This season of “The Walking Dead” started with a bang, as the group took on Gareth (Andrew J. West) and his team of cannibals with brutality and aggression. Things didn’t just stagnate at Terminus, as we might’ve seen in previous seasons, and the story quickly evolved into something very interesting. There’s been a lot more action this time around than we have seen before, and from my perspective that makes this show a whole lot better, because it doesn’t have (and never has had) amazing writing or acting week in week out. Along with this new focus on action we’ve seen some really impressive makeup on the walkers, and with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) almost in full-Shane mode, I’m actually looking forward to each episode ahead of time.
The mid-season finale, entitled “Coda” typified both the good and the bad aspects of this season so far, and despite a few underwhelming scenes, it was quite entertaining on the whole. As with most of the episodes so far, there was always something going on to keep you invested in what was happening on screen, which hasn’t always been the case on this show. It wasn’t a slow burning or boring episode, even though a lot of what occurred was clearly intended to build tension, leading up to what I’m sure was intended to be an emotional climax.
Nevertheless, because this is “The Walking Dead”, there’s only so many positives you can find before running into a negative, and in keeping with the rest of the season, how the characters behaved in “Coda” was both strange and slightly idiotic. Rick could’ve been a completely different person at the end of the episode than he was at the start, given that his actions in these moments were clearly in conflict. He begins the episode as a cold blooded killer, showing no mercy to an innocent man, but just hours later he’s offering sanctuary to his enemies!
In the opening scene of this episode we see Rick chase down the runaway police officer who Sasha (Sonequa Martin Green) so foolishly allowed to flee in the previous episode. As we watch the attempted escape play out it’s clear that Rick has the upper hand. The police officer, who happens to be called Bob (Maximiliano Hernandez), still has his hands cuffed together, and as such he can’t really make the swiftest of getaways. Eventually Rick decides it would be fun to run him over, and with absolutely no regard for the value of human life he does so, incapacitating Bob and soon after killing him with a bullet to the head. It was an interesting way to show that in the zombie apocalypse no one is really the good guy, it’s just survivor vs. survivor, and the last man standing takes the spoils. I really liked how this was portrayed to the audience with a clever nod to the first episode, as Rick uttered the words ‘you can’t go back Bob’, which Gareth had so fatefully said right at the start of the season.
Despite the fact that this was an enjoyable scene to watch, it wasn’t the finest moment in the first half of this season when you think about it more carefully. The fact that the issue was dealt with so quickly after the events of last week’s episode made the final scene of that episode seem pointless. The dramatic tension built by that scene was knocked down in an instant, just as Bob was by Rick’s reckless driving. That might not seem like the biggest of issues right now, because that tension carried over from last week to this week as everyone emotionally involved in the show had so much time to think about what could happen next, but to me it felt like a kick in the teeth, because I was expecting a much more worthwhile pay-off.
Also, I’m not sure that killing Bob was the best thing for Rick to do in the first place, and I don’t believe that he would’ve actually done it, given the fact that it didn’t really make his life any easier at all. He could’ve easily given Bob a little push with the car once he reached him, and that would’ve been enough to knock down a man who was running desperately with no regard for his balance whatsoever. Rick could’ve then picked him up, taken him back to the group or simply left him in the car (presuming it could be locked), and he would’ve had more to trade with Dawn (Christine Woods) at the end of the episode, possibly avoiding the untimely demise of Beth (Emily Kinney). In short, Rick is completely and solely to blame for Beth’s death.
Rick wasn’t the only character acting irrationally in this opening scene, Bob’s decision making skills were clearly affected by the need for his character to service the plot, because there was absolutely no good reason why he would run from Rick and the others. He had more than enough time to think about his next move, and frankly he thought SO wrongly.
His reasoning for attempting to make a break for it was that, in his own words, ‘I don’t know you’, but if he lived his whole life so wary of stranger danger then he must have been an extremely boring character in the first place! Not knowing a group of rational human beings is not a good enough reason to leave yourself at the mercy of a larger group of irrational and murderous zombies! If it were me I would probably take my chances with a group of people that want to use me as a bargaining tool, rather than run outside into a world filled with hungry zombies, tail between my legs and hands tied behind my back. If you have to choose between a rock and a hard place you might as well choose the rock, at least with that you know exactly what you’re up against, the hard place might just be a bigger rock with much more ragged edges.
The convenience of Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Maggie’s (Lauren Cohan) return was extremely frustrating. This convenience was two-fold and it was annoying on both counts. Glenn and Maggie’s initial return served one ridiculously well-timed purpose, which was to save Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Carl (Chandler Riggs) from certain death at the hands of the walkers. What really got to me about this scene wasn’t just the timing, but it was the fact that I didn’t care what was happening on screen because I knew that there was definitely going to be something which saved the day.
I didn’t believe for a second that Carl or Michonne would get killed off, and by extension I knew that Gabriel would probably be fine as well. This is a massive failure on the part of the writers, because when you stop believing that anyone important is going to die on a programme about the apocalypse, you know things are far too tame. The show already loses credibility from the fact that none of the characters can swear, which is clearly a feature of everyday dialogue which would carry over into the zombie apocalypse, so to make them invincible as well just makes the show itself quite redundant. Why should I care about the characters being created if I know that only a select few of them are dispensable?
The second way in which this scene was convenient for moving the plot along was that, not only did it get the entire cast back together, but this reunion happened just in time for Maggie to see her dead sister being carried out of the hospital in Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) loving arms. How is it possible to have timing that good? Maggie should constantly carry an umbrella because she’ll always put it up just before the rain comes! The scene in which Glenn, Maggie, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) etc., first return to save Gabriel, Carl, and Michonne, was an initial convenient plot point to set up an even more convenient plot point! Fantastic writing guys, keep up the good work!
The last thing I want to criticise from this episode was Beth’s death, which wasn’t really all that surprising, because it seems that whenever a character gets a bit more screen time on this show they are likely to be killed off. If a fringe character suddenly gets a more integral part in the narrative you can almost guarantee that things aren’t going to end well (so good luck Carol (Melissa McBride)).
However, I did like how it happened, because although a lot of people have said that it didn’t make sense, (and in a way I agree because she gave up her life for someone she barely knew and left her sister and friends to mourn her death), she did the heroic thing and at the end of the day maybe she’d just had enough. There’s only so much you can take from people before you snap, which must be even more true when every day is about survival and you can’t turn a corner without wondering what could kill you on the other side, and she was almost suicidal at the end of Season Two, so this could just have been the final nail in the coffin.
All in all this was a solid enough episode by “The Walking Dead’s” admittedly low standards, and I did enjoy it; it was tense and exciting, even if it was slightly ridiculous and altogether predictable. Things certainly weren’t as action packed as I would’ve hoped from the mid-season finale, but there are plenty of avenues to explore when the show returns in February, and at least a ‘main’ character was killed off, as well as there being some resolution to the stories we’ve seen so far. “Coda” wasn’t earth-shattering or fantastic, but it was fine, and that’s about as much as I can allow myself to expect from this show.
As far as the mini-season is concerned (because at the end of the day these mid-season breaks come at the end of eight hour-long episodes and bring a reasonable amount of resolution to the storylines at play, so they aren’t the middle of a season at all, they are seasons in themselves, or at least that’s how I see them. The first season was actually shorter than this half-of-a-season pretender!), it’s been a decent improvement in quality as opposed to the last season of “The Walking Dead”.
However, “The Walking Dead” feels like it should be subtitled “Character Development For Dummies”, because the way in which characters evolve is so obvious and mundane that you have to wonder whether or not the writers have ever actually seen another television show. Having seen “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad”, how can you allow yourself to create such stereotypical and generic characters?
Carol is suddenly strong because she no longer has her husband and has found freedom in a world where no one is left to abuse her, haven’t seen that before! Daryl has become kinder and less angry because he no longer has his brother leading him astray and he finally feels as though he’s found a place and a purpose in the world. Rick has become cold and bitter towards the world because his wife has died and he has seen the evil people can do. Nothing about how these character’s reactions to their situations is original or exciting, they’re all incredibly plain.
Things could be easily rectified if the writers had some guts and let one of their characters just lose it! If you want Rick to be this broody, vicious person, go for it! We’d all like to see it! Make him the anti-hero. Have him hit Carl and hate himself for doing it, have him get in a new relationship with another character but it become destructive, have him find drugs and start taking them, going off the rails. Have him do something. But if you are going to skirt around the issues and just hint at possible changes in character’s mentalities then don’t bother, because most of your target demographic isn’t paying attention anyway, they just like to see Daryl shoot his crossbow and think Rick is cool because he has a base level of authority over a tiny group of ‘heroes’.
This isn’t the best series on television, and I don’t believe it ever will be. However, I feel as though it’s starting to realise that it works best when things go boom and it doesn’t try to overstep its mark. For that reason I’ve enjoyed the first half of this season a lot more than I did the latter half of last season, and I’m hopeful for more action set pieces and violence in episodes to come. Still, I get incredibly frustrated by the failure to realise potential on the part of the writers of this show, because they have a great platform to build off of in the form of Robert Kirkman’s series of graphic novels, and there are a lot of interesting stories to tell about people who are desperate to survive a zombie apocalypse.
This season has dealt with cannibals, rape, salvation (Eugene (Josh McDermitt) playing the role of a saviour, and Gabriel worrying whether or not he is damned), abuse, and loss, but it still feels incredibly hollow, which is a real shame because this show has a large audience and exploring those themes more carefully could create a programme really worthy of the popularity that “The Walking Dead” has right now.
Episode Eight, “Coda” – 6/10
The first half of Season Five – 6.5/10