Apologies for the lack of a review last week, folks. I had a sick little boy on my hands. -TK
I’m of two minds when it comes to not just “Coda”, the eighth episode (and midseason finale) of Season Five of The Walking Dead, but of the entire hospital storyline in general. On the one hand, I found the entire arc to be absolutely, 100% OK. Just totally, unspectacularly average. But on the other hand, there were some remarkable moments to come out of it, and this episode had no shortage of them.
Let’s deal with the church first. We all knew that their days at the church were coming to close, but the way it closed out was… painful to watch. I’ve very much enjoyed Seth Gilliam’s performance as the conflicted, emotionally broken Gabriel. But this latest development, with him inexplicably escaping the church, and then essentially leading a herd of walkers back? Unforgivable, and I don’t just mean from a character standpoint. From a writing standpoint, I don’t know how much more of the idiotic-characters-who-endanger-everyone trope I can handle, and I’m not sure how many more times I can see the group so easily forgive such idiocy. After the stupidity of the Eugene storyline, Gabriel’s missteps were all the more difficult to swallow. That said, I’ll give the writers credit for this — the scene of the three of them (plus Judith) narrowly escaping the church after letting him back in was one gripping damn few minutes that was excellently filmed.
As for the hospital, well, that happened. We’ve been watching Dawn’s dysfunctional little fiefdom crack and crumble steadily over a few episodes, and this was where it all came to a head. This is also where the show’s writing shows its high and low points, because for the most part the events at the hospital have not been particularly compelling. The Daryl and Carol episode was an outstanding one, but that one didn’t deal with the hospital itself. There’s been a curious feeling of disconnection about this storyline, and it’s mostly due to a collection of thoroughly unlikeable characters, and then the addition of Beth who, for much of her time onscreen, serves as little more than a conflicted observer.
There are two directions that, when taken, breathed life into this particular arc. One was when Beth was actually in action, instead of just watching. The escape attempt, her compelling the doctor to look the other way, those were moments that were far more effective and really showed her coming into her own. The other was Christine Woods’s Dawn — but only really in this episode. The character was never particularly interesting until she truly started to crack at the edges and show some humanity, and this episode, between her forthright conversations with Beth and her confrontation with one of her officers, she finally became… interesting. But that was the problem all along with this story — there was this oddball collection of characters, all of whose moral compasses were failing spectacularly, and this dark, sordid history behind them… and I simply never really cared. It wasn’t until this week, thanks to a solid performance by Woods, that it ever resonated, and even then it rang hollow given how little I’d been previously invested.
That ending, though. I admit that I did not see it coming, and it came with a thunderous shot and a gasp. It was in some ways an inglorious ending for Beth, but it was also terrific in its symbolism; the sidelined, kind-hearted naif, finally driven to act, and it gets her nothing but a bullet in the head. Of course, that’s not really true — it got so much more — freedom for Noah, a new regime in the hospital, and likely a new sense of purpose for Rick and his group. No matter what, it was some damn effective storytelling, and it took a relatively unassuming storyline and prompty catapulted it into something far more intense and emotionally affecting.
They’re back together now, as we often prefer. It’s been an interesting season thus far, sending us on two intriguing, though not always fulfilling, plotlines that saw the deaths of two main characters. Where they go from here, and how they will react given the tough losses they’ve faced, will be fascinating. The roads ahead will be dark as ever, and with two of the most positive forces in the group gone (Beth and Bob), it seems all the more likely that it will only get darker.