It was expected by many fans of AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead–the bloody end to a core character. On a series like The Walking Dead, in order to keep it “real,” people–often beloved characters–need to die. And, in this week’s episode “Coda,” it is Beth Greene’s (Emily Kinney) turn. The youngest daughter of Hershel Greene (Scott Wilson), the wise farmer/veterinarian, brutally killed in season four by The Governor (David Morrissey), has grown up on The Walking Dead. Introduced in season two, Beth had been a teenager–emotional and so weak she nearly committed suicide after the zombie apocalypse venture too close to her protected life at Hershel’s farm.
But now, by the time her story arc is complete, Beth had emerged into a character tough enough to survive in the unforgiving world of the aftermath. Unafraid to stand up to anyone, and strong enough to stand on her own two feet without losing her optimism and hope, Beth goes out fighting an almost banal evil in the guise of Officer Dawn Lerner (Christine Woods).
Beth’s demise comes as a shock, but only in the way it transpires. I’d predicted that she would be the one to die (if, indeed, anyone had to die). But, by the final 10 minutes of “Coda,” in what had been a very dialogue-heavy, quieter episode, I thought perhaps Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and Daryl’s (Norman Reedus) belief that Rick and Company could do a prisoner exchange might actually work, and everyone would walk away. Dawn had seemed almost reasonable, convincing in her charmless style that perhaps she had actually been on the side of the angels.
But this IS, after all, The Walking Dead, and when Dawn ultimately oversteps her reach by insisting that she wanted more than just an even exchange of prisoners: Beth and Carol (Melissa McBride) for her two officers. No, Dawn needs to show she’s in charge and in control of her paper tiger of a fiefdom; therefore, she insists that Noah returned against his will. And this is is too much for Beth. So, the meek younger sister of powerhouse Maggie Greene pulls out a hidden scissors and stabs Dawn. And then the gun goes off; suddenly Beth is dead, shot in the head. Even Dawn looks stunned.
And Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who over the course of four seasons finds himself, some might say, much where Shane had been in season two, hesitates not a minute, pointing his weapon at Dawn. Rick’s motto might now easily be, “no more chances!” But it is Daryl, who had offered a peaceful solution to the situation, delivering the fatal blow to Dawn.
Offering a place for any of the officers and patients who wish to come with the group, Rick shows himself not at all to be Shane. Shane would have likely killed them all without blinking an eye. All for the greater good of their survivor group.
One of the things I find interesting about this juncture of The Walking Dead is how Rick’s group might appear to other survivors. Father Gabriel is terrified of them: he sees them as cold-blooded murderers who take what they need with little regard for the indignities of those from whom they take. They are a threat, no less than the Grady Memorial crew are to Rick’s group.
So, at this point, is each band of survivors a nation unto itself? No outsiders need apply? Rick’s invitation might suggest otherwise, but it is clear that coming into the area of the hospital, Rick gave no thought to the feelings or lives of their perceived enemies. How much different is Dawn’s group of police officers? Are they any worse? Who defines ethics in this sorrowful life they all now suffer through? Where is the morality in killing Officer Bob, as Rick had done in cold blood? Who draws the lines, if any indeed still exist?
I can’t wait until February, 2015 when the series returns. Surely everyone in the group will be deeply affected by Beth’s death. Maggie, who falls apart as she sees Daryl carrying Beth’s body from the hospital will be forever changed. Now the last of her family, she has to wonder about the cost of having gone off with Abraham, Eugene and crew on their fool’s errand for a nonexistent “cure.” Will grow cold and hard, from grief and guilt? Or will Glenn’s love be able to help her heal?
Carol will also feel the effects. After all, Beth saves her life in Grady; without Beth’s intervention, Carol would be dead.
Daryl will undoubtedly feel the full weight of guilt; she had disappeared under his watch (although he’d been fending off walkers when Beth disappears in season four). Daryl is completely destroyed; our usually stoic archer cannot contain his grief. Beth had represented to him a bit of light in a dark world; she’d brought him out of despair and self-loathing in the aftermath of the prison disaster. They’d grown close, and that combined with his likely guilt will drive Daryl in the back half of the season.
Norman Reedus’s performance in the final scenes of the episodes is powerful and (although more introspective and quieter than Maggie’s visceral reaction) conveys the powerful emotions coursing through Daryl’s heart. He must be wondering whether he should have gone along with Rick’s original plan of going in, guns blazing instead of trying a more diplomatic route.
Will Daryl once again retreat (as he had after Sophia’s death), crawling into a shell of isolation and despair (for even though he’s stoic on the outside, Daryl does wear his heart on his sleeve, and emotions are very difficult for him to process)? Or will Carol’s rescue from Grady Memorial be enough to sustain him through the coming darkness?
And what of Morgan? Robert Kirkman and Company snuck in quite the coda to the episode, didn’t they? Just when we thought the episode was over, comes the coda — the extra little bit of ending, suggesting to us that Lennie James, who plays Morgan so beautifully, might just become in February a new series regular!
- As for the other “codas” in the appropriately titled episode:
- The killing of Dawn and Beth was a coda to what had seemed to be a straightforward prisoner swap.
- Dawn’s insistence on the return of Noah was a coda to the completed deal between she and Rick.
- And, of course, because “coda” is a musical term, it is an apt title for the series songstress to make her exit from The Walking Dead.
What are your thoughts on the mid-season finale? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.
Be sure to tune into Let’s Talk TV Live on the Blogcritics radio network December 9. I’ve planned a full 90 minutes for The Walking Dead. We’ll begin the speculation about what’s ahead, talk about season five, and much more. As always, you can chat in the chatroom, call in and chime in live, or just listen in either to the live broadcast or the podcast (after the show airs).
Blogcritics will be continuing coverage of The Walking Dead throughout the series’ hiatus. I’ll be posting in-depth season-by-season analysis (I’ve already begun with an article on season two), and character profiles of each main character. In January, I will be doing a series re-watch with retake commentaries on my favorite episodes from past seasons! Lots more to come between now and February, so stay tuned!