The Walking Dead: “Coda” and Contrasting Tribes

the walking dead season 5

S05xE08″: “Coda”

As the Tribe attempts to move forward through continuous obstacles that do not end with walkers, but include sickness, familial issues, mental health problems, hunger, and violent adversaries among other things, we are reminded that even the best of us is destined to pass through this mortal coil into the world beyond. As I mentioned last week, this is the nature of life; death is at the other end of the sentence as a closing parentheses that we all must attend to at some point. For those living in this post-apocalyptic universe, death may come at any moment, by any means. All Tribe members can do is attempt to discover value in experiences and move forward, learning from the past in order to construct a future.

As we reflect on the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, we are reminded that, since the infestation of zombies into this universe, society has been precariously balanced on the precipice of change. For the Tribe, this has meant each member finding strength within, constructing individual value systems and then learning how to adapt those values to fit into the group. The question becomes, who have the members of the Tribe become? What endings have taken place, and what new beginnings will emerge?

Spoilers ahead, Sweetie! (Seriously, if you haven’t watched “Coda”, you are going to be spoiled in 5..4..3..2..1)

First of all, I am not too proud to say I was wrong about predicting Carol as the one to die in this episode. Last week’s review of the two previous episodes was meant to examine the idea of character growth in a post-apocalyptic world, and Carol is quite a good example of shifting values and moral development in the Walking Dead universe. That being said, “Coda” was intensely satisfying in the way that it examined the value systems of the Slabtown tribe and our Tribe, comparing and contrasting the moralities within both groups–from Sgt. Bob’s weak attempt at betrayal and escape to Rick catching and running over Sgt. Bob, then shooting him in the head for his transgressions. Not only that, but we were able to see the two groups interact in such a way that raised questions of similarities in terms of how far each tribe was willing to go for their members. Dawn’s group, while seemingly suffering under her tyranny, allowed her to be killed yet refused to leave with Rick when he offered to take anyone who wanted to leave, in. If members of the group cannot see the difference between Dawn’s value system and Rick’s, how pronounced are those differences, at this point?

And, what are those differences? Well, they seemed obvious to Beth.

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At Slabtown, authority figures treat members like cogs part of a larger machine and consider each person to owe a “debt” to the tribe for food, medical attention, room and board. Physical violence and sexual assault by authority figures is a common enough occurrence that some members attempt to run away, only to be dragged back against their will. The duties are unevenly dispersed, with lower tier members ironing clothes and the cops doing perimeter runs, looking for (and running over) potential new members. I called the system “feudal” before, and I stand by that. Slabtown contains an uneven distribution of not only power, but knowledge as well. People like Doctor Edwards don’t have faith in their own ability to survive because people like Officer Dawn, instead of encouraging strength and self-reliance, prefer tribe members to remain weak and ignorant. For Beth, this system is outdated and ineffective. She thrived within Rick’s tribe, because her strengths were highlighted and utilized in such a way that made her a valued member of the group.

While Rick’s tribe may contain a hierarchy of authority, the system is more democratic and relies on group cooperation. We have seen an attempt at organized government at the prison, but since the Tribe has been split and on the move, each faction working toward the common goal of reuniting at Terminus. The Tribe works for each other, as evident when an exiled Carol helps Rick’s group escape from Terminus or Michonne and Carl break open the church and their only safe haven to save Preacher Gabriel. Although Rick’s tribe is violent and unforgiving, they are also fiercely loyal to one another and encourage individual growth. Which is why there is no doubt that they will do whatever it takes to rescue Carol and Beth.

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In Slabtown, “the way things have to happen” becomes a cop-out for Dawn. Allowing violence and bullying to drive a group deadens the humanity of the tribe and turns individuals into darker versions of themselves. It is a less extreme version of what happened at Terminus. Good intentions ruled by violent retribution will end up burning a tribe to the ground. In Rick’s group, it is an eye for an eye–the justice is biblical. They believe in giving a chance to those in need, and only ask in return loyalty. Which is why they go back for Carol and Beth.

But this is the post zombie apocalypse, and things aren’t always going to go the way we plan. Beth can see the difference between the tribes and it makes her indignant. She opts for retribution after Dawn demands Noah return to repay his debt. Thus far Beth has been pure, not participating in violence against the living until she arrived at Slabtown. So when Beth chooses violence, she reaps the very real consequences of her actions. When Beth is killed, Dawn is killed, and the scales are once again even. The cost is great, too great, and it is heart wrenching to have one of the gentle ones pay the price.

But in this post-apocalypse society, death is an every day occurrence. To survive, you must be willing to move forward or else all hope is lost. For the Tribe, they are forced to continue on with what they have. A mostly-healthy tribe, the children, food and a vehicle and their weapons. Although Beth is gone, Morgan (from Season 1) is on the trail of the Tribe, which could be a good thing. The relationship with Rick is complicated, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Sheriff is leaving the trail on the trees (the “x” within a circle) for Morgan or others who might have been previously left behind.

Season 5 spring premiere is Sunday, February 8, 2015. Until then, zombie killers.

xoxo The Collectiva Diva

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