The Walking Dead Review: “Slabtown”

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The Walking Dead took a detour from its normal walker-slashing roots last night with a nice little filler episode that delved into the world of Beth and where she has disappeared to recently. This episode was clearly one motivated by the fact that the season requires upwards of sixteen episodes and is strapped with a tight budget. It took place almost entirely indoors with a small number of main characters, but it worked really well.

You might have forgotten about the shy farm girl turned badass Daryl sidekick during the last few episodes of Rick Grimes and company travelling around and murdering cannibals. When we last saw a connection to Beth was when a mysterious car with a cross on its window went speeding past Daryl and Carol after the two fled Terminus. The two of them hopped in a car to chase it down, but up until last night’s episode we had no idea where Beth went, if she was even in the car, or what happened from there.

Where she was as it turns out, and where the episode began, was in a brightly-lit and surprisingly stable hospital room. The first scene contained all the telltale signs of a scenario where you are not supposed to know if what is going on is real or just all in her head. There was a slow pan on a working clock, the room was intensely lit thanks to the bright sun and wide open window in a high story building, and Beth seemed more spry than you’d think considering you assume she had been out for a day or more. The sequence mirrored the opening scene of the entire series nicely – in which Rick woke up in a smaller hospital just outside of Atlanta.

Shortly after waking up, Beth learned it was not all a dream. After she stood up and began to walk around she was confronted by doctor Steven Edwards and a uniformed police officer (who we later learn is named Dawn). After they yelled at her to drop the deadly weapon she was wielding (the IV she yanked out of her arm), they tell her that they found her on the side of the road being attacked by “rotters,” which appears to be their name for walkers. They also tell her that she “owes them” for saving her: a theme that would carry over to the rest of the episode.

Her debt, as it turned out, would be re-paid primarily by acting as a nursing assistant to the only doctor currently operating in the hospital. Doctor Edwards and his new indebted nurse then went through the process of killing a survivor on the brink of death, which caused Beth to question his motives. Her worries are explained away after the doctor told her how they operate. Essentially, the survivors inhabiting the hospital have decided that it’s not worth saving everyone and they save resources only for those that have a chance at living. It’s a smart decision for sure and you can’t blame them for doing it, but the seeds of the rest of the episode’s trust issues are sown here. Even while he explained the seemingly mundane reasoning behind the mercy killing, there was a hint of something darker looming that built as the story went on.

That undertone continued as Beth began wandering the hospital and saw a couple patients that were weary of her. No one appeared to be in particularly good spirits, despite the fact that they are safe high up in the hospital while everyone else in the world is fighting and dying. As with any place in The Walking Dead it was obviously not safe and you know right off the bat there was something more going on.

Beth was then tasked with bringing the doctor his meal, which led to a strange encounter with another officer, Officer Gormon, when she got her and Dr. Edwards food. A weirdly one-sided sexual tension is established between the two and Gormon constantly hints at her “debts” that she owes him for every little thing she does while staying in the hospital.

After that, Beth headed into Dr. Edwards’ hipster layer of an office filled with the sound of vintage records and a painting “that you probably wouldn’t understand” looming over the whole scene. One neat touch after last week’s cannibal-heavy episode was the fact that the camera stayed on the meat that Beth delivered a little longer than normal. The doctor offered her a bite and she took it of course, but the way it was shot left that lingering thought of “is that meat supposed to be lamb, beef, or Bob?” in the back of your mind.

Screenshot 2014-11-03 at 10.06.44 AM

Oh, that old thing? I just found it in a dumpster. It’s vintage.

Up until that point, it seemed very much like doctor hipster was the one in charge of the hospital but things obviously changed when one mysterious patient was brought in. Once this unknown survivor was delivered, Gormon whispered something to Dawn and she instantly demanded that he be saved. Normally, as doctor hipster pointed out, the patient would be considered too far gone and a waste of resources to try and save. But not wanting to upset the balance he had so carefully crafted, the doctor did as he was told but only to the point of stabilizing the dying man. He told Dawn that there is nothing left he can do to actually save him, and she does the most sane thing possible by turning around full-force slapping Beth in the face. It was clear from this point on that Dawn is the leader of the community, and there is something not quite right with her.

The other major character in the episode, Noah (or as he was known in my episode notes “that kid from Everybody Hates Chris”), was introduced and he further confirmed that there is something more sinister going on within the community. The barter system is clearly out of whack and is more a method of indentured servitude to keep the hospital running the way Dawn sees fit than a standard means of survival. Of all the shady characters inhabiting the hospital, Noah is the only one clearly on Beth’s side throughout it all. At one point he even stands up for a “mistake” she made and gets his teeth kicked in for it. He also dropped one of the shows rare s-bombs, proving that he is indeed the chosen one meant to replace our Lord and savior, T-Dog.

One of my favorite scenes of the episode was when the doctor took Beth up on the roof to reveal more about the goings on in their little hospital city. He explained the backstory of how he and Dawn came to know each other, how the barter system started, and how they keep the whole thing running. Throughout the whole conversation there are more hints of an oppressive society and a great backdrop of the desolated and destroyed Atlanta that we had not seen in a few seasons.

I fully understand that The Walking Dead, in both its comic and TV forms, is meant to portray how a group of survivors get along in a zombie Apocalypse and not about the outbreak itself, but my favorite moments of the show are always when we learn more of the overworld. For all the faults in past seasons with character development and pacing, these world-building episodes always overshadow them. They do a great job of setting the scene and stakes for the rest of the survivors as they deal with their own problems.

The beautiful city of Atlanta.

The beautiful city of Atlanta.

My only real gripe with the episode’s story was the main villain. It’s getting to the point where I’m not sure the writers know how to make a villain that isn’t just a paranoid leader that gets out of control. I’ll give them credit for actually making her a nice shade of grey ethics wise (as opposed to the awful Governer who just randomly did good things on a whim like it was supposed to even him out), but it is still the same general bad guy character we’ve had for four and a half seasons now. There has to be another way to portray an antagonist in a world as wide open as The Walking Dead. 

Another minor issue was just a trope that the show continually does. Every time a big scene with a lot of walkers is about to happen, someone invariably trips and falls or some way has to limp. The walker attacks have become so mundane that they are constantly having to be spiced up with forced limping so it isn’t as obvious that the main characters can just run away from them if they tried hard enough. It might work if you’re not paying attention, but once you can see the strings of this particular trope it really ruins a lot of tension.

Beth and Noah eventually hatched a plan to escape that involved a lot of luck and a zombie-filled elevator shaft. While the plan did work (thanks to the fact that Gormon got a little too grabby with Beth and gave her a way to distract both him and Dawn), it did not do so for long. Beth is immediately kidnapped after the escape, and Noah barely slips limps away. There was a nice little bit of acting when Beth smiles as her partner-in-crime slipped away – just barely subtle enough to catch it, but not too much to seem comical or out-of-place.

Overall, this was a really great filler episode. The atmosphere of the hospital was great, and seeing the events play out was really satisfying. Considering just how bad she was in season two, it’s been fun in general watching her and her actress grow and this episode was the pinnacle of that growth. In general, the entire episode was one big character arc for her. Just like how she has been throughout the entire show – going from a small farm girl to an ass kicking walker killer – she went from a scared outsider to potentially taking down the head of a society. Not the most action packed episode by any means, but a stellar example of great character building and pacing. The Walking Dead is absolutely on fire right now.

The Talking Dead Mini Review

Would somebody please shut John Barrowman up? Emily Kinney, who plays Beth on the show, was pretty great though.

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