A few days ago, in the comments section of my article on THE WALKING DEAD's last installment, I offered some words on the trajectory of the series:
"The season opener was one of the strongest eps of TWD ever produced and its immediate sequel was--as always
with TWD--to throw out the drag-weights, slam on the brakes and bring it
all to a virtual standstill. Take an episode worth of plot dealing with
the cannibals, pile on the padding to stretch it to two eps and so
sanitize the ending that the entire point of the story is lost. Since
then, it's been up and down, up and down. Every somewhat decent ep is
immediately followed by a pointless waste of space. What you're seeing
there--while TWD is at the absolute height of its popularity--is the
coming end of TWD. It fell into this pattern in the last season, seems
unlikely to ever pull out of it and it's more wearisome than back
during the Mazzara seasons when it was just a bad show that drew a
certain audience. Now, it draws a much broader audience and produces eps
that encourage much greater involvement with it then it immediately
slaps the face of anyone who extends to it any greater investment.
That's the rotating pattern. It's a situation bound to produce
frustration and that will only grow as the boom-and-bust cycle
continues and the better eps become less better and fewer in number. I
wouldn't want to overstate that--it still has some seasons left in
it--and things could always change, as they have so often with this
series. That's its course at present."
Couldn't help thinking about that while watching "Coda," tonight's stunningly lackluster mid-season finale.
The ep opened
promisingly enough. The cop who managed to escape our heroes at the end
of last week's installment was running for his life, hands still bound
behind his back. Rick, pursuing him in a car, tells him to stop. When he
doesn't, Rick runs him down. The fellow, now terribly injured, wants to
talk, talk, talk, the way characters will do on TWD, but Rick just shoots him. Tells him to shut up.
ugliness aside, the ep was another major flop, which is a much bigger
problem for a finale than for a regular ep. The storyline regarding the
cops running the hospital in Atlanta--an original for the series, if the
word isn't too abused by applying it here--started strongly with
"Slabtown" then almost immediately degenerated into the usual TWD
stewage, a string of episodes so densely packed with pointless padding
that it's a marvel anyone trapped within them could even breath. Rather
than actually using the time they had, the writers fought a delaying
action aimed at extending yet another terminally unterwritten plot well
past its natural expiration date, promising its viewers, while it drags
and drags, that there will be a big payoff at the end.
competently-managed suspense must eventually pay off. We don't get
competently-managed suspense from TWD. And tonight, at the conclusion of
the hospital storyline, we didn't get any payoff either. No twists or
turns. No big set-pieces. The episode's climactic event--the death of
Beth--was also its only substantive event, and it was telegraphed well
in advance--a thing everyone who has paid any attention has seen coming
for weeks. The only question was how it would happen.
That's not a strong
enough question to keep people coming back to TWD over the long term.
Even if the series typically featured positively sterling writing rather
than its polar opposite, you can only toy with and abuse audience
expectations so much, and this isn't TWD's first offense when it comes
to that. "Shocking" deaths aren't shocking if viewers can tell they're coming, and tragic deaths aren't tragic if viewers have been given no reason to care about the character doing the dying for their amusement. Building an otherwise lackluster series around such events simply isn't a formula that can succeed for very long.
 Much of online
TWD fandom has taken it has taken it as a given. Carol was also set up
for death, but it would seem her growing popularity saved her for the
moment. Her character will have to be assassinated before she's bumped
 Like a light-switch being flipped,
Maggie, who clearly doesn't understand the rules of the series,
remembered she had a sister tonight just in time to give us a big,
emotional breakdown scene, and I'm sure we'll hear more from her on the
subject of Beth in the future--some of TWD's patented posthumous tell-don't-show
ADDENDUM (4 Dec., 2014) - The one attribute Beth was ever allowed was that she was the one who aggressively Chose Life. This was introduced during the godawful suicide subplot of "18 Miles Out" and reappared again in last season's "Still," which, warts and all, I really liked (maybe as much for its ideology as for its actual content). I've been listening to Arnold Blumberg's "Doctor of the Dead" podcasts lately (which are, by the way, great), and in his take on the ep, he sort of ran with that thought about Beth's characterization and noted that her death was strikingly out of character (to the extent, I would add, that anything can be said to be out of character for TWD's paper-thin redshirts--it was a violation of Beth's one character attribute). After all this time as the girl who Chose Life, she essentially committed bold suicide and in a remarkably stupid way and for no real reason, endangering, in the process, the lives of all of her friends who'd come to rescue her.
When you subtract Beth's death from "Coda," it really has nothing else to offer. The whole thing is meant to be built around a "shocking" death, except everyone who has ever paid any attention to TWD knew, weeks ago, that Beth was going to die. A background-noise character suddenly given not just a prominent role in an ep but her own ep, she was, by the established formula of TWD, walking dead from "Slabtown" forward. The writers could have thrown us a curveball by altering the formula. "Still" occurred during a period when the Gimple Gang had broken the characters into very small groups and was trying to give all of them some attention. The greater attention devoted to Beth in that ep was part of a new direction for TWD, Gimple's effort to build some characters rather than following the temporary-plot-dictating-the-characterizations approach that had become TWD's standard. Some habits die hard--while that spotlight didn't presage Beth's death, it did lead to her kidnapping and disappearance from the series for an extended period--but it can be seen as progress, even if merely a rather timid baby-step. Contrary to the rest of the series, none of the regular cast died in the season 4 ender either. Falling back on the old formula this season is a devolution, a retreat from that new direction. Rather than moving forward and trying to forge a TWD that draws attention for something besides its "shocking" character deaths, "Coda" is a regression. Maybe it's a surrender. As I said above, I think it's a sign of the coming end of TWD. For shock-tactics to work, they have to be shocking. If TWD is just going to be a show that depends on shock- tactics but is so timid and rigidly formulaic that its intended shocks are so entirely predictable, it isn't difficult to read its eventual end in its leavings, even if it's still a while in coming.