“You just had to stop.”
Up until this point, it has always been easy to discern who the bad guys are: whoever isn’t with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and co. Whatever brutal measures he took in the past, we could always justify it by saying that he did so with little other option, and always in the interests of safeguarding his friends.
In light of Rick’s actions at the start of this episode, though, it’s hard to clearly state for certain whether or not this still holds true.
In killing Officer Lamson (Maximiliano Hernandez), it’s tempting to say that Rick crosses a line, but in truth, as his cold, almost indifferent reaction backs up (“You can’t go back”), he crossed lines long ago: he did it of his own free will back in Season Two when he killed Shane, and was forced across another one in Season Four when the Governor destroyed the prison.
Back then, he insisted that humanity wasn’t too far gone, but it’s clear that this doesn’t ring true anymore. Lamson wasn’t even a bad guy; he was just trying to escape a group of armed individuals who he didn’t know from Adam. All the other people Rick has killed previously have been people who threatened his safety, but Lamson’s death could have been avoided – it was just easier and more convenient to put him out of the picture permanently.
The second person to cross a line this episode is Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), albeit a different one. Before, he seemed almost in denial about the state of the new world, hence his reluctance to kill and insistence on pacifism. All it takes is the sight of the maggot-infested remains of Bob’s severed leg for him to have his epiphany – almost at the cost of his own life though, and later that of Carl (Chandler Riggs), Judith and Michonne (Danai Gurira).
Nonetheless, he somehow seems more hopeful after this encounter – hopefully this continues, as he was starting to get annoying.
The third and final person to cross a line is Beth (Emily Kinney). Kept in the background during much of her time with Rick’s group, her time with Dawn (Christine Woods) exposes her to the petty politics and dog-eat-dog cruelty that she has been sheltered from her entire life.
She was one of the few characters with her innocence intact – something that is irrevocably shattered when she pushed O’Donnell (Ricky Wayne) into the pit.
At one point, Tyreese (Chad Coleman) talks to Sasha (Sonequa…) about the lines they’ve crossed. It’s a theme this episode seems determined to hammer home.
Then it happens.
Last week’s episode ‘Crossed’ was arguably the weakest of the series, but we could rest easy knowing that the mid-season finale was upon us – a time when The Walking Dead traditionally delivers both its best episodes and most visceral gut punches.
In this instance, it only delivers on the latter.
Sure, seeing Beth killed is an undeniably shocking moment, but it’s undercut by her inexplicably stupid actions in attacking Dawn. It’s not clear what she was trying to achieve, and know we’ll never know.
That the episode doesn’t immediately descend into a bloodbath is a surprise in the circumstances, but it almost comes as a realisation: too many lines have been crossed on both sides; maybe it’s time to take a step back.
Past character deaths in The Walking Dead have meant something; either because of the characters themselves, or because of the circumstances in which they happened. Beth, unfortunately, has neither going for her.
She wasn’t a particularly memorable character, her death was one of the worst directed in the show’s history, and we only care because the likes of Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Maggie (Lauren Cohan) care.
Early on in the Season the sense of mystery was something alien and interesting, but now it’s just getting tiresome. This feels more like a season finale then a mid-season coda (even the episode title, ‘Coda’, seems lazy.
This isn’t an awful episode by any means, but we’ve seen The Walking Dead done better, and right now it seems to be drifting off course a bit. We’re sure there’s a plan, but for once, we feel even more in the dark than the show’s characters.