Instead of "shit the bed," let's say that The Walking Dead choked on its own guts.
As it usually goes with mid- or full-season TV show finales, Twitter and Facebook erupted into a sea of hyperbole last night following the closing moments of The Walking Dead's fifth season halfway marker, "Coda." The bulk of the uproar stemmed from AMC's epic social media fail—seconds after the episode ended, showing that they don't give two shits about the show's West Coast viewership, The Walking Dead's Facebook page blasted out that shot of Daryl (Norman Reedus) holding Beth's (Emily Kinney) dead body in his arms:
Dead-heads living on Pacific Time were furious, and rightfully so. They'd been robbed of the chance to viscerally react to the episode's water-cooler-ready scene—they'd stayed away from Twitter from 9:45 - 10:00 p.m. EST, in order to not read countless tweets about that huge moment (Beth's death), for nothing.
All of those teary-eyed Twitter folks had a good reason to publicly emote like Daryl Dixon, too. Watching Dawn blow Beth's brains out at point-blank range, merely inches away from Rick, Daryl, and several of Beth's loved ones, was, in the moment, quite devastating. Not Richard-Harrow's-final-seconds-level traumatic, but still a lot to handle. One of The Walking Dead's most sympathetic characters, Beth was one of those rare beacons of optimism within the show's zombie apocalypse. So, naturally, much like Dale and Hershel before her, Beth was doomed from the moment she started winning viewers over with her upbeat charms.
But, come on—was Beth's send-off really all that surprising? Personally, I figured out that she'd be midseason finale's primary casualty about halfway into "Coda." How? By acknowledging the fact that a whole entire act of the episode had been strangely dedicated to the interactions between Beth and shady hospital overlord Dawn, with the latter telling Beth about how she once had to kill her mentor, and Beth saving Dawn from one of Dawn's homicidal subordinates in that brutal hallway fight sequence.
Thirty minutes into the altogether uneven episode, Rick's prisoner exchange plan and anything else involving anyone other than Beth and Dawn (Gabriel's return to the church; Sasha's rooftop lamentation), barely registered as afterthoughts. Aside from Gabriel's zombie-heavy but anticlimactic return to the church, "Coda" was predominantly Beth's hour, the last thing it should've been. Well, up until this:
The narrative surrounding The Walking Dead this fall has been about how improved the walker-filled drama is, and how surprised its biggest critical naysayers have been about said upgrades. For a day-one Walking Dead supporter and apologist like myself, it's been both a vindication and an incredibly satisfying experience to see your beloved zombie TV show finality earn the widespread respect and acclaim you've known it's capable of reaching. Heading into last night's episode, I was ready for The Walking Dead to do what it does best—end a season with guns-blazing tour de force of action, emotion, and blockbuster-level filmmaking. Hell, "Coda" was directed by the great Ernest Dickerson, the show's longtime MVP and master of action-packed episode-making. Not to mention, the episode's writer was Angela Kang, who also wrote this season's amazing "Four Walls a Roof," an undeniable top-five Walking Dead ep.
However, you can't totally blame Kang alone, since showrunner Scott M. Gimple and Walking Dead overseer Robert Kirkman steer the ship the most. Regardless of where you want to place the fault, the fact remains that The Walking Dead's creative team approached the midseason finale as a zig-zagging march towards one big character death.
"Coda" was essentially "Requiem for Beth Greene," meaning the show's writers and producers deeply overestimated her character's worth on the show. Yes, she's been the show's most greatly evolved character in season five, starting with her unexpected yet delightful brother/sister chemistry with Daryl and culminating with her hardened survivor's spirit inside the hospital. Beth emerged as a 2014 fan favorite for a reason—the sadness permeating that #TheWalkingDeadSeasonFinale hashtag last night was a testament to how far she's come. Beth isn't the show's only once-minor character turned well-written scene-stealer, though. Although she's received far less screen time, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) effectively tugged at heart strings as she said goodbye to her love, Bob, yet "Coda" reduced Sasha's season-five arc down to a throwaway heart-to-heart with her brother, Tyreese, that might as well have been patched into the episode by The Walking Dead's editors seconds before the episode aired.
Knowing that finales require you to include all of the show's dozen main characters, The Walking Dead's brass clumsily tried peppering other plot lines into what, at its core, was no less a 'Beth bottle episode' than this season's introduction to the hospital, "Slabtown." Since "Coda" was all about Beth, it also forced the show's writers to finally remind Maggie, a.k.a., the worst older sister in all of Georgia, that she still has a sibling, one who could probably use her help. Maggie's breakdown at the sight of Beth's corpse should have been an emotional uppercut comparable to seeing she and Beth's reactions to Papa Hershel's grisly beheading, yet, being that Maggie hadn't previously uttered Beth's name once all season, it prompted Twitter reactions like this:
It's a miracle, her memory's recovered!! "@cajaworski: Finally Maggie thinks about Beth. #TheWalkingDeadSeasonFinale”— Nikki Davis (@halliwax) December 1, 2014
In due time, once the smoke clears and Walking Dead viewers get over losing their campfire-tune-crooning girl, I'm certain more of them will react to "Coda" like I am here.
Last night's midseason finale was like watching your favorite sports team confidently host a shut-out through most of a game's duration only to fold like a cheap tent in the end. In other words, it was a bit like the New York Giants' embarrassing collapse yesterday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, except that the Giants have sucked all year; The Walking Dead, on the other hand, just needed to seal the deal to ensure placement on any self-respecting TV critic's "Best of 2014" lists. Similar to what happens with any NY Giants receiver not named Odell Beckham, Jr., though, the ball was dropped.
[GIFs via Uproxx]
Matt Barone is a Complex senior staff writer who, for the record, will miss Beth. He tweets here.