TV Review: The Walking Dead – Coda (S5, E8)

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Director: Ernest Dickerson
Screenwriter: Angela Kang
Cast: Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride & Emily Kinney

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FEQsjpLitZI]

A powerhouse finale to what has been one of the best half-seasons of The Walking Dead to date, “Coda” does a fantastic job of tying up almost all of the loose ends that have been established over the course of the last eight weeks, leaving the audience as invigorated as they are devastated.

Picking up where last week’s episode left off, “Coda” follows Rick, Daryl et al as they prepare to rescue Beth and Carol from the hospital-cum-prison in which they are trapped. With two of Dawn’s officers still to trade with – after the third is, shall we say, “disposed of” in the episode’s suitably brutal cold open – the group plans a simple exchange; two officers for two prisoners, with no-one getting hurt in the process. In the meantime, Abraham’s Washington-bound group make a pilgrimage back to the church in the wake of Eugene’s lie while Gabriel, in his desperation to find both reason and forgiveness in the new World, embarks on a journey of his own to discover what kind of man he truly is. Before the episode’s end, innocent blood has been spilled and the group find themselves simultaneously reunited and shattered by the tragedy that unfolds before them.

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If this season of The Walking Dead has been about one thing, it’s been about a loss of humanity. The “heroes” of the show – the people whose side we are supposed to be on – have, over the course of the last eight weeks, become jaded to the point that it’s become difficult to separate the senselessness of their violence to other humans from the aimless, ignorant violence of the walkers. By the conclusion of “Coda”, a small but vital aspect of that humanity is restored, though in true Walking Dead fashion, it takes the worst possible tragedy to remind them that their survival is only worthwhile if they can maintain and keep a grip on the emotions and common decency that makes us all human. The episode pits survival against the most innate human qualities (of which a survival instinct is one) but, rather than forcing the characters and the audience to choose between them, makes the case that one cannot exist without the other.

Where “Coda” falters, primarily, is in its set-up. Unlike most mid-season finales, there’s a certain lack of focus to “Coda”, in part because there’s such a lot to tie up, and though it does a very satisfying job of bringing each thread together, a little more time devoted to each, perhaps in the previous episode, might have helped. The stakes of the episode are high, and the inherent sense of dread and uncertainty that has defined pretty much the entirety of this season so far continues to linger in the background, constantly reminding you that practically no-one is safe outside of a very core constituency, and even then you can never truly be sure. Nonetheless, it isn’t until the final ten minutes that the episode feels like it’s really going anywhere or saying anything worthwhile.

What a relief, then, that those final ten minutes are some of the best the show has ever done. Despite knowing that the exchange won’t run smoothly and that someone probably won’t make it out alive, the immediacy and finality of what goes down is absolutely gut-wrenching. In a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn, the entire episode descends into the most brutal tragedy, without so much as a warning or a chance to say goodbye. As someone who has always championed The Walking Dead for being willing to kill characters off suddenly and mercilessly, even I was impressed by just how abrupt and final the whole thing was. A throwaway line earlier in the episode foreshadows what’s coming to some extent, but that still doesn’t detract from the sheer devastation of what takes place.

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If I were to make one criticism, it would be that the characters who do fail to make it out of the episode alive have never really been given a chance to shine, and now that the hospital saga is apparently over, it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more of the patients or the staff within its walls over the course of the last eight weeks. After a cracking start, the main concern of season five has been a lot of welcome character development, and though this was obviously welcome, I still don’t think enough has been done to make up for how little we knew some of these characters beforehand. As such, though the impact of the episode’s numerous deaths will be felt long into the second half of the season, I didn’t feel anywhere near as upset as I might have been had another character died in their place.

Nonetheless, “Coda” is a suitably brutal and fitting conclusion to a great half-season of The Walking Dead. For a show that has occasionally appeared on the verge of collapsing under the weight of its own ambition, it’s nice to see it pulsing along as strong as ever, and I look forward to it continuing in the New Year.

★★★★

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