As heavily hinted over the last week, a major character saw his/her end on the show, and that was kind of a bummer. But "Coda" was also sad because it featured some of the worst plotting of season 5, which rendered the story more laughable than moving — a big step back from what has otherwise been a solid season.
As you'll recall from last week, Rick and pals have captured three of General Idiotic Hospital's officers, and plan to use them in a hostage trade for Beth and Carol. Sounds simple enough, right? Apparently not, because the episode begins with Rick chasing the escaped Officer Bob, former agent of HYDRA, and straight-up running him down with a car. It strikes a discordant tone that not only sets the episode on an uneasy path, it seems like a weird moment for Rick, period. Driving into Bob is not at all justified by his briefly knocking Sasha out, or for his refusal to stop running from his captors; Rick's act seems malicious and cruel. More to the point, killing Bob lessens his own bargaining position with the hospital, and endangers, if only slightly, his ability to get Beth and Carol back safely. Running down the former Sitwell is not a decision season 5 Rick should have made; it's a decision crazy season 3 Rick would have made, and then Herschel would have looked over at him and sighed sadly.
But I can't pretend Rick is the worst decision-maker in this mid-season finale. First the out-of-Atlanta business: Turns out Father Gabriel actually has a method to his madness of breaking out of the secure church and wandering about the forest — he's heading to the school where the Termites camped out, to see if there was any proof behind Rick and the others' claims that they needed to butcher the captured Termites in his church. As it turns out, Bob's rotting foot, still on the grill, is more than enough proof. So Gabriel limps back to the church while attracting a reasonably sized horde of zombies to him, As he shrieks outside, Michonne breaks down the boarded up church door to let Gabriel in, and then they all have to retreat to the rectory to escape the overrun church. Once outside (through Gabriel's original hole), they manage to board the door back up, trapping the zombies inside.
Happily, Abe and his team return to the church shortly thereafter, Michonne gives Maggie the phenomenally happy news that Beth is alive, and they all head into Atlanta to meet up with Rick and the others. You may think that Gabriel's little jaunt was stupid, or perhaps you find it weird that he didn't try to crawl back through the rectory to enter the church as opposed to clawing at the boarded up entrance.
I can assure you Gabriel is goddamned Richard Feynman compared to Dawn, Chief Non-Commanding Officer of General Idiotic Hospital, where Dawn and Beth have a number of heart-to-hearts where we discover anew that Dawn is the worst. She's insane, I guess, but insane in such a misguided, low stakes, incorrect way that it's impossible to fear her, worry about her, or even worry about Beth and Carol. Honestly, very little of what Dawn babbles to Beth makes any sense, and what does make sense is incredibly dumb. For instance:
• "In this job, they don't have to like you, but they have to respect you!" Dawn cries, echoing god knows how many movies and TVs shows where that exact line is used. Except the hospital's people neither like nor respect Dawn, because everyone does whatever they want, including beating up the patients and raping them. Dawn is powerless to stop any of it, and in her delusion that she needs to stay "in charge" she doesn't even try.
• "I saved you! Twice!" Dawn tells Beth, referring to two of these instances: 1) When someone kidnaps Beth in last season, who may not have been in danger at all, and who may have actually had bern knocked out in order to bring her to the hospital. 2) When Dawn cleans up the mess that Beth made after she knocked out the cop who was trying to rape her — a broken vase — so that the hospital's other cops wouldn't kill Beth in revenge, because Dawn is so fucking respected she can't even explain things to them. 3) When Dawn captured Beth as she was trying to escape from the goddamn hospital.
• "You both can stay! It could be the most important thing you do!" cries Dawn, inviting Beth and Carol to become part of the hospital — the hospital where they literally have to kidnap "patients" in order to have anybody to save, where the officers beat and rape people indiscriminately, and where there's literally only one doctor doing actual healing and everyone else who isn't an officer does fucking grunt work like change bedsheets, make food and wander aimlessly. That's the "important work" Beth would do. Dawn is the WORST.
While Dawn blathers about the world she perceives, which has no bearing on reality, Rick's ready to storm the hospital again, but cooler heads prevail. It helps that the two remaining officers happily volunteer to say Bob was eaten by zombies, because they know if Dawn knows Rick killed Bob, she'd feel weak and refuse to negotiate and leave her two officers for dead (Note: Dawn is the worst). So Rick and the others first arrange for Rick to track down two hospital officers (while covered by Daryl and Sasha) announces he has hostages, and then the terms of the trade.
Somewhat oddly, the two groups decide to meet in a narrow hallway, with all members of both parties all armed, because as real life has taught us so many times, the more guns you can bring into a situation, the safer everyone is. Shockingly, the trade actually goes as planned, and Beth and Carol (who has awoken but not been given any lines) are actually back on Rick's side when Dawn decides she hasn't been WORST enough. She demands Noah back, with the childish, ridiculous logic that Noah was her… uh, person she kept against his will and forced to work… you know, let's just say "prisoner." When Rick says no, because again, both sides have already made the trade and Dawn has zero leverage, Dawn starts yelling abut how there's no deal. THE DEAL IS DONE, DAWN. (It's worth noting that Dawn's people totally respect the hell out of her for this insane temper tantrum, by which I mean they beg her to just stop and leave. Sigh.)
Rick is having a hard time parsing a request so completely dumb, when Dawn pulls a gun; Noah actually knows Dawn is stupid enough to turn this whole thing into a bloodbath, and so he agrees to go back to the hospital. This is when Beth steps in, and, uh… well, she stabs Dawn in the shoulder with a pair of scissors, and Dawn blows her brains out immediately. And then Daryl shoots Dawn.
So. Let's break down Beth's actions here.
Was Beth trying to kill Dawn? I think not. Beth surely knows getting stabbed in the shoulder will not kill Dawn. She also presumably knows that Dawn is a moron and would almost certainly shoot her in retaliation for the flesh wound. So Beth had to foresee the potential consequences of her actions, right?
So what the hell was she trying to do? Get Dawn killed indirectly? Free the hospital from her idiotic non-control? Commit suicide by idiot? Whatever she was trying to accomplish — presumably getting rid of Dawn in some manner — weren't there many, many other ways to do it that didn't involve her almost certainly getting shot or potentially turning the hostage trade into a bloodbath?
We'll never know, because Beth is dead. The hospital staff is more than happy to leave things be, and Rick and the others somberly the hospital. Of course, Abraham and the others pulls up just as Rick's crew are exiting, so Maggie's reunion with her sister has a bit of a damper put on it, what with Beth lying dead in Daryl's arms and all.
I don't know what The Walking Dead's writers were trying to get at in the Dawn-Beth confrontation, but it did not work. At all. It required Dawn to make a dumb decision, which was irritating but keeping in her character, but it also required Beth to make an inexplicable, dumb decision of her own, and then tried to make us feel bad that Beth basically entered a lion's den and started poking the dumbest lion in there. I would have liked to mourn her, as many of The Walking Dead's most powerful moments are when its main characters die, but the nonsensical shallowness of the scene and the arbitrary, unnecessary death made it impossible. What a wasted opportunity.
At least other than the hospital storyline, season 5 has been generally strong. Maybe it's just bad luck that the mid-season finale had to end on this line instead of, say, anything else. Certainly I'm not going to cry that The Walking Dead sucks again, or even that I'm particularly worried going forward, when the second half of the season debuts in February. Both Dawn and the hospital are out of the show, and apparently Beth was the price we had to pay.
Beth has vastly improved as a character since the farm days, but the terribleness of the hospital infected her in season 5. It's like there was some kind of Stupid Plague alongside the Zombie Plague, and it ironically had its origins in an Atlanta-based hospital. Once Beth had been there for too long, she became infected too, and as well all know that like zombie-ism, there's no cure for stupid.
• If you got spoiled by TWD's Facebook page's incredibly premature "BETH IZ DED LOL" image above, well before you had any chance to see the episode, sorry about your luck.
• Rick's run-by disemboweling of the zombie at the beginning was outstanding.
• Also pretty great: the zombie lunging at Gabriel, into the machete, and splitting its own head in two. The zombie guys have always been good, but man they have stepped up their game this season.
• Another of the shitty bully cops Dawn employs overhears her conversation with Beth about the death of the previous bully cop, and the newer bully cop respects Dawn so much that he completely ignores her orders, forcing Beth to push him down the elevator shaft. Dawn is the worst.
• Line of the night, delivered by Rick: "They're close." (You had to be there.)
• I knew Beth was a goner the minute Michonne told Maggie that Beth was alive. You don't give a character hope like that — especially in a mid-season finale — if you don't plan on taking it away by the end of the episode.
• If you didn't watch Talking Dead, creator Robert Kirkman made the firm announcement that Daryl is straight. Sigh.
• Hey, Morgan's still… walking! Following the main group! I'd say he might catch up to them in the season seven premiere, but this episode has probably just made me grouchy.