The electrifying opening of “Coda” doesn’t foreshadow the devastating exit of Beth (Emily Kinney), one of The Walking Dead’s most unpredictable characters, but it comes to suggest something about the rivalry between Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) group and the Grady Memorial staff. The episode cuts from Rick’s legs, running at a breathless pace, to a close-up of Sgt. Lamson’s (Maximiliano Hernández) hands furiously trying to saw through the zip tie that’s binding his wrist, following his capture by Rick. Lamson is able to run, and does eventually, but unfortunately, his first thought isn’t survival, but rather securing his freedom and the upper hand. Before Rick puts a bullet in his head, not long after hitting him with a car, Lamson blames his unwillingness to listen to Rick on the world they live in, rather than his own weakness and distrust. After Rick kills him, he simply says, “Shut up,” a sign of both the character and the show’s increasing disdain and impatience with people who blame their behavior on the ruined world rather than themselves.
The same sort of expert veiling of one’s corroded nature can be seen in Dawn (Christine Woods), the leader of the Grady staff, who’s able to even fool Beth right up until their climactic confrontation. It’s an attempt to assuage a sick sort of nostalgia for the world ruled by the living, a world that will not likely ever exist again, which plays into Dawn’s still-strong belief in the power and status her badge and uniform used to carry. The fact that she’s also trying to save the hospital is part of this as well, but as Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), Carl (Chandler Riggs), and Michonne’s (Danai Gurira) eviction from the church, by way of zombie horde, reiterated, there’s no shelter left, no place to go back to at the end of the day in this new world.
And yet, there’s a suggestion of a growing ego in Rick that alludes to an ever-blossoming weakness, an enjoyment of power that could lead him to make another one of his occasional grave errors. The episode found an intriguing middle ground, per usual, in Chad L. Coleman’s Tyreese, who’s quickly becoming one of the show’s richest figures to date (The Wire alum has a startling ability to mine the complex sensitivity and quiet insight of the character, often without a word). When Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green) laments letting Lamson get the drop on her, endangering the group, Tyreese suggests that her trust of Lamson came from a die-hard humanity, an inability to give up on civilization. Tyreese is the same way, which might suggest he shares Dawn’s outlook, but he takes full responsibility for who he is and what he does, accepting the fact that his choice not to kill one of the Terminus cannibals early on probably led to more death.
It’s the sort of brave, unyielding self-reliance, and introspection that Kinney’s Beth had come to inhabit, and one of the bigger reasons why her death is so wrenching. Dawn is ultimately only standing up for herself when she shoots Beth, protecting only her sense of respect at Grady Memorial and nothing else. Like most of the show’s main characters, Beth is standing up for a bigger idea, that of a brand new society, completely alien from the one that ended when the zombies started eating America. Kinney’s finely attuned performance, with those big, wide eyes that suggested innocence and wildness in unison, gives the sense of a young woman who won’t stand for power-sick murderers like Dawn. During the climactic trade, the showrunners use a variety of canted angles, a way to heighten the tension and give the scene an added, visual kick of unsteadiness, but Beth’s final act is sure and clear in its intent: Whatever the new world happens to finally form into, it’s no place for the true cowards, those who hurt and destroy to sustain the illusion of safety.
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