It seems like The Walking Dead has been playing the old Mohammed Ali “rope-a-dope,” where Ali get pummeled for rounds, laying on the ropes, until he flipped a switch and came out punching. Over the last few weeks, The Walking Dead has come off the ropes, and tonight it went for the knock-out blow.
Early in this episode, titled “Conquer,” we find the survivors conferring about how to handle the meeting that night to decide Rick’s fate, and we’re led to believe that this might be an episode of tense conversation and maybe lively debate. Instead, this was an action-packed roller coaster ride of epic proportion.
For my money, the best scene had Aaron and Darryl trapped in a car surrounded by zombies facing death and putting their cards on the table. They bond in a way that soldiers in a foxhole might and decide to go out fighting. I think most viewers were truly thinking they were at the end of the line when Morgan shows up with his staff and helps them fight their way to the other side of the chain link fence.
Meanwhile, multiple fights are brewing between our survivors and a few pains in the ass: Nicholas, Gabriel, and Pete. Surprisingly, they don’t all end in bloodshed, and we gather that some of our friends are trying to pick their battles very carefully and start a new way of life.
At the same time, Deanna and the Alexandrians listen to Michonne, Maggie, and Abraham testify about Rick’s strengths as a leader and a protector. Abraham gets the best line of the year, waxing poetic about the “ocean of shit” that the Alexandrians “don’t know shit about.”
In the shocking final scene, the Alexandrians get a first-hand lesson in what happens when you’re careless and how it is good to have Rick around when there’s an unpleasant task at hand.
TWD has had a very strong run of episodes that have rested on a solid foundation of excellent storytelling, great small moments between characters, and thrilling scenes of danger and escape. These episodes were well thought out and built properly to a crescendo that made sense rather than some of the confusing bizarre “cliffhangers” of seasons past.
Furthermore, we finally get introduced to the “wolves” and they seem like the kind of villains that will fill next season with plenty of suspense and action. I hope that the writers don’t ditch the characterization, small moments, and good conversations that made this run particularly strong. And I hope that we don’t backslide into a simplistic it’s-us-or-them kind of plot with Rick hoarsely repeating that it’s all about survival now. I hope that they continue to build a new community against all odds and give us a glimpse of an end to the nightmare.