The Walking Dead shifts gears as we finally find out what happened to Beth (Emily Kinney) after she disappeared last season. Was it worth the wait?
Let’s bitch it out.
Well I gotta tip my hat off again to The Walking Dead for continuing to defy expectations and taking all the right risks. I continually have to remind myself that we’re only on episode FOUR of the season. This week we’re completely divorced from the Grimes gang and instead focusing on an entirely new cast of characters and a new environment (With electricity! Running water! Food heated by steam trays!) If any of us were wondering what The Walking Dead spinoff would look like, ‘Slabtown’ gives us a pretty good taste.
It’s a bold move for the show to move completely away from our core protagonists – giving us an episode focused solely on Beth – BETH people. It’s no secret – I’ve never really been a fan of Emily Kinney and the largely useless role that Beth has played in the series thus far (i.e. her S2 suicide attempt – yawn, how many of us were wishing she had off-ed herself then? And who could forget the infamous ‘did you ever drinking game’ debacle last season?). But it seems most of my criticisms have been quelled as ‘Slabtown’ continues to deliver on S5’s excellent pacing, tight plotting and intriguing scenarios. There’s a definite economy this season – there are so many plot points that could easily be dragged on for the entire season, but thankfully, the show opts to move away from tired clichés, dealing with things in a matter of minutes rather than hours.
We know Grady Memorial Hospital is bad news, but that’s immediately conveyed to us right at the get-go. Beth is the perfect catalyst to introduce us to this society with her wide eyes and propensity to fall in line and do what she’s told. But it’s not some facade that we have to break through – right in the cold open, pseudo-dictator Dawn’s (Christine Woods) one word phrase “You owe us” immediately conveys what the hospital is all about.
Of course, we know that Beth isn’t going to simply sit back forever and take it- an escape is inevitable. Thankfully the escape plot doesn’t drag on in a multi-episode arc (even if it does employ some cheesy slow-motion). Nope – the escape attempt happens right away, and even though we pretty much know it’s doomed to fail, it still carries some satisfaction as my new favourite character Noah (Tyler James Williams) gets the well-deserved escape instead of Beth. Although we only meet Noah for a few moments, it’s very clear to us that we want him to get away, thus, when he breaks through that fence it’s incredibly satisfying. We grow so attached to Noah in a single episode due to good character development and performance – another aspect this episode has in spades.
It’s clear to us that Dawn is little unhinged, based on kinda hilarious, random bitch-slaps to Beth (which may or may not be cathartic call out to fans like me who are just so sick and tired of whiny Beth), but Woods doesn’t convey sociopathic villain – more like a woman who knows has accepted the costs of her survival (not unlike Andrew Lincoln’s Rick). Although we get a somewhat histrionic monologue from Dawn as to why she needs to run Grady that way she does, there’s something refreshing about how she tells it how it is (that’s not to say it isn’t completely deplorable as the other villains we’ve seen in the show). But Dawn isn’t hiding behind artifice ala The Governor. It’s not wholly unbelievable that people like Dawn exist in the post-apocalyptic world, holding on to some small shred of hope that things will revert back to how they once were, and thus, desperately clinging to the old-world order at the cost of her morality. Make no mistake, there’s something deeply unsettling about how she lays it all out there without remorse, but there’s also something to be said about not having a slow reveal of the decay of her character. And for that, I think The Walking Dead takes the right risk in terms of pushing the series forward.
Dr. Edwards (Erik Jensen) gives us another complementary counterpoint to that – understanding that the world out there isn’t one that he’s cut out for, and therefore, knowing his place in this ‘society’ gives him comfort. Equally as refreshing, when Edwards lays out his position to Beth in their one-on-ones, it’s nice to meet a character that is a somewhat open book, flaws and all. Call it cowardice or good reasoning – but Edwards represents another kind of survivor that is sure to manifest post-apocalypse. I must also say, that after the necessary brutality we’ve witnessed over the previous three episodes, it’s nice to see a kind of survival that doesn’t involve gory blood spatters. As I mentioned, equally deplorable – but for once, it takes place off screen.
I feel like the divergence of ‘Slabtown’ doesn’t give us an all-together jarring change of scenery, but a necessary palate cleanse from what we witnessed with the demise of the Termites. The terror/threat still remains, but it represents another kind of horror. With the arrival of Carol (Melissa McBride) at episode’s end, and the assumption that it is Noah who eventually finds Daryl (Norman Reedus) as they ventured back to Camp Grimes at the tail end of last week’s episode, there’s lots of juicy avenues for the show to go down as S5 continues to unfold. For once, I don’t necessarily see a clear path (i.e. will Beth and Carol single-handedly take over the hospital? Will the Grimes gang swoop in for the rescue? What about the Washington crew?) There’s lot of balls up in the air, and I for one find that incredible intriguing.
- I like the intrigue that more complex characters like Edwards and Dawn present but I’m also happy that the episode sketches out and disposes of the one-dimensional offerings as well. Gorman (Cullen Moss) is positioned as the 100% jerk villain, and thankfully he’s killed very quickly (also in a fantastically satisfying fashion). We don’t have to deal with anymore disgusting lollipop licks anymore. Giving us a good balance of these kinds of characters means that the series doesn’t drag too much in exposition – it still gives us the satisfaction we crave.
- I hate to admit this, but I probably wouldn’t feel the same about this episode if Dawn had been a male character…
- Although it seems as though things are presented very matter-of-factly, I’m still wondering whether or not Beth was ‘saved’ or ‘kidnapped’. Thoughts?
What did you think viewers? Did you like the temporary break we got from Rick & Co? Will Grady Memorial Hospital be the new focus of S5, or will it function as another small story arc? Do you think Beth will finally come into her own and get some significant development like Carol has? Is Beth wrong about some one ‘comin’ or is it truly a world where it’s ever man for himself? Sound off in the comments below.
A gentle reminder that we adhere to a SPOILER FREE zone. Please keep any plot points from the graphic novel that may potential spoil the direction of the show to yourself.
The Walking Dead airs at 9pm EST, Sundays on AMC.