Now we know what Norman Reedus meant when he said, "Grab the tissues."
Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven't seen "Coda"
The midseason finale of "The Walking Dead" was a slow build that ended with a shocking death, but also offered a clean slate for the now completely reunited group, plus a few others who may soon join them.
Here are the four biggest takeaways from the episode and some thoughts on its return in February 2015.
1. Father Gabriel really needs to start pulling his weight.
Last week, I couldn't figure out why Father Gabriel wanted to leave the church, since he didn't appear to want to commit suicide but also didn't bring a weapon with him. In "Coda," his escape has some serious consequences. He goes to the school where the "Termites" had a barbecue with Bob's leg (RIP) and recoils at the maggot-infested flesh, then leads an entire horde of walkers back to the church. Just like when he locked his parishioners outside when the apocalypse started, now here he is banging on the door and asking Michonne and Carl to let him back in. The church that they just spent so much time barricading is now overrun. As we say goodbye to that former safe spot, the camera ironically pans out to an inscription on the church wall that reads: "He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life."
Gabe had to see the Bob-B-Que for himself in order to accept that the slaughter of the Termites was justified, so maybe now he'll start joining the group's efforts to keep him alive. Maybe.
2. The Washington D.C.-bound group is back.
Just when Michonne, Carl, Judith and Gabriel are wondering what the hell they're going to do now, Sgt. Abraham pulls up in the firetruck with his crew. Everyone seems to have snapped out of their "We can't believe Eugene lied" trance, except Eugene, who regained consciousness last episode but is now sleeping in the back. Michonne offers the perfect, "You have got to be kidding me?!" faces when Glenn tells her that Eugene made up everything about D.C. and Maggie is extremely relieved to hear that Beth was found alive and is being rescued.
Everything is just a little too upbeat in this scene, which in "Walking Dead" terms means something horrible is about to happen. When Tara pluckily says, "Let's blow this joint and go save your sister!" I couldn't help but let out a big groan at what was undoubtedly going to happen.
3. Dawn ended up causing Beth's undoing after all.
All season long we've watched Officer Dawn intimidate, slap and provoke her way into a "professional" relationship with Beth. For a character that's constantly talking about how efficient and unemotional they must remain to survive, her interactions with Beth have always been personal. The midseason finale contained many a scene in which Dawn pours her heart out to Beth. She holds covering up Beth's murder of Officer Gorman over her head, admits to killing her old Captain Hanson, and keeps trying to justify her Machiavellian actions with quotes like, "You don't need their love, but you have to have their respect."
At first, Beth's death seemed imminent when Dawn had an altercation with her other officer in front of an open elevator shaft. Beth surprises Dawn by helping her out, pushing the attacking officer into the abyss in order to save her. Later on, Beth refuses a drink from Dawn and tells her that she gets what this has been all about. That covering up Beth's "cop killing" was just another way for Dawn to protect her own image. "Everyone here uses people to get what they want," Beth says, perhaps giving Dawn and idea for how to finally screw Beth in the end.
Even though Rick shoots Officer Lampson, the one who hoodwinked Sasha last episode, the hostage negotiation goes off (almost) without a hitch. The remaining two cops being held hostage offer to play ball and tell Dawn that Lampson was killed by rotters so they can make an even exchange, two for two. All goes well until Dawn says she wants Noah to replace Lampson. He valiantly agrees to stay, Beth gives him a final hug, and just when you think they're going to walk away, Beth goes up to Dawn and says, "I get it now," before stabbing her in the chest with the hidden pair of scissors in her cast. Dawn has a knee jerk reaction and shoots Beth in the head, killing her instantly. Daryl takes care of Dawn in the same manner. Everything changes in an instant.
Beth has come a long way since she tried to take her own life back in season 2, but her decision to stab Dawn had to have been made with the resulting consequences in mind. She was so happy when she saw Noah escape the prison, that dying for him to escape with her family must have seemed worth it -- especially it if it meant that Dawn would no longer be in power.
4. Where do they go now?
The good news, if you can call it that, is that a full-on war doesn't break out between the opposing groups of survivors like it did when The Governor killed Beth's father Hershel in Season 4. One of the officers smartly suggests that they put their guns down because, "It's over now. It was only about [Dawn]." They even offer the hospital as a place for Rick's group to stay, but with Beth's body still fresh on the ground, it's hard to imagine them staying there, even if they do have all the medicine and generators and laundry and food. Wait, why DON'T they stay there? Rick seems determined to leave and turns the offer around: Whoever wants to come with them can step forward.
The grief is all too real when Sgt. Abraham pulls the fire truck up to the hospital and everyone reunites. Maggie is optimistic as she sees Rick come out of the exit, but immediately falls to her knees in tears when she sees Daryl holding her sister's lifeless body. Everyone gathers around in disbelief. It's hard to believe the youngest woman in their group (other than Judith) is now gone.
So where does that leave our group? Maggie is clearly devastated. Eugene is still in bad shape and we have no idea how Rick is going to treat him after he finds out the truth. Carol is still pretty banged up. Noah must feel like garbage. Sasha is still depressed about Bob. The church is overrun, they don't want to stay at the hospital and now D.C. is out of the question. Or is it?
A sneak peek at the midseason premiere next February shows the group on the road again, camping out and walking like they did after they lost the prison. It's unclear if any members of the hospital will have joined them, if any, but Michonne talks of a place that's just "100 miles away" that could be a sanctuary. Perhaps she's talking about D.C. and the Alexandria Safe-Zone you might have heard about from the comic books.
Even with Beth's death, the fact that the group is now united makes this one of the show's more optimistic midseason finales. Anything can happen now. And what's better? it looks as though Morgan will catch up with Rick by the end of Season 5. Watch him discover the abandoned church and find Abraham's map to Washington in another preview clip.