The Walking Dead, S5 E8: “Coda”

And thus ends the midseason finale, not with a bang but with a whimper. This season had such a great start, but ended on a scattered, half-baked note. I don’t know what happened in the writers room the days they broke “Crossed” and “Coda,” but whatever it was it couldn’t have been good. The last two eps were way off the mark, tonally, character-wise, plot-wise, everything. Thematically I liked what both had to say, but the means by which the writers chose to express those themes was underwhelming at best.

Let’s start off first with what worked. For the first time in ages, I didn’t actively dislike Rick. Every act, no matter how cold, was in character with the man he’s become. Running down Cop Bob with his own vehicle was a nice homage to how Dawn’s crew captured Beth and Carol, and an even better “screw you” to their faux altruism. The hospital group doesn’t save people, they run people over, kidnap them, and press them into indentured servitude. Dawn can pretend all she wants that she’s being a good person by helping people, but she only helps those who can help her. When you start applying a cost-benefit analysis to human life, you’ve already lost the morality race. Not that Rick knows any of that, nor would he care even if he did. The Cop Bob wouldn’t stop, so Rick stopped him. At least he had the decency to shoot him in the head instead of leaving him to get eaten alive.

The Walking Dead: CodaEverything else? *Sigh* Beth’s death is the most egregious, but Father Gabriel’s wanderings were also pointless and frustrating. His excursion/escape at the end of last week had the potential for some entertaining thrills, but it was all for naught. There was no bigger meaning behind his actions, and I still don’t understand why he ran off in the first place. He goes out there without a weapon to see for himself? See what exactly? What did he expect to see that he hadn’t already seen when he went with Rick to the food bank? Was he expecting a religious epiphany? If so, I bet seeing that dead little girl’s Bible was a letdown. The only reason I can see for him leaving is so the writers would have an excuse to excise the church as a place to settle down in. They need to keep the group on the move, and the only way to do that is if the church is no more, and thanks to Father Gabriel’s yellow-bellied antics, it is. The whole thing was so rushed anyway that nothing congealed into any real development. He left, he limped around a bit, he ran away like a coward, and he helped cause the destruction of his own sanctuary all in the space of a few minutes. OK, so the shot of him pounding on the church door was pretty cool, but that’s a hell of a route to take just for that.

Skipped character beats are a major theme of “Coda.” See also: Carol. Carol wakes up! That’s huge! She’s been in a coma for days and was almost killed because of it! Beth risks her life to save Carol! But nothing comes of it. Carol wakes up and next thing you know she’s getting traded off. That’s it. That’s what her entire storyline comes down to. We lost the chance to see Carol come to grips with her circumstances as she woke, to have Carol offer Beth a modicum of hope at their rescue, to have them bond and draw strength from each other. It undercuts Carol’s entire journey with Daryl. Her dealing with her memories from before the apocalypse and understanding her role today become just another plot device. She—and, by extension, Beth—becomes a helpless pawn for Dawn and Rick to manipulate, which no, writers, just no.

Speaking of, what a way to waste Beth. She’d really turned around as a character and become one of the more interesting people on the show. She had depth, a personality, strengths and weaknesses. Beth could look at a situation and see the bigger, gloomier picture and still hold on to her small, short-lived hopes. She wasn’t as battle-ready as Michonne but she wasn’t nearly as useless as Eugene, and, gosh darnit, I really just plain liked her, you know? She was good people. And the writers failed to lay the groundwork for either her death or Maggie’s reaction to it. Maggie hadn’t given two flying farts about Beth since the second they left the prison, and, what, now all of a sudden she’s devastated by her death? In nearly 16 episodes, Maggie has hardly even mentioned her missing sister and yet at the hospital she carried on like she’d been holding vigil for the poor girl all those aimless weeks.

The Walking Dead: CodaNot that I buy Beth’s death anyway. I get that they were trying to go with the whole “mentee kills her mentor” thing like they did with Dawn and Hanson, but it failed completely. Dawn and Beth didn’t have the same kind of relationship Dawn and Hanson did. Moreover, with freedom at her fingertips and the chance to finally reunite with her sister, I don’t believe for a second Beth would risk all that for a chance to stab Dawn in the shoulder with a small pair of scissors. Beth got her head shot off just to give Dawn a fleshwound. Ugh.

And, really, in order for Beth’s act of revenge to mean anything, Dawn has to be a viable antagonist. Out of all the Big Bad’s kicking around this half-season, hell in the whole freaking series, Dawn has to be the least engaging. She was a cardboard cutout of a character, and all her characterization was derived by what she wasn’t. She was paired against Beth so we could see she wasn’t good, but then compared to a bunch of equally one-dimensional “bad cops” so we could see she wasn’t as bad as other people. That’s not how character development works, guys. She wasn’t forceful or frightening enough to be a compelling half-season spanning villain, Beth wasn’t an important enough character to merit having her own antagonist worth dying for, and Dawn was never effectively pitted against Rick to bump her up to such great heights. Not that the other wards and cops were any better. A bunch of nameless extras milling around in the background doesn’t make a cast of characters.

The Walking Dead: CodaIf the writers really wanted to axe Dawn, they could’ve let her group do the dirty work and it would’ve been a lot more powerful. But no, they decided that it’d been too long since they killed off one of the core group, Noah and Father Gabriel were too new to have it mean much, and Abraham’s group is on ice until the back half. So that leaves Beth. I mean, if it meant losing her instead of Carol, I’ll take it, but still. I wouldn’t mind so much if there was a valid reason for her to die. Maybe the Beth we first met way back in season 2 might have done something so pathetically stupid, but not the Beth who let a rapist get his face eaten off by a zombie.

“Coda” was a disappointment in how every major plot point this half-season came down to wasted potential and hollow shocks. Bob’s attackers eat infected flesh, but get killed before anything comes of it. A group splinters off to go to D.C. but barely make it 20 miles before turning tail. Father Gabriel does a bunch of stupid, scary stuff for no reason at all. Beth dies a pointless death and Carol is thrown into meaningless coma. Yes, all these events seemed exciting at the time, but with the way the finale wrapped things up, all that impact came down to nothingness. I’m not angry, just disheartened.

Final Thoughts

  • TWD needs a few characters like Beth around to leaven the oppressively dour group. With Bob and Beth both dead, Rick’s group is going to be sooo depressing.
  • Honestly, at this point the only thing I’m looking forward to next season is the return of Morgan. Hopefully he’ll get to do more than wander around at the edge of everything.
  • Well, at least we know what happened to Bob’s foot.
  • See ya’ll next February…

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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