If you needed one picture to perfectly encapsulate Dawn, this would be it. This one picture is the perfect representation of her character: A woman constantly looking over her shoulder. It is the singular reason for everything bad Dawn did in The Walking Dead. Everything.
Why did she slap Beth? Because she was afraid of looking weak to the other cops. Why did she demand Noah be given back to her? Because she was afraid of looking weak. Starting to see the pattern?
Watching Beth’s time at Grady Memorial Hospital, it doesn’t take too long to realize that Dawn finds herself in a very delicate and precarious political situation there.
While, yes, she is the leader of the group at the hospital, she is by no means secure in that position. We learn rather quickly that there are those amongst her fellow officers, most notably Gorman, who are considering usurping her and laying claim to her position. Worse still, is that there are those amongst her officers who would, apparently, support Gorman (Or others) should such a take over occur.
Knowing this, Dawn has limited ability to exercise what authority she has and put a stop to the nefarious antics of her subordinates, especially Gorman or O’Donnell, not knowing who amongst her officers is more loyal to either of them than they are to her. This is how Gorman is able to create an environment of fear and intimidation at the hospital: Any move against him may serve as the catalyst for retaliations by his cronies and loyalists.
Even after Gorman’s death, other officers are chomping at the bit to take Dawn’s place, and looking for any excuse to do it.
Sadly, Dawn herself may have provided them with one: As she explains to Beth, her mentor and predecessor, Captain Hanson, after some time, seemed to begin cracking, sending officers on fool’s errands and getting people killed in the process. Citing his growing instability as reasoning, she acted to replace him, a move the rest of the group welcomed.
However, it seemed that, in the process, Dawn gave the perfect go-to excuse for any would-be usurpers to follow. Case in point was officer O’Donnell.
O’Donnell, after overhearing Dawn tell Beth she covered for her in regards to her involvement in Gorman’s death, sought to use that as his excuse to remove her. When Dawn tried to tell him the others wouldn’t buy it, he said he’d simply tell them that, much like Captain Hanson, she had started to crack, and that he to do what he had to do.
While Dawn (With help from Beth), was able to deal with O’Donnell, even among the officers who seemed like otherwise good cops, like Lamson, there was still dissension in the ranks. With several of the other cops willing to back Lamson in a potential take over!
What this makes you realize is that Dawn’s manipulative behavior (Particularly when it came to Beth) arose from this paranoia she had, rightfully, developed as a result of taking over the hospital. Once she took over, she discovered just how precarious her situation proved to be, and how little she could trust the other officers around her.
Her response was to learn to be manipulative, to use people to get what she needed out of them because, to be honest, she didn’t know if she could trust them. For her, it seems, survival depended on using people in this fashion, rather than letting her guard down and risk being betrayed. It could even be that her attempt to reclaim Noah may not have been simply to save face, but, to regain someone she may have trusted to be her eyes and ears around the hospital (Noah did seem to know a great deal about the goings on within the hospital, after all).
Even her abusive behavior was largely an attempt to maintain an appearance of strength to her fellow officers, a show of force to convince them that she was solid in her position as leader of the group.
In the end, for all of Dawn’s faults, she was a good person. Even though she didn’t have to (And her “debt” system was a crock), Dawn still made a point of trying to save as many people as she could from the chaotic ruin Atlanta had become and she held the hospital and the myriad people within together better than many probably could.
While she didn’t stop Gorman, I’m willing to believe, had she known who would back her and who would back Gorman, and felt comfortable in her position, I don’t believe Dawn would have tolerated Gorman’s behavior, and would have removed him and his ilk from the hospital as soon as she could.
As for her killing Beth, even Rick recognized that incident was a tragic accident. You can see from her reaction (Pictured right) that Dawn was horrified at Beth’s demise, and never really wanted to hurt her, she just wanted Noah back. Of all the major villains we’ve seen so far in The Walking Dead, I contend that Dawn may be the most redeemable of them all. She wasn’t motivated by envy or anything malicious, just the desire to survive, and try her best to maintain order in a world that had descended into utter chaos. Though her aim may have been unrealistic, we can’t fault her for trying to set the world, even a small piece of it, back to right.
Also, if you’re expecting a page for Gorman, I’m sad to say you will be disappointed. Like Martin, what little we saw of Gorman was not terribly flattering: He kidnapped Beth, intended and attempted to rape her, succeeded in doing so to Joan (Ultimately leading to her suicide), and was a ruthless bully, who only didn’t try to kill Dawn and Dr. Edwards out of sheer procrastination. With nothing to support an argument for his redeemability, I can’t make one. Sorry.
Next: A Coward's Redemption?