The Walking Dead is continuing to impress with its ability to defy viewer expectations and to craft realistic characters in nightmarishly implausible situations. The first half of the fifth season was as engaging as anything found on television. Robert Kirkman, Scott Gimple, Greg Nicotero, and the writing staff should be applauded. They have managed to keep the show fresh, when it could easily be running out of gas or could have become formulaic by now.
Director Ernest Dickerson opens the episode in a thrilling fashion. The escaped officer from the previous episode is being pursued by an unknown threat. Dickerson shoots the sequence as if a serial killer is on his tail. The reveal of it being Rick Grimes wasn't much of a shock, but it was more of a mission statement by the creators. Rick and the show as a whole, has complete confidence in their actions and they don't have any remorse for those who don't understand their program. Rick is firmly in anti-hero territory now and it will be interesting to see how newcomers in future episodes, view the resolute leader of a clan of highly capable and lethal survivors.
Maggie experiences an entire season's worth of emotions in this single episode. As she goes from being road-weary, to finding out that her long-lost sister is alive, to ultimately coming face to face with Beth's lifeless body. Surely there will be large psychological and emotional ramifications for Maggie as she has now lost her entire family. This will also affect (hopefully positively) the dynamic between her and Glenn as the show moves forward as well.
Dawn has an interesting conversation with Beth about how people who escape the hospital always end up coming back. That point is brought to the forefront when she tries to strong-arm Rick's group by demanding the return of Noah. At the beginning of the episode Rick states that "you can't go back," to the fallen cop. That seems to be the mission statement for The Walking Dead moving forward from this point. For the entire season there has been a glimmer of hope, as they thought there was a cure in sight for the apocalyptic infection. While their next goal isn't clear, their motivation and unity is perhaps stronger than it has ever been. Rick not only is trusted by his group, he has total trust in his own actions. This is no longer a conflicted group. They have seen and survived some of the worst situations in the world and they now have a steely exterior.
This was a well executed mid-season finale. While it seemed that the show would go into hiatus after a huge gun fight reminiscent of the assault on Woodbury, the writers kept things unpredictable for the audience. If this was a movie it would be complete. There really aren't many loose ends to be addressed, aside from how the group will interact with Eugene. It is customary to go into the break or to end the season on a cliffhanger. It is a rewarding feeling to get a complete story, free of gimmicks designed to provoke reactions. Beth's death is important, but it doesn't really affect the narrative as much as it provides excellent fodder for character development.
"Coda" once again proves that it's not the zombie kills, action, or gun fights, that gives The Walking Dead its identity. It's the purposeful plotting and storytelling about these very human group of people, who are constantly being forced to change and adapt in a hellish world. This show has rarely missed a step and this season has been as good as any produced so far. The road is open-ended for the second half of the season, so let's take the time to sit back and appreciate a stellar series.