The Walking Dead, S5 Ep 8 — Coda

Honestly, I always imagined Beth would outlive them all. She was small but mighty, a light in the darkness, the one you wouldn’t expect to outlive ZA warriors like Carol, Michonne, Daryl, and Rick.

And she didn’t. Not only did she not make it, she wasn’t able to hold on. She was ultimately consumed by rage, breaking when Dawn coldly insisted that Noah had to return to the hospital as part of the deal in exchange for her. It was no-win for her. Rick and Daryl would have let him go if it meant Beth’s safety, but she never would have accepted that safety at his expense. It doesn’t even matter if you think Beth and Noah made a good potential couple or not. Noah’s freedom kept her going. You could see it every time his name came up after his escape. You could see it when she sat over the elevator shaft, the one they’d used to get out, for comfort. There was no way Beth was going to allow her freedom to cost Noah his.

walkingdeads5e8rickdarylShe had to know that stabbing Dawn would end her. Or maybe not. Maybe she imagined everyone at the hospital standing in shock as Dawn bled to death, before breaking into “The Witch is Dead.” Maybe she imagined that with Dawn dead at her hand, they’d let Noah go. And, tragically, she was probably right about that.

Thanks to the internet, I had an inkling Beth’s time was up, based on unconfirmed set gossip. I ignored the rumors, but still, they always kill off a major character in the midfinale, which has become one of The Walking Dead‘s biggest flaws.

Not that they shouldn’t kill major characters. Major characters have to die in a show like this. They have to. If anything, The Walking Dead has become a bit pedestrian, in zombie genre terms, by giving viewers a sense of comfort that they wouldn’t dare kill a fan favorite. A fan favorite, if we’re being honest, hasn’t died yet. Bob, Hershel, Dale, Merle, Lori, T-Dog, Andrea — you can’t say they had the fan base of a Daryl or Rick.

Beth wasn’t always a fan favorite. She was somewhat invisible for three seasons, when she was frequently picked as the next to die (as in, fans would be OK if she were the next to die). Then, in Season 4, Beth had a story arc with Daryl, and “Bethyl” became the most popular ship the show had seen.

So it’s no surprise that a lot of fans are furious at the writers over Beth’s death, which is seen as a travesty of television justice, on scale with an episode of Supernatural or something. But, really, the worst thing about the writing — or, more accurately, the timing — is that Beth was killed in the midfinale, when we anticipated a major death. We shouldn’t be anticipating a major death in a certain episode every season. That’s the flaw. Not that her death was pointless and made half the arc in season 5 pointless.

After all, pointlessness is one of the most deep-rooted themes in the modern zombie genre. Why do survivors fight so hard for such a hopeless, horrific life? The Walking Dead poses this question more intensely than any zombie movie ever has.

In most monster movies, the monsters are defeated. What has always set the zombie genre apart is that there is no overcoming the monster in a true zombie story.

While the undefeated monster idea precedes the modern zombie genre (see movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Blob from the ’50s), there was something deeply shocking about Night of the Living Dead and watching Ben go through so much for nothing. And while it’s true that a lot of recent zombie movies and shows play up cured zombies and happy endings, that’s not where The Walking Dead should go, because it’s able to take the classic-style zombie story to places it’s never been. It shouldn’t keep characters alive to avoid rocking the boat, or killing only characters without loud fan bases. That is pointless, when you’re talking about a zombie show. It’s not scary if you knew everyone is going to be OK.

Ben’s death after fighting for a day in Night was shocking. Seeing a main character cut down suddenly after at least a year of surviving in hell is almost surreal.

But in Beth’s case, not actually totally pointless. She saved Noah, and that was her goal.

I would have liked to have seen Beth continue on. It’s cliche, but there’s something about seeing the beacon of goodness and light overcome. Beth wasn’t that in the end. In the end, it was her rage — her hatred — that killed her. And that took a lot more guts to write.