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This is one of those times I’m glad I wait until the morning after to start writing my episode reviews, because had I written this review immediately following the harrowing events of last night’s Walking Dead midseason finale, I likely would have been blinded by the emotional fallout of Beth’s untimely death and ignored some of the less successful elements within the episode. However, with several hours and a good night’s sleep comes some additional perspective, and I find I’m less enthralled with “Coda” than I believed upon my initial viewing. Sure, several moments within the episode really worked and continued the show’s strong forward momentum. But, on the whole, the episode felt rushed and incomplete.
First, let’s tackle the absolute best element of the episode: Beth’s death. Now, I’m not saying I’m glad that Beth is no longer on the show. Quite the opposite, really, as Beth has, over the course of the last two and a half seasons, become one of the show’s strongest and most complex characters. But I am glad that the show finally had the guts to make a bold choice and kill off a character with some weight (sorry Bob, but your death has only served to give Sasha a reason to start developing as a character). Beth, much like her fellow hospital patient Carol, started off her time on Walking Dead relegated to the background behind stronger characters (remember when Maggie was an interesting character?). Slowly but surely, Beth has grown into a tough, no nonsense young woman who has learned to navigate the dark and dangerous world she now inhabits. Having spent so much time cultivating the character of Beth, killing her at this point drives home the idea that no one on the show is safe, which is which appears to be something the show has started to forget over the past season.
The loss of Beth should also have an incredibly wide impact on the remaining characters, as she has managed to have a deep and lasting impact on the majority of the survivors. For Rick, she’s a reminder that the children growing up in this world are still at risk, which will likely drive home the idea that Carl (despite his excellent survival skills) is still vulnerable. For Carol, it’s another reminder of Sophia’s death. For Carl, it’s the loss of his first real crush and his only remaining age appropriate friend (and, likely, a reminder of his own mortality, which might be necessary for a boy who is starting to think he is invincible). For poor Daryl, Beth’s death will likely be a horrific blow- one that will lend Norman Reedus the chance to really stretch himself over the course of the rest of the season. Finally, and perhaps more importantly, the loss of Beth will be a game changer for the character of Maggie.
As many have pointed out, Maggie has seemed pretty unconcerned with the location of Beth since the gang left the prison. It’s been one of the largest plot holes of the last season. I’m the oldest of three sisters, and if one of my sisters went missing during the zombie apocalypse, you better believe I would be doing everything possible to try to locate her. Maggie hasn’t even mentioned Beth this season. It just doesn’t add up. While the show truly missed a chance to build up additional emotional stakes around Beth’s disappearance through Maggie, it has a golden opportunity now to show the fallout and rectify this oversight. And, even better, it has the chance to rehabilitate Maggie completely, transforming her from one of the show’s most dull and dispassionate characters into something so much better. Killing Beth robs the series of one of its most complex characters, but it gives the show the chance to create another interesting one in Maggie. Writers: Please don’t spoil this chance.
So, Beth’s death and the episode’s climax were the elements of “Coda” that worked. Unfortunately, that’s about all that really worked within the episode. On the whole, “Coda” felt like an episode of pieces stitched together rather than a smoothly flowing story. We jumped from story to story, from time to time, without any connection. One moment, Rick is running down one of the captured cops (in a really interesting sequence that tells us a great deal about Rick’s current belief system: you get one chance and then Rick stops being nice), the next he and the gang are running into two more cops, and then the prisoner exchange is happening (with no scenes showing how Rick and the gang know they can trust Dawn, that it’s not a trap, etc.). At the hospital, Dawn and Beth are bonding and suddenly there’s a power struggle (another interesting sequence in the midst of the strange timeline), then Carol is stirring, and suddenly Carol’s awake and able to walk? While I can understand the writers not wanting to spell everything out, I would have really liked a scene of Carol figuring out where she is and who she’s with. A moment of Carol and Beth talking would have helped heighten the impact of Beth’s death all the more (and perhaps increased the tension over whether Carol may have been the one to die, as almost the entire viewing audience was assuming either Beth or Carol were going to die before the end of the episode).
Outside of the hospital, spending a bit more time in the firetruck with Abraham and company would have been nice. Perhaps an update on Eugene’s status? How Abraham is acclimating to the group after his temper tantrum? There were just so many missed chances to keep building characters. And it wasn’t even an instance of the show opting for action over substance. It was a clear case of the show having too many characters it needed to service and just not enough time to tell the story right. That is a problem, and one that shouldn’t be happening at this juncture in the series. The only reason Abraham’s gang even arrived at the church, and later, the hospital, was so that we could have Maggie remember she has a sister and then see Beth’s dead body to heighten the emotional impact of Beth’s death. But we didn’t need that moment. The series has done such an excellent job with developing Beth’s character that her death resonates enough even without Maggie’s reaction. After all, when Daryl Dixon cries, we all cry.
The first half of season five has been the strongest of the show’s entire run, and this slight narrative stumble at its close doesn’t diminish the episodes that have led up to this place. That being said, the writers have their work cut out for them for the back half of the season. For the first time this season, the gang has no direction. They aren’t trying to escape anyone and they aren’t heading to a particular place. Certainly, the characters need some time to mourn the loss of Beth, but a path must emerge sooner rather than later. It will be a dark period when the show returns in February, but it will also be a chance for some really excellent performances. February 8th can’t come fast enough.
— Since it was her last hurrah, I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit to Emily Kinney for her excellent work on the series. She’s been excellent showing Beth’s slow transformation from a sunny singing young girl into a hardened young woman. I’m sad to see her go.
— While the episode had several pacing issues, the final sequence with Beth’s death was paced exquisitely. I was so sure she was going to slit Dawn’s throat and start off a shooting spree, that I actually didn’t even realize Beth was shot until I saw her fall.
— So, Morgan has reached the church and found the map. We have no knowledge as to how far behind the group Morgan is, but I think it’s safe to say he’s heading to Washington D.C. now. The only question is whether or not the group will follow.