The difference between these characters in earlier seasons versus the mid-season finale of season five is that they trust themselves and eachother. We don’t get long drawn out monologues from Rick, nor do we hear extensive arguments about group strategy or drawn out negotiations with enemies. That evolution reverberates from the beginning of “Coda,” through to the end.
At the start of the episode, Lamson is still running for his life after knocking Sasha out cold at the end of “Crossed.” Rick’s car is faster than Lamson’s feet and when the officer refuses to halt, Rick runs him over. By the time he gets out of the car, Rick knows he is going to kill Lamson. The cop prattles on trying to save his life, which Rick does entertain for a moment, almost as if to allow the man to have his last words. When Rick decides he has had enough, he simply points and shoots without any regrets. End of Officer Lamson.
Father Gabriel hasn’t come this far mentally or emotionally. He’s still suffering from his crisis of humanity and it’s brought him to the nearby school, the former hideout of the Terminites. The zombies locked inside spot him and eventually break through the glass and chase him back to the church. In a karmic twist of fate, the church is boarded up. This time, it is Gabriel who is locked outside, just as his parishioners were when the zombies first rose from the dead.
Michonne and Carl aren’t like the selfish priest. They tear down their barriers and let him back inside the church. Perhaps I have grown callous watching this show, but I would not have rescued him. Michonne has two young children to look after. She may be a pseudo-samurai, but she is not immortal and she does not have super-powers. This act of kindness brings in a flood of zombies. The church is lost and they must escape. Once they do, the three of them double back and barricade the zombies inside of the church.
Team GRATEM return to the church while Michonne, Gabriel and Carl are figuring out their next move. Glenn informs Michonne about Eugene’s lie and Maggie finally remembers that she has a sister when Michonne reminds her. Tara, not Maggie, is the one who advocates going to Grady Memorial to help with the rescue effort.
Back in Atlanta, Rick and Daryl reevaluate their plan to rescue Beth and Carol. As a way to save their lives, the other two hostages both agree to tell Dawn that Lamson was attacked by rotters. (As an aside, I like having a new name for walkers/zombies.)
At the hospital, Beth spots a picture of Captain Hanson while cleaning up Dawn’s office. Hanson was the former leader of Grady Memorial and Dawn’s mentor. Dawn reveals that she killed him because he lost the respect of the group. If people won’t protect you if they don’t respect you and that ambivalence is a risk to the security of all. Dawn spins it as if she had no choice.
After seeing Officer O’Donnell beat up an elderly servant (because that’s what these people are), Beth sits on the edge of the elevator shaft for some alone time. Dawn finds her and gives her another long speech about how she saved Beth’s life. She also reminds Beth that she covered up her murder of Officer Grady. In effect, Dawn owns Beth now. All she has to do is tell everyone else about Beth’s hand in Grady’s death and the other officers will kill our girl, or worse.
Unfortunately, Officer O’Donnell overheard this conversation and takes advantage of the leverage this gives him. It’s a chance to overthrow Dawn.
He’s not smart about his play. He would have been better served to walk away and strategize with the rest of his allies. Instead, he openly compares Dawn to Hanson, which is an obvious threat at her position and her life. She draws her gun. O’Donnell immediately tries to appeal to her emotions and their pre-zombie apocalypse relationship of being rookies together. Their history is irrelevant to Dawn because he is not the same person he was.
“Look at you, you’re beating the old man. You’re laughing with your buddies about that poor girl getting raped. That’s who you are now.”
Dawn lacks so much self-awareness that she fails to realize that she is also describing a version of herself.
O’Donnell manages to grab the gun and the two struggle. Dawn eventually gets the upperhand and punches O’Donnell in the throat. This gives Beth the chance to throw him down the elevator shaft.
Dawn and Beth take a moment to recuperate in Carol’s hospital room. Dawn reveals that she’s aware that Carol and Beth have a connection. She wants them to be a part of her group and help her build a better world. That is why she didn’t tell everyone about Gorman. He wasn’t a good person and neither was O’Donnell.
Dawn is sincere here. She does see Beth as an asset. Beth realizes that, but she also knows that seeing someone as an asset is not the same as seeing them as a human being.
Outside of the hospital, Rick approaches two officers to negotiate the exchange of the hostages. The other members of our group are strategically positioned to fire on the officers if there is any perceived threat. The exchange moves forward without any gunfire.
As Beth prepares to be reunited with her family, she slips a small pair of surgical scissors inside the cast on her hand. She doesn’t know if she will need them, she just knows she needs to be ready for anything.
The scene where both groups bring in their hostages is tense, but it’s only tense because we know someone dies in this episode. Without that knowledge, I don’t think I would have been nervous. “Coda” lacks the gravitas of “Too Far Gone.”
The hostage exchange appears to go off flawlessly, until Dawn demands that Noah be part of the trade. Dawn says “the boy was mine, you have no claim on him.” Daryl and Rick refuse because Noah doesn’t belong to anyone. Noah, however, gives up his life to avoid a bloody conflict.
As Noah moves toward the officers, Beth runs up and hugs him. Then she walks up to Dawn as if to embrace her, but then she stabs her with the scissors. Dawn shoots Beth in the head. It’s almost an automatic response, even she looks shocked by what she has done. Daryl has his own reflex action and puts a bullet in Dawn’s forehead.
This is the perfect end to Beth’s character arc. When we first meet her, she is on the verge of suicide. She does not believe she is built for this world. She is not brave, nor does she want to fight. She only wants to run away.
Beth has been a reluctant survivor for most of this show. She never needed to be self-reliant until she and Daryl were alone together. There was always someone to carry her through.
It was as if a light switched on after her father died. She became self-possessed and wanted to be an active participant in the world. Her determination increased at Grady Memorial. Instead of losing her free will to her captors, she fought, not just for herself, but for all those held hostage.
Her fight was fraught with confusion. She never knew whom to trust. Dawn? The doctor? Both were master manipulators, classic abusers. During this episode, her distrust of Dawn waivered. She thought perhaps there was something good in Dawn, that Dawn was just as confused as she was.
“I get it now” – Beth
All of that uncertainty unravelled when Dawn demanded Noah’s return. Beth knew that Dawn wasn’t the martyr she pretended to be. She wasn’t burdened by her leadership, nor was she badgered into allowing the atrocities of Grady Memorial to occur. She was the mastermind who fostered that culture and she was most certainly at the forefront of the indentured servitude policy.
The moment that she understands this is the moment that Beth goes into battle knowing that she will not come out alive. She has to do this. She does not waste time planning with the rest of the group. She knows this battle is necessary and that it is one only she can fight. She’s aware someone will kill her. That doesn’t matter. What matters is that she will kill Dawn and free everyone from their imprisonment at Grady.
Beth left the show as she entered it, someone ready to die, but her reasons for wanting death were at opposite ends of the spectrum. In the beginning, she wanted to die so that she would not survive, in the end, she died so that everyone else could survive.
Beth’s decision did save lives. The officers of Grady Memorial all stood down and made it very clear that Dawn was the leader of their corruption. They invite everyone to stay at Grady, but we know our group is done playing house. However, Rick is willing to let anyone from Grady join his band of survivors.
Meanwhile Michonne, Maggie, Glenn and the others arrive at the hospital. Maggie has nothing but hope in her face until she sees Daryl carrying Beth. She falls to the floor wailing.
Then we come to this season’s coda. Morgan appears, having followed the Xs to the school, and subsequently to the church where he finds the map that Abraham left for Rick. Morgan now knows that his old friend is alive.
This was an emotional episode for many people, most notably the cast and crew of the show. Here’s what they had to say about the loss of Beth:
I’m not sad that Beth is gone. I don’t think any viewers are. In fact, she wasn’t even trending on Twitter after the episode, #poorMaggie was. It took two and a half hours for #RIPBeth to show up. Hershel was trending before “Too Far Gone” ended.
Most of us liked Beth, but I don’t know that any of us were emotionally attached to her. Sure, they could have grown her character more, but with such a large cast, someone had to go. Losing a secondary character, like Tara, would seem cheap. I think if any of us had to pick a main character to lose, we would’ve picked Beth.
I do wonder what consequences her death will have on everyone. Hershel’s death and the war at the prison made everyone harder and also brought them closer together. Likely, the loss of Beth will insulate them even more.
What do you think? Are you happy that Beth is gone or would you have chosen someone else? Will there be any fallout from her death, or will the group continue on without any tangible consequences?
The Walking Dead returns in February 2015 on AMC.