What distinguished “The Walking Dead’s” fifth season as its best so far wasn’t the quality of individual episodes so much as its consistency: There have always been high points, but they’ve invariably been mixed with frustrating lows. Given that history, it was only a matter of time until the other shoe dropped, and it did, with a clumsy thud, on the mid-season finale, “Coda.” Last week’s episode, “Crossed,” was slow going, but it was also a welcome breather for what seemed likely to be an action-packed closer. Instead, we got lots of static, talky scenes, way, way too much Dawn, and an abrupt final death as contrived as it was shocking.
Dawn, the commander of the hospital’s band of former cops, never developed as a character, or a performance. Every time the camera cut to her for a reaction, the episode stopped dead; I never cared how she felt, and didn’t need cutaways to underline that fact. Worse still was the treatment of Beth, whose death came across less as a moment of sacrifice than stupidity: What exactly did she hope to gain by stabbing Dawn in the shoulder with a short pair of scissors in a hallway full of people with guns? Her hatred for Beth wasn’t built up enough to make a case for self-sacrifice or an impetuous assault. Beth died not because it made narrative or thematic sense, but because when the show runs out of ideas, they kill off a character or three.
It wasn’t all bad. Some of the dialogue paid off the themes that have run through the season, especially Beth’s monologue to Dawn, which put a cap on the running debate of whether the survivors are just biding time until society restores itself or creating a new one through their actions. “You keep telling yourself you have to do what it takes, just until this is all over,” Beth said, “But it isn’t over. This is it. This is who you are and what this place is until the end.” But more talking wasn’t what this episode needed. It’s telling that the best moments were wordless: The dialogue-free scene of Rick and the gang emerging from the hospital with Daryl cradling Beth’s lifeless body, and, especially, the length post-credits sequence of Morgan finding the abandoned church and the map with the group’s now-abandoned route to Washington, D.C. Morgan’s return, also teased after the credits of the season’s first episode, doesn’t seem momentous enough to merit such foreshadowing, but it feels like a tacit acknowledgement that the proper end of “Coda” wasn’t good enough to hold us until February.
Reviews of “The Walking Dead,” Season 5, Episode 8: “Coda”
Zack Handlen, A.V. Club
Okay, so as good as “The Walking Dead” has gotten this season, it still isn’t perfect. As proof, I give you “Coda,” a mid-season finale which almost, but not entirely, manages to squander the goodwill the show has been building for itself all fall. A largely tepid 45 minutes that stalls in between moments of knife-twisting, leading up to a shocking finale which reminds us that, whatever else it’s learned, the show still hasn’t given up on its most beloved trick: killing people because it can.
Alan Sepinwall, HitFix
Dawn wasn’t great, but on the monstrosity scale of “The Walking Dead,” she’d fall in below Gareth, the Governor, and Joe and his band of marauders, and Beth sacrificing herself to stop Dawn felt more like the show needed a major character death to close out the half-season rather than something that made real story or character sense in that moment.
Matt Fowler, IGN
I get that “Walking Dead,” to loosely use a term coined by Seinfeld, is a “show about nothing” — in so much that there’s no goal here. No endgame. It’s often just day to day living and/or dying. But I can’t help but look at the Grady story and wonder “What if Rick and the gang just discovered that Beth had been eaten at Terminus?” Or “What if Beth had just died off-screen in some other meaningful manner that opened up the show’s story in a new direction?” Because the end result here, without Grady dismantled and without any of the abused imprisoned staff members wanting to go with Rick, was that the show traded Beth for Noah.
Laura Prudom, Variety
Considering that the season so far has been building up to this episode, “Coda” spent a lot of time spinning its narrative wheels, delaying a payoff until the episode’s final ten minutes. Sure, we saw Gabriel come across the Termites’ camp (and poor Bob’s rotting leg) before almost getting himself, Michonne, Carl and Judith killed by leading a horde of walkers back to the church, but while the experience of finding himself locked outside the church and begging for help was hopefully a humbling wake-up call for the fallen pastor, it was undeniably frustrating to see him once again put others at risk because of his cowardice.
Eric Kain, Forbes
The finale was shocking enough, but while I certainly enjoyed and felt the tension in some scenes—Rick with the cops, snipers on the rooftops; the first part of the prisoner exchange; the fight between Dawn and the “bad” cop—ultimately Beth’s demise felt cheap to me. She didn’t die because of some horrible thing that just happened to her. She made a stupid choice.
Jeff Stone, Indiewire
Wouldn’t it have been more effective to build a solid, consistent threat to Dawn and have it play out over several episodes, rather than the one-by-one set-up we wound up getting? It’s understandable that with an ensemble this big, the show simply didn’t have time to develop the whole microcosm of the hospital, but this storyline wound up feeling really scattershot.
TK, TV Reviews
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.