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Well that was some swift aequitas, Murph– wait, wrong twins. Eh, you know what, if they're going to follow right the way through on the Children of Dune reference (fucking twins – in case it seems like that literary influence is a stretch, there's plenty more where that came from) and Romulus and Remus, I can make one too, even if mine is somewhat off-message since one twin doesn't massively outsurvive the other and create the defining city/empire of their people but rather they just fuck around being drunk and Irish and dispensing classic '90s-style vigilante justice with a divine twist look, shut up. *uses icon because.*

In case anyone's wondering, here's what happens when you're drained of energy of an evening and decide, screw it, I'll watch the mid-season finale anyway and leave the processing until later when I have the brainspace for it: you watch the whole episode in complete mental and emotional passivity, except for a grand total of three small reaction blips (those being: *welp*, good girl, and yep, definitely dead); then, as soon as the coda blinks out, get hit with the full-episode shot of storytelling adrenaline right to the heart and internally shriek OMG I LOVE THIS SHOOOOOOOWWWW; and then spend a long, quiet night going owwwwwwwwwwwwwwoowwowwww.* [*Actual results may vary.] Because I bet you were all wondering, and by gum, that's what I'm here for. [Actual results may vary.]

So ... yeah. There were A LOT of threads crashing into each other here; this will not be short. BUCKLE UP, IT'S THE LAW.

Wider season/series perspective:
Here's what I was wondering, in the week leading up to the finale: what, per each season's pattern, is going to break Rick and his near-unbending grip on his survival/humanity goal of this season? Here's what this episode answered: THIS IS. S1 is N/A (unless you count the inciting incident of gunshot wound and comapocalypse in getting things started), but S2 was Sophia in the barn, S3 was Lori's death, and S4 the loss of the prison. I didn't speculate about it in the slightest – that takes brainspace I didn't really have, and besides, seriously, after the sleep-punning, I really have been trying to leave this tracking/analysis business at the door as much as I can. I was just waiting to see what they'd do, and they did not disappoint.

I suppose, to continue refining my approach to tracking what this show is doing in the future, the question to guide that speculation is: what is the loss that will break the hearts and hopes of Rick and the group in the most spectacular, board-upending way? Because derp, me. But sometimes I'm just happy to curl up and purr at being petted by delightful storytelling. Approaching this story with the expectation that every character is a dead wo/man walking, that – as Bob said – everyone makes it until they don't, and that the key to this story is the question of what each of them is willing, and not willing, to let go of to survive, makes this whole thing something of an extended exercise in being petted by delightful storytelling. Particularly if your preferences are for storytellers who do whatever is right for their story and characters – and the ballsier the better. *purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrs*

Review and reassessment:
— Ah. Correction, then: Officer O'Donnell was Mr Elevator Shaft (I'm still rooting for being able to add ", the first" to that title). Officer "you win, asshole" is Licari. (Skimming over names on IMDb is such hard work.) Still pretty anticlimactic, given all the other aptronyms this season, but still ... I kinda really like him. (It's true, I have a soft spot for anyone who unrepentantly addresses someone holding a gun on them as "asshole".) And I like Shepard even more. Don't know how much I actually trust either of them yet, but I do like them.

— Ahh, confirmation on Dawn, Hansen, and the easily-euphemized "taking care of". She killed him! Because no one else could go through with it. And we can probably assume this helped in the development of her mentality that having done the dirty work herself gave her the right to farm it out to any who "owe" her doing it for them.

— Ahhh Rick. No sooner do I praise you for always taking the price and the dirtiest hands upon yourself do you casually farm the dirty work out to Daryl; no sooner do I praise you for having honour by way of listening to your loved ones' voices to take the harder road do you run a man down and shoot him in the face because he wouldn't stop, and it was easier than taking him back whole and alive – and, adding insult, tell his corpse after the fact to shut up (he was wrong in what he'd been saying, and you knew it, you're not all going to die – you're all going to have to live with this, which is far, far harder; but the accusation he's making as a dead person speaks at you far louder and is not wrong).

— Oh, Lamson. You were going back to try to "iron it over" and help the trade go smoothly to keep everyone from dying, because you didn't know or trust that the man Rick appears to be could make it work with the woman you know Dawn to be. You were wrong, and you didn't stop, even when directed to because you didn't know or trust the man doing the directing, even when severely overmatched because, unfortunately for you, you're one of the "good" ones (who don't survive) who's willing to put themselves on the line for the sake of others. However, considering what Rick then did to you, it's pretty hard to blame you for getting it wrong.

— Glenn! Welcome to living to the back half of the season! I have high hopes for you (I don't, but I'm trying – and with any luck I'm wrong and it was Tyreese who took the season-opener episode minor faulty step that starts him going irretrievably too-far-gone off one side or other of the theme's middle path of survival ... but sadly, with our current incomplete information, I'm not yet convinced of it).

TY. REESE. YOU UNBELIEVABLE FUCKNUCKLE. So what you're saying is, you think maybe it's fine and dandy for you that the guy you KNEW you didn't kill – whose blood you DELIBERATELY didn't finish taking on your own hands – who then nicked off with your sister's bitten boyfriend to eat him with his buddies, ended up dirtying your sister's hands with his blood instead of yours (just like with Carol and Lizzie, but far less justifiable). Yes, there are times when sparing the life of someone who poses a threat is the hard path – and SOMETIMES, it's hiding from the hard path. (If it's any consolation, it's edged you closer to firm Rick-analogue category. Congratulations!) NO MORE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT FOR YOU.

— Okay, Gabriel. You were going off to gather outside evidence to know the truth for yourself, before you could know Michonne's claims that what appeared so evil about how the group dealt with Gareth was justified and necessary, before you could trust yourself to the help that Carl, as the group's representative, was offering – before "not running anymore". I ... okay, let's start there. Again.

Digging into the nitty gritty:
... And then I can IGNORE YOU. But since it's relevant (what are the odds?!), let's do this: Out of context, that's fair; investigating the signs and clues and evidence, trying to assemble the best available read on the actions and declarations of others in order to evaluate and act on them as correctly as you can is a good and sensible thing, in itself. Sometimes it's even mandated, like when someone's calling revolves around it – say, cops, and also physicians in another sense, and even scientists – all are demonstrating faithfulness in their mission by doing exactly that.

However, just like anything else, it can be misused – like as an excuse to stall or deny what that calling asks of you – and in context, you've betrayed your faith repeatedly, despite the fact that your called-upon wholly undeserved divine help has not yet once betrayed you; each time it's been tried, it's proven true, even to the placement of a machete that killed an attacking walker for you. "Help came", repeatedly, and while those signs could legitimately be read as circumstantial, you yourself specifically attributed it to God, implicitly saying you knew and could trust Him (but later reflexively called it "luck" – nobody owes luck anything). Faith doesn't mean blindly trusting, faith is knowing the map by which the terrain of visible signs and clues are read, and trusting the directions it gives to steer a path through them, but this little excursion wasn't about trying to see as much as you can. It was about throwing out that map, that calling, not because it's been revealed false at any point (Eugene) but because what it's directing you to do feels too risky, too frightening, too hard. Taking a different way that doesn't appear to you to cost as much (even though you know the map says it will) is explicitly making a lie of your mission AND your faith (the mission being simply the visible actions-speak-louder declaration of the invisible faith), by which token the men you "fished" are all dead and rotting. Like your weaselly confession, throwing your lot in with this group is not repentance (ie, stopping and turning around from a wrong path). It is continuing to run forward on that path of pure self-interest, and, like prominently carrying a bloody machete that stood between you and a faceplanting walker and killed it for you on its fucking own while you cowered behind it, is once again weaselling for full credit for actions you're only pretending on the outside that you've taken. So, just so you're aware, you are a long way from getting out of asstwerp category yet; and I am fine with that.

And hey, speaking of *relevant*: everyone who's staked claims in any kind of map – a calling, a set of principles, instructions, or even just a particular worldview – that same mission/faith walk-the-talk requirement goes for you too. Do you use what you've learned (know), what you believe in (trust), what you claim, to steer you – or to excuse you? And go ahead and multiply that practice-what-you-preach requirement by the factor of any authority you derive from it to lead/guide others through the terrain.... Good luck, everybody!

... With that in mind, and having dispensed with Father "Or maybe I'm lying – maybe I'm lying about everything and there's no church ahead at all – maybe I'm leading you into a trap so I can steal all your squirrels" Gabriel, let's take this episode to look at how the things people have claimed matches up with the things they've done. And consequently how much we can – like Officer Shepherd (and unlike Gabriel or Lamson) – judge the "good" from the "bad" (sheep trust and follow the way the shepherd leads/guides them, and goats run off and blindly/stubbornly go their own way).

Once, Bob (already speaking from already-losing-two-separate-groups experience) asserted that: "People these days are dominoes." Let's start there, and with Sasha, the head of this little row of people-dominoes. Having made the mistake, she at least is willing to own it, that her actions of trusting (and therefore losing) Lamson was really bloody stupid of her. She doesn't try to excuse it, and is self-aware enough to know that she's changed, and that reflexively falling back on childhood patterns of following and copying her big brother's footsteps isn't an option for her anymore. (Which little bit of backstory doesn't contradict their joke, back at the beginning of last season, about her always bossing him around – little girls are bossy, and being under stress or lost, ie, grieving your bitten and eaten apocalypse sweetheart, tends to bring out the reflex of your deepest-worn "tried and true" habits – ie, the paths/patterns/maps that have stood the test of time the longest ... until they don't.) On the other hand, her bitter self-recrimination for having stumbled (just because "we all stumble in many ways" doesn't mean we escape the consequences of having done so) could make the apparently easier, self-protecting path of simply never trusting feel very attractive, rather than take the hard path of using her mistakes to learn how better to judge who, and how, to risk trusting. So, as with most things in this episode, we will see how that plays out going forward.

Next up, Rick, and my first reaction blip of the episode (*welp*), and then the rest of this is back to being the ladies' show all the way. Since we've had a rash of people claiming all kinds of plausible things to justify and excuse their choices, many of which cannot be disproved beyond reasonable doubt by comparing them just to the evidence of their actions, sometimes we need the show itself to author-itatively tell us by direct map or signpost, to tell the good from bad for sure. The walker-resemblence motif (map/signpost) uses the catching of rotting "men" to externally confirm/condemn the continued, unrepentent state of Gabriel's dead, false-life, useless, others-endangering faith, even now that he's transferred it to Rick's group. The motif also uses the otherwise-inexplicable gutting of that walker as Rick chased after Lamson not just for us to see Rick's (obvious) mindset in the moment but, far more blameworthy, gives us the key judgement of his invisible motives. The action of chasing down and ruthlessly eliminating Lamson's potential threat, by itself, could – like Joe's throat – be argued as extreme but justifiable in the circumstances, by the motive to make sure of the safety of his people. But with the walker, not only did he brutally gut it for no reason (it posed no threat to him, and was only incidentally in his way), and for no purpose (he didn't even bother to finish it off and remove it as a potential threat to anyone else), but, if the pun is to be relied on, he was quite literally just venting spleen (thankyou, today's AWAD, for the help flagging that, and for the "thought for today" quote).

Not only that, but he has left himself no wiggle room whatsoever for excuse or mitigating factors. His original calling as a sheriff has been slowly, although not fully, worn away in service of making his family his calling instead, so while elements of it remain in how he goes about things, he doesn't actually answer to it. He answers to his family, having made their wellbeing his guide to navigating the terrain of this world – all he is anymore is a man looking for his family, and anyone who gets in the way of that "is going to lose". This season, he named the entire group as his family; and even before that, the two he'd explicitly claimed as such were Judith and Daryl, bringing them into the same category as Carl and Lori. Like Gabriel spoke for God in attributing the source of the help he'd received, Rick spoke for Judith and showed he knows what his family asks of him, even as he's learned he can trust them not to betray him, to faithfully and consistently come through for him in everything he's asked of them. Like Gabriel surrounded by reminders of biblical guidance, Rick has Carl reminding him of the abstract consideration that Rick and his family are "strong enough that we can still help people, and we can handle ourselves if things go wrong", all the way to Daryl reminding him of the practical concerns with "three's better than two". Even more than that, Rick once again unconditionally confirmed it as his "map" for direction: "If she's in, I'm in."

So when Rick told Gabriel early on this season that anything that might even hurt his family warranted a death sentence, he has gone beyond (to the point of now going against) what his family asks of him. Instead, he is serving his own issues, his own unwillingness to take the risks of the harder path he knows and has stated the map he's claimed has clearly marked out for him – worse, he's taking his family's "name in vain" to do so, by claiming it's for their sake when it's actually for his. The fact that he executed it upon a man whose hands were trapped behind his back, by deliberately running him down in a car, breaking his back, refusing to even consider taking him to Grady for treatment (as the officers who accidentally hit Carol did for her), and shooting him in the face, while passing judgement that "you just had to stop", and all of this after having Licari already state that he'd "won", is simply the beautifully-rendered expression of Rick's relative strength even to the other average strong survivors left in this world, and how uncritically ruthless he has become in exercising it, having come to believe that this aspect of him isn't just part of what's kept his family alive, but is the reason they're still alive (a reflexive path that feels "tried and true" from being driven deep by The Governor (who punished the remission of it), Joe (who proved it), and Terminus (which confirmed it)).

Which meant that instead of having three officers instead of two to exchange and to come away with Carol, Beth, and Noah (THREE IS BETTER THAN TWO, RICK), giving Dawn every appearance of a strong trade in front of her officers, Rick weakened Dawn by depriving her of one of her universally acclaimed "good" ones, and making the trade seem numerically uneven to her, until her paranoia and need to demonstrate her strength made her demand her "best" worker Noah back. In the moment, it was purely Dawn and Beth's choices that made it all go down the way it did; but it was Rick's choices that first, and needlessly, violated the "everybody goes home" goal of the trade, thus beginning the chain reaction domino of deaths, which sparing Lamson would have prevented by keeping that moment from coming about at all.

And he knows it – that his adherence to indiscriminately killing anyone who might endanger his family group has now lead to the death of one of them, and that particular death might very well tear his already-strained group completely apart, whereas alive she would have been the bridge connecting Daryl and Maggie, and through them keeping the whole group together (I was wondering why 5.06 was so heavy on staging its action on bridges). He is also the only one who knows it, exactly how much his choice to finish knocking that domino down rather than pick it up is directly to blame for this. In S3, his over-insistence on walls, both relational and physical, to protect what he was trying to preserve cost him loss and destruction down to the very the core of it, and in the aftermath he had to learn how to use walls as part of keeping his family alive. Given that this is the cycle of the whole show each season around him, this core loss and destruction will almost certainly lead him to that same process of refining his understanding and judgement, that same repentance (stopping and turning back from the "easier" path he's been taking), and, given the track-laying so far this season, a key part of that genuine repentance this time around will be confessing his guilt to his family at the risk of losing basically everyone he's claimed if they won't forgive him – and that's apart from the ongoing fallout of the consequences. (So, in further inversion of S1, it wasn't that Atlanta needed Rick to return as Officer Friendly, but that Rick needed Atlanta to return as Officer Friendly.)

Having, ironically, taken himself out of the driving seat by what he did to Lamson, which then put each turning point in the hands and choices of Shepherd, Dawn and Beth to be steered, Rick and his self-invalidated – compromised – authority is a figurehead at most in the proceedings of the rest of the episode. It is Shepherd's willingness to lie about witnessing Lamson's death at the hands of "rotters" (Licari following in her lead) that gives the trade any last hope of success, rather than just going in "guns blazing". Not only does that willingness to do what it takes to see the job through properly set the attempt in motion, she – certainly not Rick – is then able to conclude it after Beth and Dawn's deaths according to that goal of no further bloodshed on either side. She is, as Rick notes, a "damn good liar" (as Licari also proves to be), but she also states she knows how to tell the good ones from the bad, and on that basis asks Rick to trust that she can help them; and Rick looks to Daryl, whose nod commits them to putting faith in that offer, despite not being able to gather any outside evidence to know the truth for sure. Despite her incentive of avoiding a shootout if the trade goes sour, they are still taking a risk on trusting her to not endanger them, especially since she's just shown them how convincingly she can lie if she wants to and they have no way of telling if the map she claims to be steering by ("protect and serve", basically) is what she says it is.

Yet her subsequent actions have, thus far, fully corroborated what she told them. Her fellow officers, who have lived and fought alongside her long enough to know if they can trust her judgement, all immediately obey her order to hold their fire, without any time to evaluate her split-second read of the situation for themselves and no other sign that they're not about to be shot virtually point-blank by the grief-crazed redneck who just shot their leader in the face, or by the rest of his group behind him who had just gone to great lengths to recover someone their leader had just slaughtered. Her split-second and accurate read that "it's over", "it was just about her" – that, despite every appearance that Daryl was an immediately lethal threat to her people, he would nevertheless stop at the justice of shooting Dawn for shooting Beth and not seek indiscriminate revenge on everyone for it even in his rage – had to be based on what Licari must have told her about Daryl getting Rick to spare Licari's life. Nothing else in Daryl's neutral-to-aggressive other behaviour toward her, or his grotty, bruise-and-soot-blacked (sheep) face/appearence before this, would have given her any reason to be so sure of him as to stake so many of her people's lives on it, insisting on them all lowering their own weapons long seconds before Daryl or any of his people lowered theirs.

All of which can also be filed under a number of self-serving goals, but the key thing she did was, without drawing her own weapon, standing in front between her people and the threat, and throwing her arms back across them to reinforce her order to hold fire, all the while being the sole voice stepping up to take control and stand the situation down – strong enough to handle it when things go wrong, to stop all the rest of the dominoes from falling. (Daryl, as usual, not bothering with any words, warning, or hesitation when the action requires that he raise his weapon, while Rick mostly just looked stunned, unable even to go by direct previous experience that this would be Daryl's reaction, or calculate/care about the consequences that would endanger all the rest of his family who were present, or do much but draw his weapon and look reflexively ready to follow Daryl's lead if the shooting continued – thus inverting and showing how far Rick's come from moving instantly on that rooftop to stop Daryl from shooting T-Dog in the face at the loss of Merle.) Additionally, in 5.04 we saw that Shepherd was the one who, having already pulled a double shift, was standing watch on Beth cleaning in the storeroom at night (before Dawn relieved Shepherd), which could easily be interpreted as knowing exactly how vulnerable Beth would be to Gorman and other similar officers in that position, and doing the preventative aspect of the job of law enforcement where its functional presence can be enough to keep the situation from even coming up, which is how I was inclined read it at the time. None of it is completely conclusive – this whole larger sequence of events has essentially cleaned house for her, without her getting her hands any dirtier than telling a baldfaced lie, and it makes sense that she could be willing to take the gamble of losing officers and even their only doctor in order to hang on to it all for herself – but, within the patterns this story has established, is highly suggestive, and does get her a LOT of the benefit of the doubt. Maybe (per the story's "reap what you sow" patterns and our scripture readings for today) her sowing in peace is enough to reap her that harvest of righteousness.

Bringing us, finally, to Dawn and Beth. Just ... wow. So, one, right there's the fulfilment of the farming flashback at the end of last season where Rick put The Hat, that had fallen off Carl's head, onto Beth's (as she held Judith), declaring there's a new sheriff in town. CORRECT, RICK, ON EACH ESSENTIAL LEVEL.

The entire time Beth was at Grady, Dawn has been giving her justifications and excuses for the compromises and actions Dawn has taken. And all of them have some plausibility, can make some kind of valid argument for justifying the way things get done under Dawn's authority as being some level of "necessary" evil. Not that Beth was buying it – by the end of 5.04, armed only with that pair of surgical scissors (just like the pair Dawn used to stab Dr Trevitt's corpse in the head to keep it from turning, concluding the first, inadvertent death on Beth's hands, and also the pair Joan used to open up her severed arm to bleed out, and scratch her "fuck you" note in the floor of Dawn's office), she was uncompromising, not prepared to just hang on for some phantasmal hope of rescue that would never come, already fully prepared to follow through and finish the job of Joan's (literally suicidal) attempt to take Dawn out. When she had a "stronger hand" – armed with the weapon she took from Gorman (while he was being preyed on and consumed/fucked up by the walker corpse of the woman he'd preyed on and consumed/fucked up) – she used that strength to make a way out to free/save Noah along with herself, firing the gun with her right hand despite the cast and fractured wrist, clearing the way for him rather than take advantage of being far ahead of him and not impeded by a disfigured and freshly injured leg. Once reduced to a "weaker" hand – alone, with no way to make herself another way out, left with only the scissors she'd squirreled away in her cast and stashed under her mattress (where she'd kept the ill-fated, Noah-squirreled lollipop), going up against a fully armed Dawn who was accompanied by her officers – even if she herself was strong enough to see it through, the mere attempt would still be a recklessly suicidal one (even more than Rick leading his people back into the overrun Terminus to finish the job). At which turning point, Carol once again tipped it; though this time it was nothing more than her comatose presence that was enough to save Beth, giving her potential hope of the strength to get themselves a way out together, and once more giving her the option of a higher path of using her present strength to save a life over exacting justice. (Like the Daryl-Licari-Shepherd-everyone chain – saving lives: also people-dominoes, though much harder, slower, and the chain far more fragile.) Beth was able to recognise true help for her when she saw it come, even though all its appearances were to the contrary, because she already knew and could trust Carol – while nobody else at Grady had any idea how to read anything of what Carol's arrival signified, because they didn't know her.

And, like Dawn, choosing the path of saving lives led her to compromises. (That she'd managed to make it this far without having to do so was only because she had been reliant on the protection given by those who did; transitioning out from under that is, like your first booze-up, a part of growing from child to adult.) The first death on her hands was entirely unwitting, killing for Steve as his cat's-paw, trusting the guidance and believing she was helping Trevitt. The second was still a fairly clear-cut case of self-defence; Gorman wasn't attacking to kill her, but was still directly threatening to compromise her life (Beth: "You call this living?" Steve: "We're still breathing."), posing immediate danger, and she only compromised him sufficiently in the moment that he fell victim to Joan's walker, which killed him for her. (Jefferies, the second officer who we later see dead in Dawn's office in the aftermath of the Joan-Gorman situation was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.) Then along comes Carol, and O'Donnell's upper hand in the conflict of interest, that the energy they're spending to keep Carol alive is taking away from his dvd player time; Dawn outwardly bows to pressure and yet gives Beth the keys (and the risk) to save Carol anyway, so that in the heat of the moment when O'Donnell is fighting Dawn, and Dawn can't quite manage to finish the kill on her own, Beth responds to Dawn's desperate cry and deliberately does it for her (shoving him down the elevator shaft, with the walkers at the bottom finishing the rest).

Regardless of the very reasonable justifications for it, she still made the judgement to take out the strength of the more apparent threat (who'd already endangered Carol's life – Beth's person), in support of the deeply compromised protection of Dawn's strength. She did this despite having seen enough to know that though the threat Dawn poses to the vulnerable is less immediately obvious, it is systemic, creating the situation that compromises all their lives. Once again, nobody can make it alone anymore – Daryl had Carol with him to pull him back from that justice-not-mercy "needless" kill, Rick had Daryl to pull him back, but under the push of Dawn calling on her to make it, Beth had no one on her side to pull her back – and so she deliberately ran and knocked O'Donnell down (just as O'Donnell had deliberately knocked the weak, elderly Percy down).

Having taken even that small step following and copying Dawn's specific footsteps and method of compromise, to make a victim of someone she didn't need to, who though strong was not posing a direct threat to herself or even her people (like both Noah and Licari who were however spared from their death sentence, O'Donnell was no longer in a position to do anything further to immediately endanger Carol) because she was in the position of the upper hand and it served or soothed her own interests, Beth invalidated her authority to execute judgement on Dawn for having done the same. And while she doesn't accept the "no-strings" drink Dawn gives her from Dawn's own stash, refusing to drink away her misery with Dawn or bond with her, she nevertheless can't refute Dawn's claim that Dawn started out like her, once.

So when it comes time to be traded, going by Dawn's map, making deals for people, she accepts it. When Dawn demands Noah back to for the deal to be even, Beth protests that "it's not okay" but still accepts Noah's act of self-sacrifice to make sure everybody else "goes home", even with tears in her eyes ("I don't cry anymore") hugging him goodbye ("I'm just glad I didn't say goodbye. I hate goodbyes"). So that the turning point does not occur until everything is in place and it is purely her own judgement and her own choice. It is not to fight to get back to or protect her people, or herself; Daryl has succeeded in getting both her and Carol back safe, and Beth respects Noah's right to make his choice for himself. It is not to punish Dawn for forcing compromises, for making those deals with the devil and making other people pay the price for her; Beth has accepted and acted on compromise as necessary to save/protect lives, and after that, any argument over what compromises are the necessary evils is an argument over subjective "judgement" calls. You can say they were good or poor, but you can't say the act itself of making them was wrong. So Beth now sees the entire context, having acquired the experience to read it correctly, and thus able to recognise the key evidence of Dawn's invisible, obscured, much-justified motives, to where she can execute her judgement on what is unacceptable: "I get it now."

In S3, when Daryl chose going with Merle over the group, even though Merle was a jerk, she didn't understand it, was angry at him for leaving them weak; she had no context to understand Carol's explanation that people like Merle "get into your head", make you feel like you deserve it, even for someone as strong as Daryl. She blithely assumed (and reassured) that Carol would tell Ed to go to hell if he came back, "breathing", and telling her to go with him, even though at that point Carol wasn't so sure (not all of who she once was had yet been burned away). In S4, Beth chidingly contradicted Daryl saying he needed her to keep on reminding him that he'd gotten away from it all, lightly repeating his own words that he couldn't rely on anybody (but then helped him get free of his instinct to go back inside "home sweet home" and the shitty shelter it offered by leading him in burning it all down, flipping it off, and then walking away from it without looking back). She wasn't there for Carol talking about the woman's shelter she'd gone to with Sophia, where they'd only stayed one night before she went back to Ed, waiting and praying and hanging on for something to happen, to rescue them, but never doing anything; Beth couldn't understand why Steve stayed at Grady, just hanging on, when to her it seemed like he could leave whenever he wanted; and when Dawn told Beth that Noah (who was indeed away for all of one night) would come back, they always did because none of them were ever able to make it out there, away from her protection, Beth denied it and insisted that Noah was going to make it and go home to Virginia. It wasn't until she'd lived amongst it, seeing enough of what Gorman did in victimising Joan, and what O'Donnell did in victimising Percy, experiencing the difference between that and what Steve did in victimising her as the necessary cost of doing business, seeing the mentality of acceptance and dependency among the people of Grady in the face of their victimisation and how that compromised-life way of thinking was beginning to get into her head too, with Noah's accepting voice that "it's okay" in her ear, that all the signs were there for her to read for herself in Dawn's triumphant little boast to him that "I knew you'd be back" – as being unjustifiably, inexcusably, irredeemably nothing anymore but the voice of an abuser.

(Daryl, about the turning-and-irredeemably-doomed Jim: "I say we put a pickaxe in his head, and the dead girl's, and be done with it." Shane: "That what you'd want? If it were you?" Daryl: "Yeah, and I'd thank you while you did it." – "The dead girl's a timebomb." Rick: "What do you suggest?" Daryl: "Take the shot. Clean, in the brain, from here. Hell, I can hit a turkey between the eyes at this distance.")

Having not let go of those scissors – (Merle attached a great big blade out on the "cast" on his severed wrist; Beth hid a small pair of scissors in her fractured wrist's cast before going to the trade, which was the occasion of my second reaction blip: good girl. Now that I've actually processed it: like Gorman's gun, it represents what Daryl taught her when they were tracking the walker that was wearing a gun, and what he later told Carol, to "get more weapons". Weapons do give you strength, but it can be lost; the strength that can't be lost, but needs to be taught, is knowing how to find and arm yourself with whatever weapons are around (lollipop jars, strawberries, elevator shafts, scissors), even to being able to get them from your armed enemy. In her training attempt on the walker, Beth gets caught in a trap, and her headshot is off just enough not to kill the walker, and Daryl puts himself between her and it and kills it, frees her from the trap, and winds up carrying her and her injured ankle around) – Beth puts herself between Dawn and her people, and is able to use what she has and take her only shot, managing to stab Dawn in the lung (around the same place that Steve stabbed a large hollow needle into Dr Trevitt's punctured lung to allow him to breathe), almost certainly knowing it was a suicidal attempt to make.

Dawn, the woman who killed her own mentor for making mistakes that got people killed, and who was making attempts to mentor Beth in a self-gratifying way, allows her unsecured weapon to fire reflexively (Joan: "She can control them. But she doesn't because it's easier."), shooting Beth under the jaw (much like the training-walker Beth didn't quite manage to kill) and out the crown of the head (third reaction blip: yep, definitely dead) – leaving Beth's face unmarked save for the cheek and forehead wounds she'd already received from Grady Memorial, and no chance of her ever doomed to turn (Daryl, at the make-up-putty embalming attempts on the walkers in the funeral home: "Looks like somebody ran out of dolls to dress up." Beth: "It's beautiful. Whoever did this, cared. They wanted these people to get a funeral. They remember these things were ... people. Before all this. They didn't let it change them in the end. Don't you think that's beautiful?" Daryl: "..." Meanwhile, Dawn is stringent on everyone in Grady dressing the way she wants them, in the uniforms of the roles she's given them to play, and for the trade, Beth and Carol have changed back from their neat clean scrubs and hospital gown respectively into their own old worn, grubby, sturdy clothes). And Dawn, instead of being shocked into repentance, or remorse, or even justifying self-defence against an "unprovoked" attack, desperately shakes her head at Rick's group, reflexively falling back on and continuing with her deepest-worn excuse for all the damage that has occurred under her: I didn't mean to!

While everyone else is staring, stunned and distraught, Daryl, Beth's tried-and-true, known and trusted mentor (whose bad call at the group not being followed didn't get anybody killed), shoots Dawn in the middle of the forehead, seeing the job through and killing her for Beth. Then, the wordless "eye for an eye" justice done, he stops, because it is over. Shepherd identifies it as such and defuses it (interestingly, a grim-faced Licari at the back is the only other officer to not draw his weapon, not so much as twitching in that direction even before Shepherd intervenes), and once Grady's collective weapons are down and the threat from them over, Daryl breaks down and finally lowers his, his own people following him in lowering theirs, leaving all the useless words to Rick and Shepherd. Shepherd offers to let them stay, Rick declares he'll take anyone who wants to leave, both to no avail – neither side knows or trusts the other (Noah independent from the issue). And Daryl carries Beth's body down and out of the building, to the place she first helped Noah escape, being met by the just-arrived Maggie and all the others, full of hope. Just as with Rick, when Maggie herself came out of the prison building carrying newborn Judith without Lori, Maggie's legs give out and she collapses in grief, while Daryl remains on his feet, weeping and cradling Beth, and the rest of the group gathers helplessly around them.

Random final items/tracking threads:
— Are we done with "DOA" now?

— So. Non-lethal forehead wound motif: that person "got into your head"?


— Everything else can wait for a wrapping-up post I may, or may not, ever do. Because so much is up in the air, and dang this got long.

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January 2016
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