“Can’t go back, Bob.”
Rick didn’t know he was quoting Gareth word for word, but we did. The mid-season finale opened with a heart-pumping chase as Officer Bob Lamson tries to escape Rick Grimes. If we didn’t already know and love Rick, he would scare the living shit out of us. In the first two minutes of the finale, Rick picks up Lamson’s trail, viciously slices a walker open as he sprints past faster than a blink, and commandeers a police car. Lamson doesn’t have a chance, so Rick offers him his one chance – he announces an order to stop. Lamson keeps running. Rick is a changed man these days, the kind of man that doesn’t give out second chances. Rick runs into Lamson, breaking his back and sending him flying forward onto the pavement. Rick tells him he had his chance, and when Lamson asks him to take him back to the group, Rick coldly echoes Gareth’s words from this season’s second episode.
The show has moved on from petty disputes between good and evil. Gareth is Rick, and Rick is Gareth. They are the same men, except they found different ways to survive. That’s the theme this episode really cashes in on – becoming the person you need to be to survive in this world. It’s the final version of yourself. As Beth says, “This is who you are until the end.” The opening scene was important in establishing that Rick isn’t a man who makes negotiations anymore. He’s a man of honor, and he’s a man of brutality. He sticks to his word, and he sticks to his guns. Rick kills Lamson in cold blood, knowing he got his chance at survival and turned it down. Before that, he killed Gareth in cold blood, knowing that Rick was fulfilling his promise to him. Before that, he tore open Joe’s throat with his bare teeth in a struggle that meant life or death for the people he most cares about. Those are the three defining qualities of the new Rick Grimes: Honor, brutality, and family. That’s what makes Rick a good leader.
It’s the lack of those very qualities that have made Dawn such a bad leader for Grady Memorial Hospital. We get to see a lot more into her character during the finale, and though it’s a last minute attempt to humanize her, it’s a successful one. Throughout Beth’s conversations with her, we learn that Dawn doesn’t have honor. She has cowardice. She’s afraid of being overthrown by the people she protects, so she allows them to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t threaten her directly. She doesn’t have brutality, she has manipulation. Beth accused Dawn of using people, and that’s why she covered for Beth and hid the details of Officer Gorman’s death. Gorman, Jeffries, and in this episode O’Donnell, they were all problems for Dawn, and in each instance she managed to let someone else take care of the problems for her. She doesn’t have family. She has slaves. She protects people, but not out of the kindness of her heart. She does it for leverage. Dawn really is an interesting character. She is simultaneously so weak and so strong, but it’s regretful that we’ll never really know her for certain. Her epic stand against O’Donnell which included the most amazingly choreographed hand-to-hand scene in the series could have been a genuine moment of reform, in which she decides to stop letting the Officers rape and harass anyone below them. It’s likely that it was. “Coda” was very much a battle for Dawn’s soul, as we see the human side of her emerge through knowing Beth, but ultimately succumb to the paranoia that accompanies the abuse of power by the end of the episode, proving that this version of Dawn is that one she’s sticking to. Dawn can’t help but use people to protect her spot at the top. While Gareth and the Hunters survived by feasting on others, and Rick’s group survived with brute force and willpower, Dawn and the Grady workers survive by using others. Protecting people to protect themselves.
Before digging deeper into Beth and Dawn’s relationship, let’s talk about how utterly stupid Gabriel is. He escapes the church in secret, thereby escaping the only two people capable of keeping him alive, Carl and Michonne. For some unholy reason he sets out to the school the Hunters were camping at when they cooked Bob’s leg. Conveniently, those walkers inside are still stuck scratching at the glass. The scene made me wonder if perhaps Gabriel knew one or more of the Hunters. He picked up a Bible that belonged to a “Mary B.” and then had a fit of rage, kicking over the grill with Bob’s burnt leg on it. Perhaps Gabriel knew Gareth and his family. Perhaps they were even among the group who tried to get inside the church when Gabriel had it locked away, though I would think Gareth would remark something about that in “Four Walls and a Roof.” In any case, Gabriel saw what he needed to see to finally get his head together. This world is real, it is happening, and he needs to start taking his own survival seriously. Instead of exemplifying that, however, the walkers break out of the school and Gabriel leads them running right back to the church. An entire horde. Thanks, Gabriel. Now, he’s screaming and clawing at the locked up doors begging to be let inside as a whole horde tries to get past the church’s spiky defenses. It’s a real role reversal, and one that will hopefully resolve Gabriel’s role as a walking liability for the group. At least we got the BEST Michonne action we’ve had all season as she and Carl retreat back through the church and out Gabriel’s escape tunnel. She must have chopped off like seven walker heads, I really don’t know, I was too caught up in her raw kickassery. Luckily, Team GREATM returns to help them seal the walkers inside the church.
So Beth. She dies in this episode. I guess I really did call it last week. And Dawn is the one who kills her. However, instead of it being a result of the very strenuous rivalry between their mentor-ward relationship, it’s a tragic accident of senseless violence. I think it’s important to note how Dawn perceives Beth. She says to Beth’s face that she was wrong, that Beth is strong. However, when Beth sits at the elevator, she asks her “Are you going to jump?” Dawn still sees Beth as a suicide case. Dawn has no real faith in Beth, she simply sees her as someone to be preened and used. It’s so difficult to watch, because Dawn is using the human elements of their growing connection to further consolidate her control over her. Beth, clever Beth, is not so easily fooled. Even in Dawn’s most endearing moments, like confessing her regret over killing her own mentor Hansen, and how she feels terrible when she has to take the lives of people who actually contributed to the world. What Dawn doesn’t see is that her “Respect before love” philosophy will always be her downfall. She’ll always selfishly strive to put on a front instead of growing the close-knit community that Beth had with Rick, Maggie, Daryl, Carol, and the others. Of course Beth saw through that. Of course she saw Dawn for who she chooses to be. She even attempted to get Dawn to wake up and realize that no one is coming to lift her out of the fragile system she’s built, that she has to change things herself.
Rick starts the negotiations with two Grady cops, puts on a badass display of his upper hand by having Sasha snipe the head of a nearby walker, and an exchange was agreed upon peacefully. Two of yours for two of ours. Things would have gone all right if Dawn had just learned an honest thing or two from Beth. But she didn’t. Dawn demanded that they leave Noah behind. She didn’t need Noah. Beth knew she didn’t need Noah. Beth knew it was a power play. Rick knew it too. Rick refused to back down, because as we learned earlier, Rick Grimes is not a man who re-negotiates. He gives his terms and conditions and it’s deal or no deal. You don’t change the terms. Noah knew it, because he immediately gave himself up before violence erupted. Most importantly, Beth knew it. And while Beth knew how strong she was, Dawn did not. She taunts Beth and Noah as they hug, saying “I knew you’d be back.” Beth tells her, “I see how it is.” It’s the natural coda to their relationship. With all the talk of killing mentors when they crack, all the nagging paranoia of a community that continues to cycle through leaders one after the other, Beth finally decides Dawn’s time is over, and stabs her in the stomach with a pair of hidden scissors. Which causes Dawn to accidentally fire her gun into Beth’s face.
It’s sudden. It’s not necessarily unexpected, but it’s just so sudden. It happened and then it was over. As Dawn shakes her head in horror, Daryl shoots her in the head. Before anyone else dies, both sides immediately call for a ceasefire. Grady is glad Dawn is dead, and they don’t want any more trouble. The group is allowed to leave, and no one from Grady opts to leave with them. Since Beth’s death is so, so sudden and abrupt, it’s really the reactions from the other characters that hit the heaviest.
When back at the church, Maggie gets the news that the rest of the group has gone off to rescue Beth, who is indeed, alive. Here was the moment I became immediately suspicious of the writers. Maggie has NOT EVEN ONCE mentioned Beth, not even a little bit. This whole season. It’s like she just forgot she had a missing sister. Daryl’s story was that she was taken, not killed. Why hasn’t Maggie been out there searching every square inch of Georgia to find her baby sister? What’s the deal guys? The massive potential for an emotionally driven character arc starring Maggie Greene was criminally wasted so she could play tag-along with her post-apocalyptic husband. So when Maggie suddenly, conveniently, starts caring about Beth again, that’s a red flag that the writers want US to care about Beth. They’re trying to reap an emotional connection they haven’t been sowing for over a year now. It was a message loud and clear that something bad was coming our way, and it was meant to make us cry. Without any effort in building up Maggie’s love for her sister, and in fact just forgetting it exists at all, there is no sympathy for Maggie Greene that doesn’t come off as a cheap trick. It still hurts watching, Lauren Cohan is a superb actress and will undoubtedly continue to astound us with layers upon layers of grief, channeling the immense loss Maggie has experienced since the introduction of her character.
Now Darly Dixon, though? Daryl, I feel for. Beth was with him when she was taken. Carol was with him when she was taken. It’s not a stretch to think that Daryl might be feeling pretty crappy right about now. He wants everything to go right, he wants to get the two of them back. So when he sees Beth shot in the head right in front of him, he shoots first and cries later. Daryl has the most impeccable, coldest sense of justice. Even Rick is wise to listen to Daryl, as in “Crossed” when you can see in Rick’s eyes the decision to kill one of the captured cops already made, and Daryl is the one to stop him. Daryl also has the biggest heart, and I think we’re going to see him changed forever. He devotes himself so fully to others; to Merle his brother by blood, to Rick his brother by choice, and to Carol in his relentless search for Sophia. He devoted himself to protecting Beth, and then he devoted himself to rescuing her even when her own sister would not, and then he saw her taken away from him in a split second. It serves as the hollowest death scene in the history of the show. It wasn’t a walker bite, it wasn’t murder. It was just an accident, one that Beth herself initiated. How do you come to terms with something like that?
We’ll be finding out in February when the show returns. We’ll also be finding out if Morgan finally catches up to Rick. He finds Abraham’s message to Rick on the map, and looks absolutely boggled upon recognizing the name of Rick Grimes. So now we know that Morgan is definitely NOT intentionally following Rick’s group. He seems to be following a series of symbols. What do they mean and where do they go? Will the group make it to D.C. by the end of the season? Lots of questions, no sure answers. What can be said for certain, is who Beth was in the end. She was strong, and caring, motivated to put her own life on the line for the sake of another. You can say it was stupid or needless, but stopping Dawn was something Beth needed to do, not because she was a rampaging dictator like the Governor, or a cannibalistic sociopath like Gareth, but because she was a more subtle villain, the kind that pretends to be your friend while they keep you right where they want you. Trading Noah’s freedom for her own would have been Dawn’s victory over Beth. Beth just refused to play the game.