The Walking Dead: 508 “Coda” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
The Walking Dead’s mid-season finales are usually a fairly bloody affair – more so, often, than the finales themselves. Season two saw the barn massacre and the putting down of walker Sophia (ah, the Sophia plot), season three saw the Dixon brothers reunited in a fighting arena and the Governor’s eye stabbed out… and season four topped them all by burning down the prison, killing Hershel and the Governor and scattering the group across Georgia.
Coda began with a short but sweet action scene, neatly tying off last week’s cliffhanger with the escaping Lamson, and giving us the first of many great moments for Rick this episode. Rick’s ruthless murder of Lamson – first running him down then blowing his brains out – was another neat display of just how twisted Rick’s become this season (he even found himself accidentally quoting Gareth), and a satisfyingly badass moment as Rick dispatched the traitorous officer. It might have rendered last week’s cliffhanger as a little pointless considering how quickly Lamson was dispatched here, but it was a suitably thrilling way to open the mid-season finale nonetheless.
Meanwhile, at the church, things finally heated up after Crossed’s tepid Father Gabriel scenes. While Gabriel remains a fairly nonsensically thick character, his escape from the church was given a logical and satisfying reason – and we had a clever callback to Gabriel’s tragic past as the priest found himself pounding on the doors of the church – just like the dozens of people Gabriel let die. Unfortunately, Gabriel’s actions led to the church being overrun by walkers in a solidly executed action sequence (giving Michonne a chance to take the spotlight in a season that’s been fairly Michonne-light so far) – and the group were only saved by the return of GREATM, led by a now revitalized Abraham; and finally, after half a season of memes about Maggie’s obliviousness to Beth’s existence, we had Maggie’s reaction to the news of Beth’s survival. While it was well-acted by Lauren Cohan, however, Maggie’s joyful reaction felt like too little, too late – after Maggie not mentioning Beth at all across the eight episodes (bar the first scene of the premiere), her character reacting in such a way felt a tad artificially written.
Coda also gave us a surprisingly large amount of time at the hospital (although, considering later events, the focus on Beth does make unfortunate sense), as we learnt an awful lot more about Officer Dawn. Dawn was an irritating caricature when she was introduced – so Coda’s (and last week’s) attempts to flesh out the leader of Grady went a long way towards making Dawn more interesting. Coda showed Dawn in a much more sympathetic light than we’d previously seen – instead of a moustache-twirling villain, Dawn felt almost like one of the ‘good guys’ in the hospital for a good chunk of the episode; simply cracking under pressure while attempting to do some good rather than just being a bit evil. Dawn won’t go down as one of The Walking Dead’s best villains – but she was certainly a fairly unique one, and a character that ended up being an awful lot more complex than she initially appeared (even if she’s still a terrible person, for reasons we’ll go into later).
Despite all the strong material for Dawn and the action scenes (and of course, the final five minutes), Coda ended up feeling just a tad disappointing. The meeting between Rick’s group and Grady was held off for a surprisingly long time – after the build-up and careful table setting of previous episodes, Coda still takes three-quarters of the episode to build up to the hospital meeting. It’s understandable that Coda doesn’t have a massive gunfight like the previous two mid-season finales considering the (lack of) strength and loyalty of Grady – but the fairly deliberate pace means that Coda doesn’t come off as quite exciting as you might expect. The Walking Dead rarely does subdued finales, yet compared to the previous two action-packed autumn finales, Coda can’t help but feel a little bit muted and held back – which, for a big mid-season finale with lots of setup, is a little bit surprising; and not entirely in a good way.
Fortunately, Coda does manage to pull off a superb, harrowing final act. After all the set-up, the groups finally met in the Grady hallways to make the exchange in a terrifically tense, exciting scene – and it seemed to be going rather well, until Dawn made a fatal decision; to bring back Noah. Despite Coda’s fleshing out of Dawn that left her a much more sympathetic character, her final acts were a stark reminder of why she seemed so awful (not awfully written, mind) in Slabtown – a self-serving final grab for power that ended in two sets of brains painting Grady’s floor. Dawn didn’t get a big concluding fight or a novel death scene like the Governor and Gareth – but her abrupt death was a satisfying (and very much karmic) enough end for the character; after all, it was pretty much what Dawn deserved.
And then, of course, there’s Beth. Beth was introduced in season two as a timid, innocent counterpart to all the hardened members of Team Rick – and it wasn’t until the second half of season four, where Beth was paired up with Daryl for a couple of effective character-building bottle episodes, where the Greene sister really came into her own. Season 5A has essentially amounted, for all the cannibal and Washington ‘fun’, as a strong showcase for Beth – as the character has grown and become more interesting, Emily Kinney has also risen to the challenge and helped make Beth, surprisingly, one of the show’s most interesting characters. In The Walking Dead, however (to vaguely paraphrase Beth’s also-dead father, Hershel), if your character gets more focus, you risk your life – and Coda kept up the streak of killing off characters just after receiving a screen-time boost, as Beth was abruptly shot in the head by Dawn. You could say that The Walking Dead relies a little too much on using major character deaths for shock value (and Beth’s death was certainly shocking) – but the scenes following her death were among the most heart-wrenchingly depressing (if very well executed) in The Walking Dead’s history. It’s a testament to all the actors that Beth’s death really did feel utterly tragic – Maggie’s reaction (for all her amusing ignorance of Beth) in particular was acted very well indeed by Lauren Cohan, as Maggie became the final Greene standing.. and no, there’s nothing in my eye.
Coda wasn’t quite the mid-season finale it could have been – but it managed to serve up some great action scenes and a mighty gut-punch to close out what’s been a pretty strong half season for The Walking Dead. So, for the first time at the end of a mid-season finale, the path ahead for the group is unclear. What will 2015 hold for Rick and co? Will the group finally reach the fabled Alexandria Safe Zone, or will they stay in the forests of Georgia forever? See you in February…
Scene of the Episode #1 – A Beth In the Family – Another Greene falls in the mid-season finale, in a shocking (and fairly upsetting) end to the year.
Scene of the Episode #2 – Morgan Returns II: The Sequel – It may be cheating to feature a second scene of the week – but it’d be remiss not to mention the second return of Morgan Jones. Coda’s Morgan stinger was a little longer than before – and provided us with a tantalizing hint as Morgan found out whom he was following…