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When, a few weeks ago, it was announced that THE WALKING DEAD's season ender would be expanded to 90 minutes, I was curious as to what that would mean. Typically, the series' creators struggle to fill even their regular one-hour timeslot. Tonight, that extra running-time meant an ep that would, in competent editorial hands, have lasted 53 commercial-free minutes came out at 63. The ep, randomly titled "Conquer," is laden with filler, repetitive scenes, scenes that go on and on. TWD has a tradition of finales that are somewhere between terrible and terribly underwhelming. It's possible to say this was one of the better ones so long as one notes how little it had to do to accomplish that.
As the finale approached, the series creators followed a dismal tradition of their own, making the rounds in the press pimping hints of major cast deaths. As always happens, speculation regarding this became the major source of buzz surrounding the ep. Will it be Daryl? Will it be Maggie? Carol? Glenn? I'm always a bit surprised that some of the people who are allegedly such big fans of the series seem to pay it--and its rules--so little mind. There are no surprise deaths on TWD. On Facebook earlier today, I wrote "Unless TWD suddenly breaks all precedent, we aren't going to see any deaths among the major players." And, indeed, we didn't. I also wrote that "TWD often doesn't set up a redshirt death until the ep in which it occurs." Tonight, Deanna's husband is suddenly given a very prominent moment with Maggie; by the end, he's suddenly history (in a ludicrously contrived manner).
Sasha is still behaving suicidally. Father Gabriel is still a cowardly, back-stabbing dog. Nicholas lures Glenn into an ambush and tries to kill him; Glenn gets the upper hand but still can't bring himself to end this treacherous character. Morgan has coincidentally arrived in the same area of Virginia as our heroes following the map he coincidentally found back in Georgia. When a pair of fellows are about to be eaten, he coincidentally turns up just in time to save the day (using ninja skills he's somehow acquired), and those fellows just coincidentally turn out to be Daryl and Aaron, who had fallen into a remarkably silly zombie-trap laid by the mysterious "wolves" group that has been haunting the perimeter of the series. For a season finale, there's a distinct lack of payoff. Rick sort of comes to see that when it comes to the business of preparing the Alexandrians to survive the zombified world, he's been going at it all wrong and Deanna maybe comes to see it's an uglier world than she previously wanted to admit. No real surprises.[see Addendum below]
Some amusing bits: In an entirely pointless filler scene, Carol visits Pete--she bring shim a casserole! She's tiny in comparison yet threatens him with a knife she, the ace survivalist, holds the wrong way. After his rampage last week, Rick's purloined gun was confiscated. Carol gives him another. Rick then walks down the street, meeting and greeting several people along the way, and when he gets home we see him from behind and he has the new gun is tucked in the rear of his waistband with his shirt bunched up between it and himself--fully visible to anyone. In one of TWD's patented time-gaps, Rick discovers the gate has been left open (by Gabriel) and some bleeding something has slipped in; in broad daylight, he goes to look for whatever it is and it suddenly turns night. From daylight to pitch-black dark. The characters sitting around a campfire holding a meeting on Rick's fate even comment on it (the darkness, not the instantaneous changeover). At one point in a scuffle, Aaron takes out a zombie with a machete in a moment replicated from George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD. As with most such moments TWD has duplicated over the years, it mostly just help illustrate why it's a bad idea for TWD to attempt to replicate such moments (it looks awful).
Season 5 had a rock-solid opening episode then immediately collapsed into the usual mishmash of mediocrity with outright awfulness. By the time Aaron found the group in the back half, the series had become nearly unwatchable. The Safe Zone storyline gave TWD a shot in the arm but continues to be plagued by most of the problems that have dragged it down for so long. It is what it is. Too good. Too bad.
 Insert my usual thought: Wouldn't it be great to have a TWD that generates a lot of buzz for something besides its use of character deaths as shock-tactics? One that instead drew attention because it was, say, well written?
 Three huge trailers meant to look as if they're full of canned goods but actually full of zombies; when anyone tries to open one, they all spring open, freeing the creatures. Why anyone would bother with such an elaborate and dangerous-to-set trap is anyone's guess, and it should, of course, be entirely ineffective--if not immediately nabbed, all anyone has to do is run back out the same gate through which he entered--outpacing the zombies is no problem unless they are of the TWD patented teleporting variety. The "wolves" behind it were careful to select only the most elite zombies--those who are not only teleporters but ninja who know to be perfectly still and silent inside the containers while Daryl and Aaron walk all around them, talking the whole time.
 This particular time-lapse has the effect of making Rick, who is supposed to be the uber-competent fellow in the story, look incredibly incompetent. One or more creatures have slipped inside the gate, one of them leaving a trail, and he apparently goes running through the town for an hour or more looking for them without ever sounding the alarm or even telling anyone else they've gotten in.
ADDENDUM (30 March, 2015) - Today's internet fan reaction seems quite divided. Some of the pro-"Conquer" commentary has, in my view, quite radically overstated the amount of payoff in the ep. In spite of some huff and bluster on this point, TWD advanced very little. By the end, practically all of the characters, even those who were given significant screentime throughout it, are exactly where they were before it began. Nicholas spends most of the ep trying to kill Glenn and Glenn still can't bring himself to kill the weasel, leaving their conflict right where it was before. Sasha and Gabriel are given significant screentime; both, like Carol, Maggie, Daryl, Rosita, etc., finish exactly where they were before the ep began. Eugene and Abraham have a moment where they make up, but prior eps had left the impression they'd already done so. In a post-credit sequence, Michonne takes up her sword again but she'd already assured Rick, near the beginning of the ep, that she was with him. The only ones who really changed were Rick and Deanna. Rick has a come-to-his-senses moment wherein he walks away from his desire to launch a coup against the Alexandrians while the accidental killing of Deanna's husband by Pete suddenly brings about a full 180 in her "thinking." This isn't just unsatisfying because of the extremely contrived nature of the scenario or the instantaneousness of her flip-flop; it falls flat because, as I've covered here, it's never been a credibly-written conflict in the first place. Rick's big speech at the end is essentially a rehash of his "I'm not your Governor" speech from season 3.