​The Walking Dead Mid-Season Finale Was Tragic For Two Reasons

Illustration for article titled em​The Walking Dead/em Mid-Season Finale Was Tragic For Two Reasons

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.

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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.

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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.

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• "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.

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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.)

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

Illustration for article titled em​The Walking Dead/em Mid-Season Finale Was Tragic For Two Reasons
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Assorted Musings:

• 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.

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• 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.

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• 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.

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• 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.

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DISCUSSION

Cool_Breeze
Cool_Breeze

My hot taaaaaaaaaakes:

Wow. Just…wow.

1. DAMMIT LAMSON. ALL YOU HAD TO DO WAS STOP. This is Rick you're dealing with. YOU GET ONE CHANCE. I don't care if you don't know him – you DO know Dawn and that she'll gladly trade for you and the others. YOU COULD BE ALIVE. That's your own damn fault.

This episode continued Rick's progression, and showed that he is 100% comfortable doing what has to be done. Rick told him to stop. Lamson didn't. Rick ran him over. YOU. GET. ONE. CHANCE. Rick is maintaining his humanity, though – he put Lamson out of his misery (he did have a possible broken back), when he could have just left him there as a treat for those approaching walkers. How thoughtful.

Fun aside: Maximiliano Hernández, the actor who played Lamson, also played Jasper Sitwell in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Alas, both characters he played met a similar end. DEATH BY GRILLE.

2. Back to Rick. "Shut up?" THAT WAS AWESOME. This goes back to my earlier point: This is the zombie apocalypse. RICK HAS THINGS TO DO. STUFF, AND THINGS. Ain't nobody got time for your shit, Lamson. ESPECIALLY RICK. One. Chance.

3. Preacherman has an interesting story arc so far. When we first met him, he had never been outside of the Church save for him getting stuck on that big rock. But, he's a man of faith.

We then learn that the Preacherman locked the doors and kept all the food from that drive for himself, and let his congregation get massacred by the walkers. But, he's a man of faith.

After he sees what the group (Rick) does to the Termites, he NOPES THE HELL OUT. He has to go verify that the group was doing the right thing. So he goes to the school and finds Bob's leg, and gets mad because he finds a Termite bible and realizes Rick's group isn't so bad. So he goes back. Does he still have faith? To me, it's slipping. He's a man of faith, but does not trust Rick or his group. Sure, as Kirkman said on the Talking Dead last night, if you haven't been with the group like we have from the beginning, they seem like psychos. But still, he needs to go verify. Like I said last week, he's having a similar arc as early Herschel did. HOWEVER, Preacherman's reaction is more violent, and he might actually lose his faith all together. Herschel was able to use what he learned to strengthen it – at this point, Preacherman is about to give it all up. He just can't even.

Another aside: DAMN THOSE TERMITES WERE WASTEFUL. DID YOU SEE ALL THAT GOOD MEAT LEFT ON BOB'S LEG? HOW RUDE.

4. Walker kill of the week – The walker that fell face first onto the machete. Technically it goes to Preacherman because he let go of the door, so really he gets the credit, but man that was cool.

5. Michonne. With the Katana AND BABY. In the Church. Not only does she kick ass, but add Lil' Ass Kicker to the mix (on her back) and you get DOUBLE THE ASS KICKAGE. I think if she needed to, she could have taken out that smallish herd by herself as the bottlenecked at the pews. The SMART play was to run, but man did she look determined. Man is that baby quiet. I have an 8 month old and that dude cries if you don't feed him fast enough. We wouldn't last a week.

6. EXCUSE ME, FIRE TRUCK COMING THROUGH. HONK HONK. One of the things I like about this season so far is that Characters aren't unnecessarily dumb when it comes to information. Tara isn't being petty to Maggie because she likes Glenn but ABRAHAM oh my god Rosita did you see what he did to Eugene? Glenn is TOTALLY not going to help him on the next supply run. NO. STOP. THIS ISN'T THE CW. I am so happy that they just get right on with it. We're back because Eugene lied. DEAL WITH IT. Withholding information gets you killed, and finally these people figured that out.

7. HOWEVER, when Michonne told Maggie that they found Beth alive and the rest of the group was going to get her back, I KNEW FOR CERTAIN that Beth wouldn't make it. Come on. This is The Walking Dead. ANY good news is really BAD NEWS GET READY THIS WILL HURT. This show doesn't hold back, and just goes in dry. No set up, just TAKE IT.

8. Beth – nice push. Speaking of Beth (I was right about her dying when I predicted it last week http://io9.com/spoilers-u-ada…), I honestly think that was an accident. Dawn was a cop and thus far had retained much of her cop training (even Rick has retained a lot). She reacted and you could just FEEL the OH SHIT REGRET as soon as she pulled the trigger.

9. I don't think Dawn really was a villain. Sure, she had her moments when she got all slappy or let her officers do their thing (no pun intended), but she really WAS just trying to hold it together. She knew the cops would be much worse without her (hence why she "let" them do stuff to keep them happy). She even manipulated Beth to take care of a few of the more violent ones. She didn't care that Beth wanted to escape, because she understood. She also understood that some people like structure, and that's what she offered. Notice NONE of the wards left with Rick's group? Sure some of those cops were bad, but they didn't want to lose the structure and protected the cops offered. That's why she "knew Noah would be back." However, she miscalculated and didn't think Beth would get all stabby on her, too.

The difference between Rick and Dawn is that Rick wants to not only survive, but start over. Notice his helpfulness on the farm, or his hopefulness for the Prison. Dawn wanted to survive, and was waiting for the world to fix for her. She was comfortable, and we know how it goes in this world when you get comfortable. SOMEONE DRIVES A TANK THROUGH YOUR FENCE. Dawn was maintaining. Rick is being proactive and trying to start over. They just had two different methods of leading.

10. Speaking of Rick (again), this show is doing a good job of showing his progression. In Season 4 he was pushed to the brink, and now it is about him coming back from that brink. Had Rick encountered the Hospital and Beth's demise two days earlier, he would have killed every cop in that hall way. But he's been listening to Daryl and Tyrese, and finally understands that violence is not always the answer (ALL HE HAD TO DO WAS STOP notwithstanding). That's why he struggles so hard when Dawn (accidentally) shoots Beth. Daryl stepped up and finished her off, but that was it. No more bloodshed. I have a feeling the rest of Season 5 will show Rick finding that balance between Prison Farmer Rick and Church Rick. Let's call it Safe-Zone Rick.

11. Tyrese, WHY YOU GOTTA DO THAT. I know he likes to get things off his chest, but come on. He admitted to letting Martin live back at the cabin, and that he didn't want anyone to go in to finish him off. Hopefully he learned this time. (Also, when he was on Talking Dead a while back, he SAID Tyrese thought he killed Martin. This episode kind of debunked that…).

12. If you've read the comics, then the scene where Rick confronts the two officers, who ask where his people are, and the walker's head explodes while Rick says "They're close" was not only BAD ASS, but was very similar to how he dealt with the cannibals after they took Dale (I can spoil this because both storylines have passed in the show now). Rick talked to them while Andrea was in the back picking them off to show his dominance. Here, Rick was very calm while Sasha asserted Rick's dominance over the officers for him. NICE SHOT.

13. MORGAN! I don't know about you, but I think I actually heard his ass pucker when he saw Rick's name on that map. Maybe he just gasped or the music peaked, but it sure sounded like a pucker to me. So now we know he wasn't following Rick up to this point – he didn't have a clue until he found the map. Sure, he saw Maggie's signs to Glenn on the way to Terminus, but he never met those people. He only met Rick and Carl (in Clear). Maybe one other, but I don't think it was Glenn.

They are very ambiguous as to how far behind the group Morgan is. After the Terminus episode, when Rick wrote "NO SANCTUARY" over the sign, some time had passed because the plants were growing over the sign by the time Morgan got there. However, we only see the Church open and empty after Abraham and the rest of the group left for the hospital. Who knows how far back her is.

14. Where do you think they're headed next? I think Richmond, where Noah said he was from. I think Richmond will fill in for ASZ, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN ;)

15. Last aside: I watched The Talking Dead last night, and couldn't help but notice that the pillows behind Kirkman and Keegan looked like the wings on Daryl's vest. Very subtle, but I bet it was intentional.