We knew this day would come.
The Walking Dead’s fifth midseason finale, “Coda,” claimed the life we all knew it would: Beth Greene, the Tom Waits-loving songbird who, since Season 2, had evolved from a helpless, suicidal teenager to a quick-thinking killer adept at calling bullshit. She could see through Dr. Edwards’ attempts to use her, just like she saw through Dawn’s attempts to “help” her. In the end, she made a choice independent of either manipulator: She died to free Noah.
Thankfully, from the smile we saw on her face the last time she helped Noah escape, we can assume this is exactly what Beth wanted. Beth has to have known Dawn would instinctively shoot her if she buried those scissors in her chest—and, in turn, Dawn would not survive if she shot Beth in front of Rick and the others. Although it seemed like Beth and Dawn could have almost been friends toward the end (at least, Dawn thought so), Beth had reached a conclusion. After weeks spent observing the hospital’s corrupt system, where everyone uses everyone else to do their dirty work, Beth understood that the root of the hospital’s problems was Dawn. Without Dawn and her desperate need to cling to power, the evil place falls apart. Beth’s last words, spoken with tears in her eyes, were: “I get it now.”
Beth’s death was hardly a surprise. All hints pointed to this conclusion, from actress Emily Kinney’s absence on set during the second half of the season, to the very name of this episode: “Coda” is a word for the final passage in a musical composition (music had always been a major part of Beth’s character). Not to mention Beth’s relative dispensability after being separated from the group’s main storyline for so long. Even still, watching a bullet blow a hole through the top of Beth’s head—and worse, Rick, Carol, Tyreese, and Daryl’s stunned reactions—was exactly what executive producer Gale Anne Hurd hyped it up to be: It was heartbreaking.
Things worked out just miserably enough for Maggie, Beth’s older sister and last living relative, to be present when Daryl lifted her limp body out of the hospital. Maggie had spent weeks under the impression that Beth was already dead (all things considered, not an unfair conclusion; Beth didn’t come into her own as a survivor until she was at the hospital). Michonne broke the news and GREATM swooped in to the rescue, or so they thought. Watching Maggie’s hopeful smile at seeing Rick walk out of the hospital morph into a look of pure agony, accompanied by a soul-shattering scream, was truly wrenching to watch. (You also have to feel for poor Daryl; it’s like Sophia all over again for him.)
Dawn’s death wasn’t necessarily surprising either, but it was more satisfying than previously imagined. We heard her acknowledge out loud all the despicable things her officers did to the wards—beating them, raping Joan—to which she had previously turned a blind eye. She even vows that she’s “not gonna let it happen anymore,” but in the end, Dawn is still in denial. She still thinks the hospital is a necessary evil, just until “this is all over.” She still wants indentured servants—excuse me, wards—to run the hospital for her, and she still wants power over all of them. Noble intentions or no, this lady’s death was inevitable.
Elsewhere in the episode, Father Gabriel went on a roundabout, troublemaking trip through the woods to find the school where Bob claimed that Terminans ate his leg. Walkers: check. Mary’s bible: check. Bob’s charred, larvae-infested leg on a barbeque: check-a-roo. Gabriel limps back to the church, as expected, with a school full of walkers on his tail and finds himself in a uniquely ironic position: Begging the people inside the church to let him in. Gabriel previously refused to do the same for his own parishioners (hence all the angst) but, lucky for him, Carl and Michonne aren’t assholes. They sacrifice their shelter to contain the walkers—and Judith gets her first action scene! She’s in a backpack, and probably brain-addled beyond repair from swinging around so violently on Aunty Michonne’s back, but hearty congratulations anyway to the littlest Grimes.
It does say something for the strength of this half-season, however, that Terminus feels so far away now. Eight weeks ago, it seemed like Gareth would become this season’s dominant villain, but the story has progressed at a breakneck pace, felling Terminus in one episode, moving to Gabriel’s church in the next, solving the mystery of Beth’s whereabouts, and setting up the ultimate confrontation between Rick’s group and Dawn’s cops. Things are sure to slow down when the season picks up again in February—the death of a major character is usually followed by lots of talking—but we do have one major thing to look forward to: The return of Morgan, a.k.a. the best Walking Dead character ever.
The after-credits scene for “Coda” showed Morgan closing in on Gabriel’s church—long abandoned, walker bodies littered throughout—and making a small offering at the altar: a bullet, a rabbit’s tail, and a Goo Goo cluster. He stops after a second, looks around him and laughs, apparently realizing the absurdity of the endeavor. But just as he’s about to leave, he spots Abraham’s old map. Written on the back is the sergeant’s apology to Rick: “Sorry I was an asshole. Come to Washington. The new world’s gonna need Rick Grimes.” Morgan’s face lights up at the mention of his old friend’s name. If he wasn’t looking for Rick before, he will be now—and that’s a guarantee that at least one golden episode is ahead of us.