Last night's mid-season finale of The Walking Dead was all about defining moments. While "Coda" carried on the story arcs and moved the group toward the upcoming second half of the season, the real purpose in the episode was to clearly show us who these characters are and what their limits might be.
Rick's defining moment comes very early in this episode. Officer Bob Lamson is attempting to free himself from his bonds while Rick is in pursuit. I know I thought Rick would gather Lamson up and take him back to the others, even after Lamson ran. However, Rick decided otherwise.
When Lamson refuses Rick's order to stop running, there's a moment when audiences might believe Rick will carefully stop the man. That moment is destroyed when Rick runs Lamson down. While the officer lies on the ground, we are shown Rick's defining moment.
We could see the moment of consideration Rick has when Lamson says he believes his spine is broken. It's obvious there is still a kernel of compassion somewhere beneath the exterior of the Rickinator, but it is the moment when Rick considers leaving Lamson for the walkers that truly defines who Rick has become. The fact that he weighed the value of saving the bullet against the human act of putting the man out of his misery is exactly who Rick has become in the time since he awoke in the hospital in season one. He no longer believes everyone can be saved, and more importantly, he no longer believes everyone deserves to be saved. He is still a good and moral man at his core, but his moral compass no longer points due North.
This episode finally allowed Beth's character to be recognized for her growing strength. Dawn not only recognized the quality in her ward, but there were moments when it seemed the officer envied Beth's easy comfort with herself and the role she felt she had to play in the world.
Beth's defining moment, however, was not one of strength, but rather of youth and impulsiveness.
In the final moments of the episode, Beth chose to attack Dawn with a less than lethal weapon and that decision cost her her life. In a move that clearly showed she hadn't fully thought through the consequences of her actions, Beth stabbed Dawn with a pair of scissors. The stabbing was barely a blip on the lethality scale, but it was enough to startle Dawn into reacting like a cop. Beth's impulsive nature was illustrated fully in that moment, calling back to other impulsive moments in previous episodes, and resulting in the ultimate consequence--death. Stabbing a police officer in a moment of high tension wasn't like a suicide attempt, a quest for a first drink, or burning down a building for no reason other than it was there, but it was Beth's final and defining moment.
Daryl's defining moment came immediately upon the heels of Beth's. The man who had spent much of the first half of the season saving lives and ensuring others didn't take them did not hesitate to pull the trigger and eliminate Dawn.
In the beat between Beth's demise and Dawn's death, we could see the anguish and determination in Daryl's eyes. Gone was the man who had pushed Carol's arm to save Noah. Gone was the man who had argued to go ahead with the plan to exchange the officers for Beth and Carol rather than kill those at Grady and take back their people. He'd been replaced--with the pull of a trigger--by the vengeful spirit willing to put another human being down for daring to rip from him the girl he'd hoped might save some part of him from the horror of their world.
Daryl's white knight persona was gone. He couldn't save Beth and so he chose to avenge her instead. But his defining moment was more than his desire for vengeance. His true defining moment came when he lifted the girl who represented what was good and pure in the world, held her to his chest, and carried her out of the dank hell where she'd been held for too long. He put aside every painful part of himself to ensure Beth would be taken care of one last time. And that, my friends, is Daryl Dixon to the core.
"Coda" was emotionally charged from start to finish, but it was the revelation of the depth of the characters that made this episode one of the best so far. As a coda is a conclusion to a dance, audiences can only wonder what path the group will take now that they've reunited.
The Walking Dead will return February 8, 2015 on AMC.