(Spoilers for The Walking Dead: Coda)
I majored in political science and history in college. I sleep with a copy of Machiavelli’s Prince next to my bed. I’ve learned a lot from that little tome of wisdom from the Renaissance. And when I heard Dawn telling Beth about how you have to have respect in order to maintain control, I heard Machiavelli in her words.
Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince during the Renaissance as a guidebook for the ruling Medici Family in a time when Florence needed strong leadership. In the book, he describes different types of leaders and how they are either successful or failures, depending on how they choose to rule their realms. For example, the nice Prince who lets his people do what they want will be perceived as weak, but a iron-fisted Prince who establishes rules will be seen as strong, and should he bestow occasional rewards to his people, he will be respected and loved.
Dawn was in a precarious situation from the very first moment we met her. She had assumed control of Grady Hospital after killing her friend and mentor, Hanson. He cracked under pressure, and people died. Dawn created a world within the walls of Grady where she was in control, and her control depended upon the relationship between her police and the wards. After the midseason finale, we learned that she was well aware of the good cops and the bad cops. She was paying attention. But as she told Beth, she had to maintain their respect in order to maintain control. You can’t allow the inmates to run the asylum, as they say.
Dawn’s fatal flaw was her request to Rick for Noah’s return. She thought she had to make that request in front of her people. She thought it would be best to show that she was in control of the situation, but making that request is what began the chain of events that led to Beth’s death, and ultimately her own.
I don’t think Dawn was a villain. She was never as ruthless as The Governor, nor was she as frenetic and volatile as Gareth. In her mind, she was doing the right thing in the only way she knew how.
The internet has been buzzing with speculation about whether or not Dawn killed Beth on purpose. I’m of the opinion that she didn’t mean to pull the trigger. (Unless, of course, she was looking for a way out) The shocked look on Dawn’s face was enough to make me think that she had no intention of killing Beth. Dawn respected Beth. Beth’s death, and Dawn’s subsequent departure, were unintended consequences of an unintentional action. (Which is to say that Beth stabbed Dawn, Dawn’s finger slipped on the trigger, Beth died, and Daryl shot Dawn) It would have been interesting to see what life in The Walking Dead world would have been like with Beth and Dawn in it. At least, for a little while longer.
In sum, I believe that Machiavelli would approve of Dawn’s system at Grady. Dawn ruled with a heavy hand, but as we saw with Beth, she also knew how to play nice when the time called for it. Of course, everything Dawn did was incredibly calculated, so even when she was “nice” (as in giving Beth the key to the medicine cabinet) she had ulterior motives. However, this is something that Machiavelli would see as a favorable trait in a leader.