After wrestling all season with the question of whether our heroes were too hardened to re-acclimate to life inside a safe, civilized haven, tonight’s finale of The Walking Dead finally answered it definitively.
No. No, they cannot.
And that’s a very, very good thing.
From start to finish, this episode—aptly titled “Conquer”—was the knockout conclusion that this incredible season deserved, a fact made all the more surprising by the way it didn’t deliver what fans have come to expect. There was no Big Bad rolling through Alexandria’s gates in the show’s final moments; there was no beloved longtime character saying goodbye forever from the Talking Dead couch after the credits rolled. Instead, this final episode left us where The Walking Dead leaves us best: on tenterhooks, hearts filled to the brim with a potent combination of equal parts hope and dread.
I, for one, loved every minute.
And that started with minute one, the cold open, in which Morgan Jones finally made his long-awaited reappearance. Unlike the rest of our survivors, life on the road seems to have had a soothing influence on Morgan. No matter what he’s doing, he always looks happy and at ease: sleeping in the backseat of a car, for instance, or warming water for a cup of noodles, or even being accosted mid-meal by a gun-toting fellow with a letter of the alphabet carved into his head.
Which he is, thus giving us the second big payoff we’ve been waiting for: An explanation as to just what’s up with the ubiquitous forehead Ws, which have popped up this season adorning walkers and people alike. Unfortunately, it’s not an explanation that makes a whole lot of sense—but I guess that’s to be expected when you’re getting your exposition from a self-mutilating, crazy man who wants to kill you for your noodles. Anyway, here it is:
“You know, the first settlers here put bounties on wolves’ heads, brought the natives into it, made them hunt them. Didn’t take them too long to kill them all,” says W, then gestures to his forehead. “They’re back now.”
So, as near as I can figure it, the W is for “wolf,” which is what this guy and his compatriots think they are, at least on the inside… which makes them a roving gang of murderous otherkin, basically. There’s no time to laugh about this, though, because the W man wants a) Morgan’s noodles, and b) Morgan’s life. Morgan politely declines to give up the latter, and then kicks the bejesus out of both W and his friend (a.k.a. W2, a.k.a. The Human Tax Form), all while repeatedly suggesting to the Ws that they stop this nonsense and go away, which is good advice that the Ws sadly don’t listen to. Ultimately, Morgan knocks out both of them and puts the unconscious bros in a car, where they’ll certainly be very embarrassed to wake up spooning with each other.
And so concludes the best cold open of the season—which, along with the amazing Jurassic World trailer that immediately followed it, is definitive proof that the TV gods love us and want us to be happy.
With Morgan’s presence in this episode officially established, we now return to Alexandria, where a heavily-bandaged Rick is being confronted by Michonne. She’s not happy about her fellow constable’s little husband-beating, window-breaking, gun-waving incident, and her reasons are the usual: That she and Rick and everyone else need to stop acting like they’re still in emergency survival mode.
“We had to stop being out there,” she says.
The problem is, maybe Rick can’t stop being out there. I mean, [points to Rick’s head], it’s kind of looking like out there is in here, y’know? See: Rick suggesting to his gathered friends that they might need to kill the Alexandrites with knives before all is said and done. See also: Carol delivering some real talk vis-a-vis the group’s ability to play well with others. Not only does she have no faith in the good people of Alexandria, but she doesn’t even trust her own chosen family to show the necessary toughness if things get hairy, leading us to the first trademarked Badass Carol Quote of many in this episode:
“You said you don’t want to take this place, AND you don’t want to lie?” she asks Rick. “Oh, sunshine. You don’t get both.”
NEXT: Carol scares up another casserole.