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The Walking Dead Review: "Coda"

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<i>The Walking Dead</i> Review: "Coda"

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters.

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Josh,

Whoaaa! They done killed Beth! Maggie Gyllenhaal killed Beth!

Look, from a statistical and practical angle, this makes sense. If you made a list of disposable character, we can all be honest with each other and say that Beth was at the top. She wasn’t the greatest actress, and they tried damn near everything to get us to sympathize with her…suicide attempts, wild girl forays with Daryl, a sudden Chuck Norris turn, and finally, transforming her into a Florence Nightingale type, except one who kills cops. The show never really found its way with Beth, and from that angle, it makes sense that she bit the dust this season.

On the other hand, holy shit! They invested so much in her this season that it’s almost impossible to believe she’s gone. Also, what an incredible ending. The minute I saw Maggie (the real one, not Gyllenhaal) get out of the fire truck, I realized we were in for the classic “devastated collapse” shot to end the episode. I knew it, and it still worked.

On a broad level, I thought this was a really effective mid-season ender for The Walking Dead, and although I’m rarely a fan of restraint when it comes to this show, the mostly peaceful resolution worked for me. I still don’t understand Dawn…all her soliloquizing made her seem somewhat human as Rick and the gang drew near, but her asking for Noah back was totally inexplicable. “I get it now,” Beth said, just before stabbing her, but Josh, I don’t. I don’t get it. Was it about control for her? Did she do it for some kind of tactical edge with her own people? It seemed like she had successfully navigated the whole situation and probably earned a little respect from the other cops, and then she blew it. Or was it that she read a lie in her colleagues’ faces when they said that the other cop (Lambden?? I can’t be bothered to look him up, I’m sorry Josh) was killed by someone else, and she wanted Noah as collateral? But even that makes little sense. I’m puzzled, and the way Dawn looked at Rick and the others and seemed to be saying “I didn’t mean it!” after she shot Beth only confused me more. I’ll appreciate any insight you can provide.

Leaving that for a moment, I thought Andrew Lincoln’s performance was just stellar all episode. He just keeps getting better and better in this series, and the days when people would mock him for his slow, stoic demeanor should be long gone after the last two seasons. His transformation from aspiring pacifist to grim realist is complete—he’ll give you a warning, maybe two, but if you’re too stupid to heed it, he’ll run you over like a dog and then shoot you like a rat. Rick Grimes was my favorite part of this episode, and I caught myself thinking that over and over again this season. I’m not proposing a revolution here, Josh, but I liked him so much that I’m almost thinking we should consider amending our trademark sign-off…I think at this point, I’d choose him over Daryl. Heresy? Sacrilege?

Speaking of which, was it heresy and sacrilege when the zombies overran the church and were framed beneath the ironic words, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life”? And what the hell is Father Gabriel doing? Is he the new Beth, where his motivations are totally opaque, and usually result in either somebody dying or losing a nice sanctuary? The one touch I really liked was when he got stuck outside a locked church, just like all those people he abandoned in the early days of the invasion, and I thought it would have been interesting if met the same fate. Alas, Carl and Michonne weren’t quite so cowardly

Four other quick things I wanted to mention. One, I loved how Beth frantically denied being a cop-killer to Dawn, and then proceeded to kill another one a minute later. Two, I wish the camera would have lingered on Rick for a while after he made the offer that anybody could join them. “Nobody? No takers? Going once…going twice…okay, take a second to think about it. Seriously, you want to stay here? Not even the interns??” Three, I want to congratulate both Rick and Daryl on excellent “angry surprise grief face” work after Beth got shot. Four, MORGAN! WE SAW MORGAN! AND MY DVR CUT OFF THE END OF WHATEVER HE WAS UP TO!

What did I miss, Josh? Kicking it back to you.

—Shane

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Shane,

At the risk of being that guy, I had a strong feeling that Beth was going to die in this episode—especially when Talking Dead advertised “a character from the show that you’ll definitely want to see.” I wrote a couple of weeks ago that we were either going to lose Carol or Beth:

“My leaning is Beth due to something I’m going to call The T-Dog Principle. The writers hardly gave T-Dog a line before it was time to kill him off, but by the time he got eaten in that dark prison hallway, they bent over backwards to make him likable. Herschel had transformed into everybody’s favorite sage with a corny joke before his execution. ... It’s an effective formula, making every death an emotional event.”

I’ll say that they succeeded with Beth. She’d become a fan favorite this season after finally finding an inner toughness she hadn’t shown in the previous seasons. To her credit, when the writers freed her from her character’s hopelessness and stoicism, Emily Kinney delivered her best performances of the series these last few weeks. When that gun went off, it was heartbreaking, especially as the anguish felt by Daryl, Rick and Maggie seemed all too real.

I’ll agree, though, that Rick has become one of the best characters on the show. He could have just knocked Officer Bob over instead of sending him flying head first into the asphalt. That was as shocking a moment as Beth’s death to me. He won’t make the mistakes of Tyreese or Sasha—his mercy is harder to win. One false move, and you’re his enemy. And I’m glad you brought up Andrew Lincoln’s acting because it finally feels like he’s completely inhabited his character. And it’s a character I’d follow in the apocalypse.

This was certainly not the explosive shootout that we’ve come to expect, though I agree with you that the subtlety worked well here. The hospital was a more complicated place than Woodbury or Terminus, and the villain still had some of her humanity. The officers that Beth had killed were more blatantly corrupt (nothing subtle about rape or pushing around an old man for not mending a hole in his uniform), but Dawn’s vindictiveness was apparent in the way she would slap Beth out of the blue or in her move to bring Noah back into servitude. She was brought low by her need to control. Beth wasn’t going to leave Noah to her cruelty.

This hasn’t been my favorite season of The Walking Dead so far, but it’s been interesting to see the survivors at the hospital making their own stand against a world full of “rotters.” Without a strong leader, the lieutenants get restless, abuse their power and push the chief into making compromise after compromise. What makes post-apocalyptic fiction so compelling is seeing what happens when all societal constraints are lifted. Falling in with other generally moral people like in Rick’s group makes it easier to remain moral. But when power starts to corrupt, it spreads and everyone begins to look out for themselves out of necessity. The hospital is bleak place, but there seemed to be hope among the remaining cops with the worst abusers all dead. Instead of leaving it a smoking heap, Beth (and Rick) brought a little bit of redemption to Grady Memorial.

One thing that did make a lot more sense after “Coda” was Father Gabriel motive for escaping the church. He wanted to know the truth about the people he’d seen slaughtered in his church. Roasted leg o’ Bob made him see that they deserved their fate. And he also realized he was no pacifist when it came to zombie survival. There’s hope for him yet.

You missed Morgan finding the church and offering up a moon pie, a bullet and a rabbit’s foot to God. He also found a note that Abraham had left to “Grimes.” He now knows that Rick is still alive. I can only imagine that he’s ready to rejoin a community.

So the gang is back together. They’re in the big city, but probably not for long. For the most part, their heads are on a little straighter: Rick, Glenn, Daryl, Michonne, Tyreese, Abraham and Sasha have all had either major or minor meltdowns at this point, but they’ve settled in to this new life. Maggie and Sasha are grieving, and Carol is still a little displaced, but for the most part, this is a strong group headed into the second half of Season 5. It’s going to take more than zombies to give them trouble. How would you rate this season so far and what are your hopes for next year?

—Josh

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Josh,

Man, I totally blanked on Father Gabe finding that foot and putting two and two together. I guess that means he’s finally free of the strange, sheltered perspective the church offered him all those years, and understands the value of a group like Rick’s that contains moral people. The one thing that runs through my head while watching this show, over and over, is the question of how quickly people would try to build a civilized society once the zombie threat wasn’t so pressing. I like to think it would happen quickly, simply for the fact that it’s better for everyone when people work together, but I also know that the psychopaths who have been hiding in our democracy—mostly in the executive levels of large investment banks—would have their big chance to seize power and institute the dystopia of their choice. The wrong kind of person could really rule by fear, and since we already have societies like that in this world, and have forever, it makes you see how tenuous even our flawed democracy looks, and how easily it could go to hell. Obviously I hope we never have to learn the answer to this question, but it does make me curious.

Props also on calling the Beth Death. You win this round, Jackson.

I definitely wouldn’t say this was my favorite season, but I thought it kept the show’s momentum moving forward, which is the most important thing for a juggernaut like The Walking Dead. I still think when the writers tell a story through action, they tend to succeed, and when they try to force emotions and narrative down our throat through dialogue, they fail. That’s why this show always teeters on the verge of “guilty pleasure” territory for me; sometimes I think it’s really strong television, and other times it gets melodramatic and schmaltzy in a way that a show like Game of Thrones never would. And we saw both sides in this half-season, but certainly not enough of the latter to spoil the series for me.

As far as my hopes for February, I’d reiterate what I said last week, which is that a new enemy would be welcome. I really hope we don’t spend too much time going through the whole “Maggie is traumatized, and it’s going to take like four episodes for her to psychologically heal” rigamarole. It was bad enough with Sasha this season, and I don’t think it’s worth their time. Which probably means that’s exactly what will happen.

And then, of course, you have to wonder where they’re headed. In the “scenes from next time” spot, it looked like a fight was raging about whether or not to head to some potential shelter where they may or may not be safe, and it’ll be interesting to see whether the gang is mostly on the road, or mostly stationary, when we get back.

Now that Beth is gone, Josh, I’ll send it back your way with one last question before the mid-season break: Who are the most disposable characters in the group? I wouldn’t say no to a top-five list.

I also anxiously await your closing line…are we staying with Daryl Dixon, or has Rick eclipsed him???

A pleasure as always, sir!

—Shane

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Shane,

I’ll agree that this season has been thoroughly enjoyable while not reaching the highs of Seasons 3 and 4. But it gives me confidence that the writers can keep the tension high with new trials and tribulations for our heroes to overcome, as well as new responses to the end of civilization to ponder and moral swamps to navigate. When I interviewed him a few years ago, Robert Kirkman told me he’d like to keep the comic going for another 25 years, and there’s no reason the TV show can’t be America’s answer to Doctor Who and outlive Andrew Lincoln’s contract.

The comics have certainly maintained the intensity well above the 100-issue mark. Keeping the narrative flowing is Kirkman’s greatest gift as a writer, and the writing/producing team of the series has honed that gift for television. Once again, the group out in the wild with no shelter and no real plan. What’s next is another blank slate for the writers with some good ideas in the comics to draw upon. And plenty more characters to kill off. So my current Top Five Disposable Characters of The Walking Dead:

5. Judith – CALM DOWN! I was just checking to see if you had read this far down the page.

4. Rosita – The least developed character on the show has mostly been badass-soldier arm candy for Abraham. If she just disappeared over the winter break would anyone notice?

3. Father Gabriel – Gabe is the new Beth. He couldn’t have just crawled back up the hole in the floor of the church? He had to dismantle the defenses? Bob got his leg chopped off, but it wasn’t until he saw that the Terminus gang were eating it that he decided their deaths were justified? I love Seth Gilliam and hope he gets to let his character grow, but if someone’s gotta get eaten…

2. Eugene – His part has been played. Now he’s just mostly dead weight (some science knowledge keeps him out of the #1 spot).

1. Tara – Why is she still here again?

Please don’t die…Daryl Dixon (sorry, Shane, some traditions are harder to kill than Rick Grimes).

—Josh

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Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.

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