As we approached the midseason finale of The Walking Dead, one question hung over the proceedings: What could happen in the episode to make Norman Reedus cry? The actor, better known to millions of fans as Daryl Dixon, the laconic, sardonic and resourceful member of our core group of survivors, was said to be quite moved by the contents of tonight’s episode “Coda,” but what could that mean? Who was dying, and in what context would they die? Would the showdown between Team Rick and the increasingly cagey crew of Grady Memorial Hospital be caked in blood, or was there another danger waiting for everyone in Atlanta, something quite unanticipated?
Let’s begin with the stupid. Gabriel had escaped his church and headed to the nearby school, where he started losing it amongst the remains of the former camp site of the Terminus survivors and the remains of Bob’s taken leg. If there’s one thing you don’t want to do it’s hang around in front of a building full of hungry zombies. It’s like going swimming in shark-infested waters with a gaping leg wound, but hey, Gabriel’s been sheltered, so that’s a kind of excuse. I guess. It seemed to me that Gabriel’s fool’s errand was the perfect way to bring Lennie James’ Morgan back into the fold, but that was not meant to be. More on that later though.
Madness might be considered a theme of these last few episodes, specifically the question of whether or not the struggle to survive and lead others through a desolate world fraught with danger breeds a straight-up dangerous mode of thinking. It could certainly be argued that Gabriel was being driven mad by the sudden arrival of people at his church, people that had risked much and lost much in stark contrast to his own self, a priest who boarded himself up behind the walls of church as his flock died one by one. Rick, on the other hand. continues to ride a fine line between ruthless and reckless, running down the escaping Bob and shooting him in the head, then writing the whole thing off to the others with a shrug of the shoulders and a “I told him to stop.” Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown, said Shakespeare. While no one says that Officer Bob didn’t have it coming, I wonder if Rick’s shoot first, no questions later philosophy is a bad sign.
In Grady Memorial, Dawn is putting on a brave face of business as usual, but there’s nothing usual about the present circumstances. Cops are missing, some have been murdered, and Dawn is keeping Beth pretty close considering that she’s a proven rabblerouser. Both the writers and Christine Woods have done well concealing the full extent of just how far off the tracks Dawn is. She’s deluded herself into thinking she has some kind of control even as her officers beat, rape and abuse the wards, and she’s convinced that she still has authority even though cops as opportunistic as she once was with her own superior can see that she’s losing it. Officer O’Donnell becomes another casualty when he tries to make a move on Dawn, only to end up down the elevator shaft when Beth comes to Dawn’s aid.