It’s the midseason finale for The Walking Dead, which usually means that a main character or three is gonna die.
Does that happen… and is it good?
Rick Grimes Doesn’t Mess Around
Remember Farmer Rick, the guy who just wanted to grow beans, raise his kids, and stick the occasional walker through the fence while hallucinating about his dead wife? Well that person is gone. In his place is a man who still maintains a shred of humanity, but shades a lot closer to ruthlessness than ever did before.
Case in point: Bob #2 is trying to run away after knocking Sasha out. Rick gets into a police car and gives chases while yelling through the bullhorn for him to stop. When Bob refuses, Rick doesn’t launch into an existential bout of hand wringing over if it would be right to hurt a man simply trying to survive; he just runs Bob over, gets out of the car, and shoots him in the head.
After returning to the group, the cops/crappy friends agree to lie to Dawn and say that ‘rotters’ got him..if they can still be exchanged as hostages for Beth and Carol.
Rick then signals a meeting with what looks suspiciously like a red doggie poop bag. When the cops from Grady show up, they order Rick to put down his weapons, which he surprisingly agrees to. Fortunately, they don’t see Daryl, Sasha, and Emo Tyrese giving another speech about how the world has changed them on a nearby rooftop. Sasha shoots a nearby walker to let them know that while Rick may not be armed, he still has plenty of leverage.
Gabriel is still on is ‘I’m Scared So I Ran Away’ quest when he’s predictably swarmed by a horde of walkers. In a twist of delicious irony, he runs screaming back to the very same church he once hid inside while his own congregation was killed.
Unfortunately, Michonne is too good of a person to give us the satisfying death we all want to see Gabriel suffer. Instead, she and Carl rip open the boarded open defenses to let Pastor Terrible in…along with the rest of his new flock.
I wanted to be mad at Michonne, but her display of incredible swordsmanship quickly silenced my protests. Soon, however, it became apparent that her badass skills alone wouldn’t be enough to hold off the growing undead congregation. She, Carl, Judith, and Gabriel escape through the hole in the main office and board up the zombies from the outside, giving the church some real demons within its walls to mirror the ones Gabriel fought alone in there for years.
Later, Father Failure is whining about something else when the zombies begin busting outside the church doors like football fans during a sermon that’s running long. But before Michonne can crank up the katanas again, Abraham and Co. bust in like the A-Team to save the day.
After a brief and happy reunion, Michonne reveals to Maggie that Beth is alive, being held hostage at Grady, and that the rest of the group has gone to save her.
“Who?” Maggie whispered while everyone else looked away.
Just kidding. Lauren Cohen is a pretty great actress, so she totally sells Maggie’s reaction of being both upset over her sister’s predicament and overjoyed that she still exists (despite the show’s writing to the contrary).
Back at the hospital, Dawn keeps trying to make a connection with Beth that doesn’t involve scars stitches across her face. It just sounds like a lot of projected rationalizing, though…especially when she tries to explain why she “allowed” Beth to bend the rules by killing her would-be rapist.
During one of their heart to hearts, another cop comes in, hears them, and decides it’s time to kick Dawn out of office. A fight ensues which ends up with Beth helping send Dawn’s challenger down the elevator shaft to zombie hell.
It looks like the two might have an understanding, but…
Rick and Co. meet up with Dawn and Co. to make the exchange for Beth and a wheelchair-bound Carol. Unlike every other hostage trade in television, it seems to go off without a hitch…until Dawn suddenly demands that they turn over Noah, as well.
This seems like a recipe for disaster until Noah agrees to go back to keep both sides from killing each other. Beth runs up to and gives him a hug. She then heads toward Dawn, says that she “understands,” and attempts to stab her with a pair of scissors she’d kept hidden.
Dawn responds (unclear if it’s voluntarily or accidental) by shooting Beth in the head (!). Daryl responds by shooting Dawn in the head (!). My living room responded by everyone screaming while I went into shock.
I mean, we all should have seen this coming, but still…it’s Beth.
Before the bloodshed can get any worse, another police officer takes charge. She proceeds to throw Dawn under the bus and says Noah doesn’t have to stay (smart move). The two sides part on uneasy yet amicable terms.
Carol is wheeled outside while Beth’s lifeless body is carried by a sobbing Daryl. The rest of the group arrives with Maggie just in time to see her long lost dead sister, causing her to completely break down.
Morgan is still tracking those hunter signs on the trees and finds the now empty church, giving us at least one small bit of good news in the midst of all the sadness.
After the episode was over, my dad asked me what I thought Beth meant when she told Dawn “I understand now” before attempting to stab her. When I went back through the conversations they had, I couldn’t see any point where Beth seemed to agree with Dawn’s point of view…nor did I see how that would relate to her stabbing Dawn in what was clearly a brash and dangerous act that could have gotten a lot more people killed.
And I think that was point. Beth didn’t understand. She was a smart girl, but she always lead with her heart rather than her head. She’d been willing to sacrifice herself to help Noah escape, and now he was going to go right back to being a prisoner. It wasn’t fair and she wasn’t going to allow it, consequences be damned.
That’s part of the reason Beth’s death hurt so much. She wasn’t really a character I really cared about that much until this season, but I was surprised how much her death affected me after it happened. The easy thing to say is that she represented the ‘innocence’ of the group, which actress Elizabeth Kinney (and her big blue eyes) did a great job portraying.
But her death represented something else that we’ve been losing this entire season. Whether it be in spirit (Sasha), in person (Bob), or a mission (Abraham), people are losing their hope. Not just the hope to stay alive until the next day, but the hope of a better life—the same thing everyone wants before and after the zombie apocalypse.
Beth has almost lost that a few times, but she never turned into the hardened version of herself that Rick, Sasha, and many of the others have at this point. That’s why she gave that wicked smile when Noah escaped; she’d resigned herself of the idea that it was too late for her, but maybe Noah could finally be happy. Beth also helped Daryl let go of his past. She sang beautiful songs while everyone else moved closer to nothing more than cold calculations to prolong their existence. Just like Bob’s optimism, Abraham’s drive, or Sasha’s love, Beth’s heart was one of the last things we had that helped the survivors be people rather than just humans.
And now she’s gone.
As Season Five reaches its halfway point, we’re left with a world where people like Eugene and Gabriel have managed to stay alive and Beth died. If that’s not proof that The Walking Dead universe is truly hell on earth, than I don’t know what else is.
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