Mid-season finale review: ‘The Walking Dead’ – ‘Coda’

Senior Television Writer
11.30.14 150 Comments

A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” finale coming up just as soon as my people are very close by…

Things had been going so well for “The Walking Dead” creative team for so long this fall that I was willing to accept last week's underwhelming episode as a necessary evil that was putting all the pieces in place for what I hoped would be a strong conclusion tonight.

Instead, “Coda” was just as limp and disappointing as “Crossed,” with only the post-credits scene with Morgan making me feel especially eager to see what comes next in February. The first six episodes of this season were really strong in different ways, but these last two – and “Coda” in particular – suffered from various problems regarding pacing, focus, and characterization.

Let's start at the end with Beth deciding to stab Dawn rather than enjoy the freedom – and reunion with her sister(*) – that Rick and Daryl had just arranged. The show had done its best over this half-season, plus the Daryl/Beth episodes last spring, to turn Beth into an actual character who could be as strong as her traveling companions, and whose death would actually matter whenever it happened. But even with the earlier scene in “Coda” where Dawn discussed being the only person brave enough to kill her mentor when he got out of control, it didn't feel like nearly enough groundwork was laid for Beth to do something similar here. 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.

(*) It also would have helped make both of tonight's Maggie scenes much more effective if she had once mentioned Beth since the opening minutes of the season premiere.

And the pacing of the whole thing was way off. One of the most obvious improvements was that Gimple and company had finally learned when to move quickly (escape from Terminus in an episode, Termites dead by episode 3) and when it's okay to linger on a story (Daryl and Carol's Atlanta adventures). This was just all over the map, tempo-wise, at times pausing for character beats (Sasha and Tyreese's rooftop reverie), at times racing through important story beats (Carol waking up and coming to understand the situation she's in). For a good chunk of the hour, I was convinced we were heading for another mid-season cliffhanger like Daryl and Merle's reunion at Woodbury in season 3, simply because “Coda” had lingered so long over moments like Rick murdering Bob Lamson (and coming across very much like Gareth in doing so) and underfed subplots like Father Gabriel's escape from the zombies(**) that there didn't seem like adequate time to wrap up the prisoner exchange. Perhaps if it hadn't been so rushed, Beth's decision would have played out more convincingly.

(**) I get that the point was to put Gabriel in the same position he left his congregants in at the start of the apocalypse, banging on the church doors and begging for sanctuary, and that Carl and Michonne's decision to save him illustrates that they're more generous and brave than the man of the cloth, but his decision to run away from the church in the first place wasn't properly set up enough for any of that to really work. He seems like exactly the kind of guy they would let get bitten, even if they're trying to be better than Gareth or the cops.

There were some nice individual moments, like Dawn and Officer O'Donnell's Wild West staredown in that hallway with the flickering fluorescent lights. But this half-season that began with such a bang, and then proved effective at so many different things, closed with a whimper these last two weeks. Here's hoping for better – and for Morgan to catch up with Rick's group in a hurry – come February.

Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:

1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.

2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.

3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with “Game of Thrones,” the goal is to treat “The Walking Dead” TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.

With that in mind, what did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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