A typically shocking death, which TWD fans will be accustomed to, provides the cherry on top. Although, the reassurance that certain characters have purpose and their affairs in order, and the further moral dilemmas and blurring of lines between 'good and bad guys' ensure we have things to contemplate until February.
What's also refreshing are the hints that we aren't due a repeat of the monotonous 'prison' and 'Hershel's farm' style scenarios; where the main group remain in a relatively comfortable, low drama environment. There was a worry that the hospital or church could become just that, but sour negotiations and Abraham's (Michael Cudlitz) driving have nipped it in the bud.
The cat and mouse, escape and capture style situation at the start with 'new Bob' (Lamson) (Maximiliano Hernandez) ends abruptly; with Rick (Andrew Lincoln) running him down and mercilessly killing him. This lack of compassion has become a growing theme with Rick of late, but his personal battle with morality is what keeps him at the focal point of the show. However, killing Lamson quickly did remove some extra uncertainty which could have made for a more dynamic build up to the hostage exchange.
Likewise, Carl (Chandler Riggs) continues to show how the reduction of his childhood has turned him into a ruthless, efficient killer. He and Michonne (Danai Gurira) manage the task of babysitting Judith (Charlotte/Clara Ward) and saving (technically also babysitting) Gabriel (Seth Gilliam), who seems increasingly hell-bent on getting eaten. Placing Michonne out of her comfort zone of being a no nonsense, samurai master may not be as visually appealing; but it does adequately endear us to her character a little more.
The priest Gabriel is an unusual character who is evidently set to become a staple in the group, maybe just as fodder to provide a death later in the series. The positioning of Bob's (Lawrence Gilliard Jr.) leg, amputated by the cannibalistic 'Hunters', provides the deus ex machina to make Gabriel release that Rick's group are probably the best option to stick with. However, this scene could have been omitted, as it takes emphasis off the main rescue of the episode.
Obviously what everyone tuned in to see was how (or if) Beth (Emily Kinney) and Carol (Melissa McBride) would be rescued from the hospital, and it didn't disappoint. Placing potentially the season's MVC (most valuable character), Carol, close to her death was the appropriate suspense builder; following her transformation to beast mode and her saving the rest of the cast in Terminus.
What seemed to be running as a routine exchange of hostages was dramatically changed with perfection. Just as the parties were about to split ways, Beth allowed her new found gumption to take over and she made the fatal mistake of attacking a gun-wielding Dawn (Christine Woods) with surgery scissors.
Just after her character began to build a decent identity and capability, she was killed without warning, just as we were most vulnerable to believing they'd amicably solved the problem. A gunshot to the head prevented any death-bed dialogue and the finality of it worked well. Coupled with fact Maggie (Lauren Cohan) assumed she would be seeing her sister alive, the twist provides the emotional kick the season needed; as the main characters got through the season mostly unscathed. Beth's death is still disappointing for those eye-candy enthusiasts however, but it does remind those who'd forgotten that no character is safe.
The scene which features Beth's body being carried out of the hospital is very well directed; as we anticipate and appropriately witness Maggie's realisation and heartbreak. As mentioned, the fact there was no chance to exchange farewells provides a relief to what can become very routine, almost predictable main character deaths.
One downside with the episode's ending is that the cliff hanger generated cannot compete with the previous drama in the episode. On the other hand, bringing Morgan (Lennie James) within distance of Rick and company does pose interesting questions. Does his past mental instability render him a hazard or is he stronger than ever? And will Rick's calloused personality prevent him from thinking over past events (a common moral dilemma) and reject Morgan, or will he accept him like the Rick he once was?
With the second half of season five due in February 2015, it surely can't come soon enough with plenty to contemplate as to what the group will do next. All eyes will be on whether it can continue to deliver and support any claims to the throne of being the best season so far.