The midseason finale seemed like a time to come clean for a lot of characters. Beth tells Dawn that Edwards framed her for the “accidental” death of the other doctor, a prime example of Dawn’s ineffectual rule, putting too much emphasis on a person’s worth as an asset as opposed to a human being. Beth also tries again to shatter Dawn’s hardened shell of a belief that rescue is on its way if she just holds on a little longer, but Dawn is too far gone to listen to practical cynicism; this is the system they live by, this is the system that works. Only it doesn’t, and Dawn soon over-estimates both her own value and how much power she has to leverage.
Tyreese also comes clean, confessing to Sasha that he let Martin live while Carol was saving the others in Terminus. It makes sense that Tyreese’s hyper-compassion might draw a connection to the loss of Bob from his failure to take appropriate action against Martin, but viewers know that Bob was doubly doomed in the first place, getting bitten before getting captured. The point of Tyreese’s talk is to buck up Sasha for taking compassion on Officer Bob, who took advantage of that, and Tyreese appeals to Sasha to not lose that compassion. I love the tenderness Chad Coleman brings to Tyreese, an increasingly rare touch of grace amongst the madness and the horror.
In the end though, events bow to the latter and not the former. The trade nearly goes off without a hitch, with Officer Bob’s absence blamed – sort of accurately – on hungry walkers, but trading her two officers for Beth and Carol isn’t good enough for Dawn, and she insists that Noah come back, too. That’s not part of the deal, says Rick, but Dawn’s making it a part since she’s losing her new personal ward and wants the old one back. Noah’s fine with that, but Beth is not, and she stabs Dawn with a pair of scissors she palmed. Dawn shoots Beth, and Daryl shoots Dawn. Just when you thought this whole thing was going to look like Reservoir Dogs, Officer Shepherd tells everyone to stand down, their Dawn issue is solved and everyone can walk away. And they do.
Ernest Dickerson deserves tremendous credit for getting the tension high during the trade off scene, and it certainly played beautifully against expectations of a massive shootout in the finale that this turned out to be close quarters and intimate with limited casualties. The problem is that Beth’s demise seems more a matter of it being too long since the show killed someone as opposed to coming from the story organically. This is problematic for a lot of shows that become known for their willingness to bump off regular characters. It becomes a matter of occasion rather a matter of storytelling; it’s the midseason finale, time to kill someone. It’s November sweeps, time to kill someone. We understand that this is a world where Death has an itchy trigger finger, but Death also doesn’t work on a timetable.
The one good thing about Beth’s death is that Lauren Cohan acted the hell out of the moment. Maggie’s seeming lack of concern about the fate of her sister has been a bee in the bonnet all season long, but Maggie’s reaction when Michonne gives her the news that the others are in Atlanta rescuing Beth was as touching as it was devastating later on when Maggie sees Daryl carrying Beth’s body out of the hospital. We didn’t get into it tonight, but it will be interesting to see how Daryl copes with Beth’s loss, too.
Like the season premiere, “Coda” had a post-script featuring Morgan, who finds the school and then finds the church, both abandoned and zombie free. He also finds Abraham’s map and note to Rick, but will Morgan now follow the road to D.C. in the hopes of running into Rick or other survivors from his group? Truthfully, I had forgotten all about Morgan’s brief cameo in “No Sanctuary” until I saw Gabriel running through the woods tonight. Of course, Gabriel didn’t meet up with Morgan, which begs the question of what exactly is the plan for Morgan. At this rate, he should catch up with Rick sometime in season 7.
Other developments in life after Beth will undoubtedly deal with how the growing group of survivors copes with Eugene’s lies, and the loss of another prospective sanctuary site. Where do they go now, and how do people like Eugene, Gabriel and Noah cope out there in the mean world now that they have to contribute to their own protection? How does Abraham cope without a mission now? And is Rick truly losing his grip, perhaps heading of a course of Dawn-like self-delusion? All these questions, and more, will have to be answered when The Walking Dead returns in February.