‘Coda’ Plot Summary:
With an opportunity for a peaceful resolution in his hands, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) will do whatever he can to keep that a reality. Will he be able to successfully negotiate a transfer with Dawn (Christine Woods) that avoids any unneeded death?
The Walking Dead has developed a reputation for its finales. Despite what may happen over the course of seven episodes, the biggest moments are always saved for the eighth. This is how the show is able to leave us with a jaw dropping ending to keep us salivating for when the show returns in a few months time. We usually get this either in the form of a crazy action set piece, a major character death, or a huge question mark on the fates of our heroes. “Coda” chose to go with the second option which resulted in one of our main stars reaching an untimely end. The death itself felt pretty senseless, but the entire hour leading up to it was definitely one of the best of the season.
There was a lot that worked about “Coda.” What made it stand out was how hopeful it all was, despite the intensity. Only a few episodes ago, Rick brutally massacred the residents of Terminus. Of course, they deserved it completely, but it’s easy to see how he can develop a violence first mantra. Clearly it was the only way to resolve that issue. But Dawn is definitely a different person. She’s not a senseless murderer or a cannibal. She’s a cop who is trying to do the right thing. That’s portrayed pretty clearly via the hostages and Rick becomes serious about keeping a peaceful resolution totally afloat. A peaceful resolution that actually seemed possible throughout the episode. Rick was able to talk with the cops and the hostages were perfectly willing to cooperate. The scenes between Beth (Emily Kinney) and Dawn showed her as someone who can be reasoned with and doesn’t take aggressive violence lightly. A chance for peace actually looked like a reasonable possibility.
Everything leading up to “the exchange” was perfectly dramatic too. This is an exceptionally delicate situation. Any hostage negotiation has the chance to blow up in everyone’s faces. Bob Lamson (Maximiliano Hernandez) escaping after headbutting Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) was one such example of something that could ruin all of this. Lamson could have reached Dawn and told her everything. Rick was right to kill him and I loved his very terse “shut up” after he did it. Even in death Lamson was an issue though, so watching Rick work up a convincing lie with Officers Licari (Christopher Matthew Cook) and Shepherd (Teri Wyble) was given the weight it definitely deserved. This could easily have been the loose screw in their otherwise pretty stable plan. What if Dawn didn’t buy it? What if it becomes a hail of gunfire? That was all a possibility and it was great to see the show dance around the options for a while.
Things got pretty hairy back at the church too, but even that ended positively with everyone intact. Yes, Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) did lead a small group of walkers back and put Carl (Chandler Riggs), Michonne (Danai Gurira), and Judith in danger, but where was he supposed to go? This is a guy who’s biggest shield was his church. Him attempting to find out who exactly Rick and his group killed was appropriate too. Yet after an exciting action scene with Michonne killing a bunch of walkers, Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) and his group returns to save the day. Hey look! Everything is actually okay. Michonne tells Maggie (Lauren Cohan) that Beth is alive and the group decides to meet with everyone else in Atlanta. For the first time in a while, The Walking Dead actually seemed like it would let our protagonists off easy.
Then we’re reminded that this is not that type of show. The exchange goes well, both Beth and Carol (Melissa McBride) are safe, but Beth snaps when Noah (Tyler James Williams) volunteers to return to Dawn. This results in her stabbing Dawn and getting shot in the head.
I’m having difficulty rationalizing what Beth did. What was she hoping to accomplish? I can’t help but think of her final act as unfathomably stupid. She was in the clear. Rick’s plan was actually going to work. Sure, Noah was going back to the place he fled from, but there’s no reason to consider him a character to sacrifice for. We’ve known him for four episodes. Beth knew him for, what, a day? She could clearly see that almost everyone she has cared about for years is alive and well. There’s no reason for her to think that Maggie wasn’t going strong either. None of this needed to end in death. Yet Beth, after everything everyone has done for her, willingly threw her life away when she tried to stab someone who had gun. I’m happy that Daryl (Norman Reedus) gave Dawn a bullet between the eyes, but this isn’t how it should have gone. Beth didn’t need to die. This was death for death’s sake.
Now we’re obviously left with a big “what next?” Beth is dead, Maggie is a huge mess for the right reasons, and everyone presumably knows that Eugene (Josh McDermitt) totally lied. They are done with Grady Memorial Hospital and Noah is back with Rick’s group. I like that a massive firefight didn’t break out. Shepherd was right. The conflict between Dawn and Beth was only between them. No one else. In a way, Rick did get the peaceful resolution he wanted. The Grady Memorial group and Rick’s group will now survive separately. Yet the cost was immense, all because of a stupid act of revenge.
Lastly, we got an after credits sequence with Morgan (Lennie James) visiting the same school Gabriel went to. Not a lot is revealed, as expected, but Morgan came across the message written by Abraham about Washington DC and how the world needs Rick Grimes. Morgan now knows Rick is still alive and you can bet he will track him down. Excitement!
“Coda” was a really solid halfway point for a season that truly has been great so far. The Walking Dead has been beyond stellar with their character focus over the past eight weeks. We have the human element once again and this show is definitely better because of it. If anything, Beth’s actions were one of the most human things we’ve seen. It was done in anger and rage which we all know leads to terrible mistakes. The Governor succumbed to his anger last season and died because of it. Beth’s fate was the same. Yet it still feels like a cheat. Death wasn’t needed but death is still what we got. Beth’s end will obviously weigh heavily on everyone, especially Maggie and Noah. Those two might even come to blows because of it. You can bet the show will use this as a vehicle to deeply explore what extreme loss will do to someone. Maggie has now seen her entirely family get killed. She’s the only living Greene. What will happen because of that? I have my theories and none of those are pretty.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.