The Walking Dead S05E16 Recap & Survival Index: 'Conquer' [Season Finale]

The Walking Dead wasn't going to give up on Alexandria quite that easily. Never mind its status as an oasis in, as Abraham put it, "a vast ocean of shit," from a practicality standpoint, any behind the scenes stuff made it crystal clear that AMC spent a lot of money building this town, not to mention introducing new characters and forcing old ones to become invested in the town. It would be sort of a cop out in many senses of the word if the season 5 finale burned the place to the ground.

Still, that didn't make "Conquer" predictable. Not in the slightest. Once you were able to accept that Rick and his group would be able to come to terms, somehow, with Deanna and the Alexandrians, that allowed the show to open up and do some crazy things with its own status quo. The result was the kind of season finale that gives you this feeling of anticipation and excitement in the pit of your stomach, because outside of destroying Alexandria and moving on, a lot was left out on the table, and it seemed like not a single moment was wasted.

A lot of Rick's journey this week wasn't about necessarily what he would do -- for all intents and purposes he already did the worst thing he could last week -- but more about who would follow him down that path. The answer was, of course, everybody. Not all of them might agree with Rick, necessarily, but as Maggie says, they're family, and they stick together. Whether that means leaving or taking over the place. It didn't have to be either though, because Rick got to prove he was right all along, when Gabriel leaves the door open on his way back in and lets in a few Walkers, one of which Rick can proudly show off to the group, like a dog who finds a dead bird.

Rick only further cements his point when Pete shows up to threaten him with Michonne's katana, only to accidentally slash Deanna's husband Reg's throat instead. Having lost her entire family in just a couple of days, Deanna gives in to Rick's ways and asks him to kill Pete, and he pulls the trigger gladly.

Just as he does, he heard a familiar voice, as Aaron and Daryl arrive back in town with Morgan in tow, after Morgan saves them from the zombie death trap they found themselves in with his Jedi Master skills. Rick, bloodied and worn out from everything he's gone through in just 24 hours, turned into a man everyone long feared he'd become, consumed by his quest to survive and help his family survive. And Morgan, one of the earliest "victims" of the apocalypse, in the sense that he was forced to see and do unspeakable things that cost him his family. Actions that led to his own insanity. But while Rick succumbed to evil thoughts, killing and threatening for the sake of his own survival, Morgan came out of it and became stronger.

A lot of people have been bringing up The Governor as a point of comparison to Rick. When Scott Gimple took over as showrunner, he made a point to rewrite The Governor's ending in order to humanize him and even justify his own terrible actions. There was a reason why he was so damned evil. The question ever since has become about how far Gimple could take someone we know and love and have followed for the better part of five or six years now. How far could Rick go before his actions stopped being okay, before he was just another Governor? All along, however, the more apt comparison was with Morgan, a man who lost more than anyone else and lost it really quickly. We haven't followed his journey, but in "Conquer", we finally catch up with him properly, and what a journey it's been.

Since we last saw him outside of post-credits scenes in season 3, he'd learned all sorts of martial arts, survived all on his own and has followed Rick's group through and through. At the beginning of the episode, he has a confrontation with two people who we can only assume now are the Scavengers from the comics. They're the ones marking everything with "W" for "Wolves", telling insane stories about how things were before. They want to take everything that Morgan has and put him into their army of Walkers, but Morgan handily defeats them with nothing but his cane. He doesn't kill them though, and that'll come back to haunt everyone, as a trap they lay out in a food factory gets Aaron and Daryl. They survive thanks to Morgan, but leave behind enough stuff so that the Scavengers can find them.

Anyway, Daryl finds out that Morgan knows Rick, so he brings him back only to be faced with Rick's actions, which to an outsider might seem insane. And Morgan's reaction is important because he's no longer the crazed man Rick left behind two seasons ago. He's someone with a positive outlook. When Daryl asks him why he saved them, he simply responds "because all life is precious." Either he hasn't seen the things Rick has, or has and has gotten over it. Either way, reuniting him with Rick is very important, since he'll be able to bring him back down to earth. Maybe Rick's still dangerous, and his megalomania won't be calmed by the fact that Deanna basically allowed him to take over Alexandria, but that'll be a very important dynamic going forward.

While the episode thoroughly tells this story about Rick and Morgan meeting, there's so much else going on here. Michonne's journey back to her katana and back to Rick's inner circle after she may have gotten a little too comfortable with her role in Alexandria. Carol continuing her scary transformation into a Stepford Wife, now threatening Pete with a knife and manipulating a lot more than might be let on. Nicholas trying to run off only to get into a confrontation with Glenn and almost kill him. Gabriel trying to kill himself, basically, only to unleash Walkers into Alexandria and face the barrel of Sasha's gun. And of course the Scavengers, who are now very much on their way.

All of it more or less fits together and makes for a fantastic, complex, entertaining finale that delivers and elevates an already spectacular season. "Conquer" gets 10 kung fu walking sticks out of 10 and season 5 as a whole gets 9.5 oceans of shit out of 10.

Notes & Quotes:

  • The comic readers may have noticed that, outside of the Morgan appearance and the genders of Deanna and Reg, the end of the episode was pretty much exactly how it happened in the books.
  • Daryl's triple chain decapitation is easily the kill of the season. Although Rick slowly driving the barrel of a gun through a Walker's face is pretty cool too.
  • I want every episode to end with a speech from Rick while his face is covered with Walker blood.
  • "Little chats in front of the fire with strangers. It's the closest thing to movies these days."
  • Why didn't Carol tell the truth? "Because these people are children and children like stories."
  • Eugene's speech is too elaborate to copy but I love how he starts it: "Good afternoon."
  • "Simply put, there's a vast ocean of shit that you people don't know shit about. Rick knows every fine grain of said shit, and then some."
  • "I was thinking, how many of you do I have to kill to save your lives?"

Before we get to the Survival Index, here's the first short teaser for Fear The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead spinoff series that will premiere with six episodes this summer on AMC:

The Walking Dead Survival Index:

The final Survival Index update of the season sees the return of Morgan, and a couple of not-so-unexpected deaths. We'll see once again who makes it next season. Thanks for reading along all year! See you in the summer for the spinoff!

RIP: Pete - ( -5%)
Current: 0% - DEAD
Note: Well, you can't say we didn't see it coming. I think that's the first time I had someone at 5% and then they actually died.

RIP: Reg - ( -100%)
Current: 0% - DEAD
Note: Reg wasn't on the Index, but Pete managed to take him out by accident before Rick finally got his way.


1. Carol Peletier - ( +5%)
Current: 95%
Note: Carol's levels of manipulation reached new heights this week. She's ostensibly worse than Rick but really good at hiding it.

2. Daryl Dixon - ( -5%)
Current: 85%
Note: Zombie kill of the season aside, he needed Morgan with a cane to save him.

3. Rick Grimes - ( +10%)
Current: 90%
Note: Rick is still crazy, but now he's pretty much in charge and will have Morgan to rein him in. It's good that he got to say what was on his chest though, now he, his group and Alexandria can move on together.

4. Morgan Jones - ( +85%) *Survival Index Re-Debut*
Current: 85%
Note: He's been on and off the chart for a while since he hasn't really stuck around. Hopefully now he will since he's been reunited with Rick and such an important counterbalance to his character.

5. Michonne - ( +5%)
Current: 85%
Note: Reunited (with her Katana) and it feels so good. Not only is it an important symbol for Michonne to reholster her weapon, but it's also important that Rick feels confident enough in her to bring her back into the fold.

6. Abraham Ford - no change
Current: 85%
Note: Between "motherdick" and "ocean of shit", Abraham is somehow getting the best lines on this show. They really need to find a way to do a lot more with him next season.

7. Glenn Rhee - ( -10%)
Current: 75%
Note: Is the fact that he couldn't kill Nicholas a sign of weakness or one of strength? Especially juxtaposed next to Rick's eager willingness to kill Pete?

8. Carl Grimes - ( -5%)
Current: 75%
Note: What happened to his new girlfriend?

9. Aaron - no change
Current: 75%
Note: Was in a precarious position with Daryl for a while, but Morgan showed up to save the day.

9. Maggie Greene - ( -5%)
Current: 70%
Note: Stops Sasha from killing Gabriel, which brings her down by association.

10. Jessie - ( +5%)
Current: 70%
Note: Fully in Rick's grasp at this point, but how will she take the death of her husband?

11. Edith - no change
Current: 65%
Note: Did not appear

12. Eugene Porter - ( +10%)
Current: 65%
Note: Makes up with Abraham

13. Rosita Espinosa - ( +5%)
Current: 55%
Note: Helps Eugene and Abraham make up, all without taking off her cardigan.

14. Tara Chambler - ( +5%)
Current: 50%
Note: Wakes up, finally

15. Deanna - ( -10%)
Current: 40%
Note: Poor woman loses her son and husband all within the span of 24 hours. Is she done losing though? If Rick is de facto taking over Alexandria, what's her role?

16. Sasha - ( -5%)
Current: 20%
Note: Loses 5% for not killing Gabriel.

17. Father Gabriel - ( -15%)
Current: 5%
Note: I have a feeling that the show will try and redeem him next season, but I've never wished death upon a fictional priest more than I have right now. He's the worst.

18. Nicholas - ( -5%)
Current: 5%
Note: Also the worst.