realize that Abraham and Eugene hadn’t been talking until Rosita forced them to apologize to each other. Glenn and Nicholas spent what seemed like four different scenes chasing each other through the woods. And we really didn’t need so many testimonials about Rick’s sterling character—though it was a true pleasure to hear Abraham expound on Rick’s granular knowledge of shit.