It is not rare for The Walking Dead viewers to find themselves mourning the loss of a major character come mid season or season finale time. Last night’s The Walking Dead mid season 5 finale, though, felt particularly brutal and polarizing. Beth Greene, a character who came of age in grim new-world order, was gone in a flash.
The fullness of Beth’s evolution is marked by her final lines, “I get it now,” and her failed attempt to fatally stab Dawn.
But what is behind her epiphany? And was her final act of defiance an impetuous tantrum or something else?
Beth’s sudden demise is particularly harrowing, but not altogether unexpected. If the series has taught us anything, it is that no one is safe. So why is Beth’s death particularly hard to digest?
Beth is the one character, throughout The Walking Dead series, who never compromised her morals in exchange for survival. She, for a long time, has been the show’s manual for acquiring strength in vulnerability. She grew strong in her own way, which also empowered Daryl and ushered him toward manhood.
When the tense hostage exchange is done, Dawn turns her head back towards her group, eyes welling and voice trembling. She needs a power play. She cannot let her people think that her vulnerability to the Grimes Gang is a show of weakness. So she does something stupid. She demands Noah’s return.
Here, it is clear that people, to Dawn, are pawns. Beth earlier acknowledged how Dawn used her to do Dawn’s dirty work- and now here she is, doing it all over again. But did Beth do it right back?
When Noah reluctantly agrees to go back to Dawn, Beth announces, “It is not okay,” and rushes to hug Noah goodbye. Noah reassures Beth and tells her that it is alright. Dawn just couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She inserts herself in their tender moment, “I knew you would be back.” But is she referring to Noah or Beth?
The injustice is too much for Beth to bear. Beth finally understands what needs to be done when it comes to people like Dawn. People who use others because they need to be needed. People who will sacrifice others at any cost all the while deluding themselves that their deeds are justified. She understands that she, as Rick said to Lamsen, can’t go back.
In an eerie moment of clarity, she does the unthinkable and stabs Dawn. If she could just walk away. If she could just accept Noah’s sacrifice. If she could put her needs ahead of his, she would still be breathing. But Beth knew that there was a difference between living and survival, which highlights the irony of her final act.
Beth, inspired by the injustice, decides to deliver a brand of justice familiar to Rick, Dawn, Mary,
Jarret, Gareth, and the Governor- I know better than you. There’s no room for you, so we’re all better off without you. Notions that are typically followed with acts of violence, which naturally beget only more violence.
Beth, armed only with a small pair of scissors, snaps and, for only an instant, becomes someone who can take another human life when there is no immediate threat, when there is another way out. Beth likely knew that her small weapon would not kill Dawn. She had to know that when Dawn retaliated, Rick and the others would kill Dawn.
Taking a cue from Dawn, Beth allows herself to become the instrument of more “dirty work.” Her calmly executed act both highlights the importance of vantage point and contradicts the efforts of Rick’s (reluctantly) peaceful rescue effort- and so she dies.
Her physical death and sacrifice accentuates the paradox of her hope and quiet wisdom. With that, our ray of sunshine is extinguished. Will her death serve as a warning for Rick, or will he see it as an affirmation for quick, unyielding, bloody justice?
Just before Rick coldly executes Lamson, an event that parallels Beth’s death and calls into question Rick’s leadership, Lamson pleads, “I was going to iron it over. She’s under it and you’ve been out here too long. You’ll die.” Later, a red flag waves above Rick, framing his march to the hostage negotiations.
The camera’s vantage point exaggerates its size- a sign that he is not above danger, but he is too emerged in it to see the obvious warning. Either that or he simply does not care.We understand that the difference between Rick and Dawn is merely a matter of perspective.
The fallout of Beth’s death remains to be seen, but will surely dominate Daryl, Rick, and Maggie’s character arcs in the coming second half of The Walking Dead’s fifth season.What dangers are ahead of Rick and how will they affect him and his group’s dynamics?
Season 5 of The Walking Dead returns February 8th at 9 PM on AMC. Until then, feel free to share your reaction to Beth’s death and predictions for the next half of Season 5 in the comment section.