Ernest R. Dickerson does another excellent job behind the camera, but the usually reliable Angela Kang provides a script that falters as we wrap up the first half of Season Five of The Walking Dead with the lackluster “Coda” (a title that really doesn’t really work technically or thematically). It’s not really Kang’s fault though, as in what might be the first major misstep in story development under Scott M. Gimple’s watch, this entire hospital story has never really gelled. Officer Dawn Lerner (Christine Woods) has been almost as ineffective a villain as she’s been a leader at the hospital, never really establishing herself as a threat. The other police officers have been threatening enough, but even after the “shocking” conclusion of this episode, I have no idea why anyone was loyal to her unless the cops are just supposed to be one-dimensional people who have to have an Alpha to function — until, of course, one has to suddenly step out of the crowd and be particularly menacing and then killed off within the episode. There’s an interesting social critique buried in there, I think, but it’s never really explored or brought to the surface. The main reason for this can be laid at the feet of the first minor misstep in story development under Gimple’s watch: Abraham (Michael Cudlitz), Eugene (Josh McDermitt), and Rosita (Christian Serratos) go to Washington. I say that’s a minor misstep, because it’s a story that had to be told and it wasn’t a totally useless diversion, but squeezing it into the first half of the season really didn’t give it the time it needed to breathe and fulfill its potential. I mean, for a season that has disgruntled fans grumbling about “nothing happening” or the show being “boring,” we’ve had three (or four) major storylines in eight episodes. If anything, the plotting could have slowed down a bit to really flesh out our villains (remember how Gimple made the Governor into a multi-dimensional character after the previous showrunner had almost ruined him?). Instead they’re coming a little too fast and furious to become memorable. In order to go out on a high note (so to speak), the hospital story has been forced to take shortcuts that both work and don’t — sometimes for the same reasons. There’s an argument to be made that The Walking Dead works best when the character work is more balanced with real action. The last couple of episodes have subverted audience expectations for the traditional action-packed mid-season/season finales, by sidestepping gunplay for diplomacy. It’s a noble effort, and there really is something satisfying with the quieter closing moments punctuated by short sharp blasts of violence. If only the violence made sense. This is contrasted most clearly by comparing the opening moments with the closing. For those still playing, SPOILER ALERT. Let’s talk about that cold opening! When Agent Sitwell (Maximiliano Hernández) escaped at the end of the previous episode, I thought that meant things were about to go off the rails and the hostage exchange plan was scuttled before it even got underway. Instead, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) is on the case, and without any other characters around to rein him in, his justice is swift and cold. He steals a police car, orders Bob to stop running, and then when he doesn’t, Rick hits him with the car. !!! It’s a moment that caused a collective gasp across the country followed by equal parts grumbling and applause. Well, maybe not equal. I’m pretty sure the applause won out. This is the Rick that we’ve needed. This is a world quickly descending into a zombie-filled Mad Max world with no law but the gun, and Rick knows how to use the gun better than anyone else in the show at this point. Even Daryl (Norman Reedus) has given in to sentimentality — but more on that in a minute. With his back broken, Bob begs for his life, but Rick lays it out plainly and simply. “You should have stopped.” If Bob had just stopped running and surrendered, then Rick wouldn’t have had to do what he did. Paralyzed and helpless, Bob was now more trouble than he was worth. There’s a chilling effect that comes over the scene as Rick finds himself echoing the words of head cannibal Gareth, telling Bob that he “can’t go back” before putting a bullet in his head. And that’s an act of mercy. The brief flicker of hesitation as Rick decides whether or not to leave him to the walkers or put him out of his misery perfectly illustrated the knife-edge of compassion that is at work in Rick at this point. Bob’s last words, accusing Rick of being out in this world for too long — for being inhuman, essentially — are answered with the gunshot and a sharp “Shut up” to the corpse. Whether that’s a shut up to Bob’s accusation or to his own “You can’t go back” is up to the viewer (although in an interview Lincoln confirms he was talking to himself, what matters is how it plays on the screen, and that ambiguity is delicious). In a matter of minutes, a dangling plotline is wrapped, Rick’s character is illuminated, his moral struggles in this new world are made evident, and we’re given the spectacle of a brutal assault (plus the quick disembowelment of an approaching walker). It’s everything great about the show’s intellectual and emotional conflicts in a microcosm. And then there’s the conclusion… Leading up to this episode both Beth (Emily Kinney) and Carol (Melissa McBride) had a 50/50 chance of coming out alive. Given the supremely idiotic choice to put the show’s most dynamic character (Carol) in a coma for the last couple of episodes, I was afraid she was done for. But back at the church, as soon as Michonne (Danai Gurira) tells Maggie (Lauren Cohan) that they found Beth, it was clear how things were going to turn out. And given the fact that Maggie hadn’t even mentioned Beth since the prison collapsed, it was an awkward course-correction for the character that didn’t ring true, unless we just forget that Beth hasn’t been a concern with her for quite a while. So not only was Beth’s murder telegraphed early in the episode, it’s ultimately a pointless death that seems more like it was required to end on a shocking note and push other characters into darker places. Before you start complaining, hear me out. The creators of The Walking Dead have an ongoing thematic endgame that is being run. The central moral and emotional struggles of the characters don’t necessarily have anything to do with the zombies shambling around; it’s been obvious for a while now that the humans are the actual titular walking dead. It’s not a particularly new idea, but it’s one that slides into the background sometimes. Part of that theme is the fact that the old world is dead and sentimental attachments to old ways of living are just as, or more deadly than the zombies. Whenever a character becomes too associated with sentimentality or becomes the voice of compassion and forgiveness, they are not long for this world. The whole point of Rick’s journey is to find the middle ground between the pragmatic survivalism of Shane and the emotional humanity of Hershel. The other characters all fall on a spectrum of transformation similar to Rick’s but he’s our central focus (I’d argue that Daryl is our secondary focus with Carol as third), so as the other characters change or fight against changing, they influence and temper Rick’s own transformation. In a bit of metatextual honesty, as Beth said herself a while back, she wasn’t supposed to survive this long. Her initial survival served the purpose of building a familial unit in the prison (and they needed a babysitter), but her death was thematically sanctioned as soon as the writers started pairing her up with Daryl, as she served to humanize him and give him a sense of hope. But she was doomed from the start because humanizing becomes a weakness in the apocalypse. When she became Daryl’s light, we knew that light had to go out before too long. The girls served a similar purpose for Carol after she went dark, and she’s been trying to find her way back to an even moral keel ever since “The Grove.” Given Daryl’s recent influence on Rick — supporting Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman) in his attempts to soften Rick’s edge — this might be just the thing to either solidify their bonding (but with them both coming out darker on the other side), or allow Rick to pull back and allow them both to find more balance. Carol’s influence is also going to become extremely important here, since she’s in almost the exact same place. The three of them are positioned to become strange attractors circling around a balanced but pragmatic new morality for the post-apocalyptic world. Or to veer off into chaos, insanity, and death. But I’m hoping for the former. So basically, Beth had to die, but the scripting and plotting hadn’t really set up a situation where that was going to happen organically; especially with the desire to give us a quieter change-of-pace finale. So instead, Dawn makes a nonsensical demand to keep Noah (Tyler James Williams) and Beth makes the awkward attempt to kill her instead. When Daryl then puts a bullet in Dawn’s head, we still avoid a gunfight and more bloodshed as the police stand down, glad to be rid of her. Then our heroes leave with Carol and Noah in tow while Daryl carries Beth’s body out for Maggie to see (since that group suddenly arrives with can only be called Television Timing), and then everybody watching cries along with them. The performances elevate the scene and make it work, transforming a plot-requirement into something that at least pushes the right buttons to create an emotional reaction. I just wish they’d gotten there differently. Oh yeah, I almost forgot! The sooner they kill off Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) the better. And Morgan (Lennie James) is still on their trail, but lagging behind. And it was a little ambiguous, but it looked like he’s only just now realizing that Rick is who he’s following. Not sure what’s going on there, but hopefully he doesn’t go on to Washington now that the group’s definitely not on their way there. The Walking Dead 5.08 “Coda”3.5Overall ScoreShare this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.