When the guards bring John back into the prison, the gurney proves absolutely necessary, as Coffey looks as though he is going to die very soon. Harry goes to check that the storage room is empty and Brutal and Paul help carry Coffey through the door, all the way to Paul’s office. Paul realizes, horrified, that Coffey’s face is now drooping like Melinda Moores’s.
Coffey seems to have truly exchanged his health for Melinda Moores’s weakness. The necessity of the gurney serves as a reminder of John’s impending death.
When Dean sees them, he expresses relief but worries about John’s appearance. Dean tells his friends Percy made some noise at the beginning but ultimately quieted down. The men walk toward Coffey’s cell and Paul is relieved to note that Wharton is sound asleep on his bunk. Dean confirms that Wharton stayed sound asleep during the entire time and that no one came down to E block. When Dean asks about Melinda, the men confirm that it was indeed a miracle. John finally reaches his bunk, where he sits down, exhausted.
Dean’s concern for John’s health reveals that he feels actual compassion for the prisoner, not just self-interested relief at the fact that the operation went well and that he will soon find himself out of trouble. The men’s agreement that Melinda’s healing was a miracle confirms their willingness to accept the presence of God in their lives and the importance of recognize true goodness when it appears.
Paul tells the men to gather Percy’s belongings so that they can get him out of the restraint room. When the door to the restraint room opens, the men see that Percy has gotten part of the tape off his face and that he would probably have succeeded in removing it within an hour, which would have allowed him to scream. Brutal lifts Percy up and, when Paul draws near, he can smell Percy’s sweat, which he believes to be mostly caused by fear.
Percy’s partial removal of his tape suggests that the men succeeded in their operation not just thanks to their strength and bravery, but also thanks to luck—such as the fact that Percy remained unable to cause trouble on E block. This serves as a humble reminder that many of the elements that influence people’s fates lie entirely beyond their control.
Paul imagines Percy reassuring himself that Paul and the other guards are not killers—before realizing that, come to think of it, in a way, they actually are killers, since they have presided over tens of executions. Paul tells Percy that he will only remove the tape if Percy agrees not to start screaming, and Percy shows relief at the idea that they are only going to talk. When Paul tears the tape off Percy’s mouth, the peeling sound makes Brutal wince and Percy’s eyes water. Percy begins shouting for Paul to get him out of the straitjacket and Paul slaps him in the face. Dean gasps and Percy looks at Paul with shock.
Paul’s understanding of Percy’s fear reveals that he himself has qualms about the moral value of his job, in which he is made to kill fellow human beings. At the same time, Paul’s violent reaction toward Percy shows that he does not hesitate to use force in desperate situations—here, to save his and his colleagues’ jobs. The guards’ shock make it clear that only Percy’s exceptionally unbearable character could lead Paul to such an extreme response.
Paul tells Percy that he deserved to be punished for what he did to Delacroix, and that he will be sorry if he ever tells anyone what happened, for they can tell the truth about how he sabotaged the execution and, in this way, keep him from ever finding a job. Paul also threatens to use contacts he and the guards have in prison for violent retaliation if necessary. He concludes that, considering the circumstances, what the guards did to Percy was not so bad, and that no one would ever need to know about it. Percy thinks about it and agrees to keep quiet about what happened.
In the same way that Paul benefited from Elaine’s contacts at the nursing home, he uses his own resources to threaten Percy, thereby protecting both himself and his colleagues from potential retaliation. Paul knows that threats, not respectful dialogue, are the only way to interact with Percy. Even though violence—verbal and physical—is not typical of his character, he uses it here for the good of the group.
Before removing the straightjacket, Brutal digs his thumb into Percy’s cheek gives and Percy a speech of his own, meant to be more concrete and crude than Paul’s. Brutal says that if Percy speaks, he and the guards would lose their jobs, but that they would ultimately find him and make him suffer—a process whose violence he describes in graphic detail. Paul judges these threats scary enough but knows that Percy will probably end up speaking sooner or later, for only murder would succeed in making a man like him keep his promise. Paul looks at Brutal and realizes that Brutal knows this too, but that they had been willing to take that risk when they decided to help Melinda Moores.
Brutal plays the role of the more violent and unstable aggressor. Paul and Brutal are not merely unleashing their violence, but attempting to manipulate Percy so that he might keep quiet, since they know that violence is the only language Percy understands. Both men know that their efforts are probably doomed to fail, since Percy listens to no one but himself. The fact that the guards’ safety depends on such an unstable person as Percy highlights the tremendous risk they have taken as well as the nobility of their decision.
Harry lets Percy out of the straightjacket and Percy storms out the room. Once again, though, Percy forgets to stick to the central line of the Green Mile. When Paul steps out of the restraint room to try to calm Percy down, he sees Coffey’s gigantic arm reach out for Percy. John presses his and Percy’s faces together against the bars, and as Percy hits him with his baton, which John seems not to notice, John presses his mouth against Percy’s, making the guard’s body jerk spasmodically.
Coffey suddenly turns from a passive observer to an aggressor. It remains unclear whether Coffey is still obeying his God-given power to heal or if, this time, perhaps, he is inflicting a punishment of his own. It is likely that Coffey’s action bears moral implications of some kind, though, given his previous moral condemnation of Percy’s character.
Percy screams and tries to step back, and Paul sees the black flow between John and Percy’s lips. Percy lets go of his baton—forever, Paul notes—and Paul tries to come to his rescue but only manages to pull out his gun after John has made the entire floor shake, a lightbulb explode, and has released Percy. When Brutal yells at Paul asking for an explanation, Paul says that John has given Percy whatever he got out of Melinda.
John’s transfer of Melinda’s illness to Percy shows that he is not as willing to die for Melinda’s sake as it had originally seemed. The chaotic events that take place represent the moral chaos that is happening simultaneously, as it suddenly becomes ambiguous whether Coffey truly is as peaceful and innocent as he usually seems.
Percy’s eyes are blank, and he takes a few unsteady steps forward. Paul, who believes that Percy is coming back to consciousness, tells Brutal to leave him alone. When Percy walks by Wharton’s cell, though, he suddenly stops, pulls out his gun, and shoots multiple times at the sedated prisoner. The guards all run toward Percy, expecting to have to fight him, but Percy’s eyes are empty, and he suddenly empties his bladder. Paul explains that Percy never regained ordinary consciousness and that he ended up at the Briar Ridge psychiatric hospital as a patient instead of as a worker.
It becomes apparent that Coffey used Percy in order to get at Wharton, for reasons that still remain mysterious. Percy’s mental breakdown is highly ironic, given that he ends up at the hospital where he had applied to work, thereby granting the guards the peace and tranquility of his absence before his scheduled departure. A sense of justice emerges in a surprisingly violent form, as the two most cruel characters on E block suffer an end that seems proportional to their own cruelty.
Paul sees blood dripping from Wharton’s bunk and turns around to see Coffey sitting on his bed, no longer looking sick. Coffey nods at him and Paul, surprising even himself, returns the gesture. Percy suddenly coughs up a cloud of black insects that turn white and vanish, before returning to his empty gaze. Nervous, the men all agree to act as though this last event has never happened.
Paul and Coffey seem to feel that what has happened is—despite the violence of it—somehow morally right. Paul himself, who generally shuns violence, does not understand his own reaction. It suggests that a desire for revenge probably exists in all humans, and that even good people like Paul can feel satisfied at the idea that two cruel people have been eliminated from the surface of the Earth.