WARNING: Heavy spoilers below.
If creator Robert Kirkman and showrunner Scott Gimple were hoping to leave audiences in shock with their jaw-dropping mid-season finale, they achieved it.
In an episode that left viewers stunned and in denial, the showrunners of the post-apocalyptic AMC hit killed off beloved little sister/life coach, Beth Greene. Yes, you read that right. And if you watched it with the rest of the Dead fandom, yes, you saw that right.
The episode started in a flurry. After one of last week’s captives, Lampson, managed to escape Rick’s grasp, the rest of the crew was left pondering their next move. Plans were rerouted and Daryl, Rick, Sasha and Tyreese make the decision to move in for a hostage exchange regardless, with Noah counseling them on Dawn’s every move. Inside Grady Memorial Hospital, Beth finds herself at odds with the uniformed crew once again, only this time, Dawn has begun acting more like a friend than a foe. But could she be trusted? After a brawl with a fellow power-hungry officer, a shaky confidence begins to manifest between the two, and Beth cautiously begins to put faith in the increasing bond.
Unfortunately, that bond is broken the moment the two groups come together and Beth realizes the mistake she has made. In a tense prisoner exchange, Rick and Daryl finally succeed in bringing back both Carol and Beth to their side and are on their way out of the hospital when Dawn stops them. “Now I just need Noah” she spouts, warning her officers to stay back, against their pleas. “Noah was my Ward. Beth took his place so now I’m taking him back,” she insists when Rick tersely objects. When the group balks, Noah assures them that all will be okay and begins to walk toward the hospital crew when Beth stops him, enveloping him in an embrace. “It’s not okay,” she says. Turning to Dawn, she replies coldly, “I get it now.”
In a chaotic split second, Beth jabs a pair of surgical scissors into Dawn’s clavicle, but it’s too late. Dawn’s weapon was already drawn. As Beth’s body crumples from a horrific gunshot wound to the head, Daryl fires his pistol, effectively killing Dawn in the same fashion. With both shocked crews unsteady on their feet and unsure of their next move, a weary and stunned Rick quietly answers the tension by telling the officers that anyone who wanted to leave with them was free to do so, and both groups warily back away from what would surely have been a bloodbath.
As Tyreese, supporting an unsteady Carol, and Sasha make their way out the doors of Grady Memorial, they encounter Abraham, Maggie, Glenn, and the rest of their group, who immediately realize what has taken place. Maggie breaks down at the sight of Daryl carrying Beth’s lifeless body. Soon after, the screen goes dark.
Audiences were left in confusion. As Keegan-Michael Key, of Comedy Central’s Key and Peele, said, “There was a moment where I just couldn’t believe it. I was sitting there going, ‘Oh, look! Beth fainted!’ And then I started bawling.”
But it wasn’t just Peele who had a hard time coping with the sudden and aggressive loss. Actor Norman Reedus (Daryl) to TV Guide: “[On the day we shot that scene], I sat on an apple box with my head between my legs and just bawled for an hour. I really wanted not to tear up … I wanted to be like I had wasted every tear in my body before we started shooting, so I just sat there and cried and cried and cried.”
Beth herself wasn’t exactly dry-eyed either. In an interview with TV Line, Emily Kinney said, “I think the writing throughout has been great, but I wasn’t ready for it to be over … I did not see it coming at all. I feel like there was still so much more to [explore], like, what could have happened with Daryl?”
What could have happened with Daryl? As many fans have pointed out, the two have spent the last two seasons doing a slow dance around one another, growing from allies to friends to support systems for one another, and eventually evolving into something even more interesting. Although both Kinney and Reedus have admitted to playing their respective characters in a “will-they-won’t-they” manner, the showrunners have never officially come out in support of a Daryl/Beth union. What has always made the relationship interesting is the unsure nature of it all. Beth had helped Daryl cope with what he was and who he could be and Daryl had showed Beth that she mattered, that she wasn’t just another “dead girl.” If there were ever a friendship worth watching on television, it was this one.
While Beth’s demise became the largest talking point surrounding the episode, there were other interesting developments also worth mentioning. When Rick slams into Lampson with his car and proceeds to execute him in the street, did is signal the end of “Sheriff” Rick? Has Rick become his own nemesis, or more unsettling still, is Rick turning into Shane? Certainly, the episode arcs have been pointing in this direction. How far will Rick go to protect his people?
In one quiet, yet touching scene, Tyreese and Sasha stand together on a rooftop across from the hospital, sights trained on the on the building below. Tyreese offhandedly remarks that perhaps he and Sasha are still the same people as when they were children, that perhaps their reactions to their individual tragedies were reminiscent of the goodness still inside them, to which Sasha replies, “You’re still the same … I don’t think I can be. Not anymore.” Shaking her head, she seems to confirm her own fears. How will Sasha bounce back from her tragic loss? Is she destined to become like Rick as well?
As the first half of The Walking Dead Season 5 comes to a close, audiences are left to wait out the next few months in agonizing heartache. How will Daryl react to burying the one person with whom he believed he could have had a future? Can Carol comfort him in his grief while still maintaining an unspoken leadership role within the group, or is she destined to fade away? And most importantly, where does the group go from here?
However you’re feeling about last night’s episode, you deserve this big group hug.
(The minus is for Beth, you jerks)
‘The Walking Dead’ will return for the second half of Season 5 in February on AMC.