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I have a feeling that “Slabtown” is going to be remembered as an episode of The Walking Dead that you either loved or hated. And I think that’s perfectly fine. You are either a fan of Beth or you aren’t. You either think The Walking Dead needs hordes of action and walkers to be interesting, or you think it’s fine to have episodes with almost zero zombie content. Personally, I’m a fan of Beth and I’m perfectly ok with having episodes that barely deal with the ever growing zombie population (although, I would have liked a touch more forward moving plot in this outing).
One of the most disappointing aspects of last season was watching Beth become fleshed out as a character only to lose her from the canvas of the series. So, I was excited to get a look at what has happened to her in the interim. Or, I should say, try to figure out exactly what she has been dealing with in the interim, as things are still a bit hazy from a plot perspective even after viewing the episode a few times (the basics of the plot were clear, but since not all that much actually happened beyond exposition, the episode itself was a bit uneven). I think everyone can agree that the hospital folks are pretty awful people, but not necessarily in a Terminus way. Sure Gorman likely would have fit right in with the Terminus crowd (and that lollypop moment was as disturbing as anything that happened in Terminus), but as with the Terminus folks, there’s a sense that once upon a time, things weren’t so creepily unbalanced in the hospital. Perhaps when things began, there was a legitimate desire to save people and do good. But, as The Walking Dead loves to do these days, it’s clear that things have taken a dark turn within the halls of the hospital.
Not all that much actually happens within the episode until its final moments (more on that reveal in a minute), but I didn’t mind the slow build due in large part to Emily Kinney’s work as Beth. So far, this entire season of Dead has been about building the tension within locations and then offering solid payoffs. This deviation from the main Rick-centric storyline also further expands on what appears to be a season theme: the real horror in this new world is the living, not the dead. From Dawn’s initial statement about how Beth was found (injured on the side of the road), things are off about this place and its people (considering the car that took Beth is in the parking lot near the end of the episode, it’s clear even Beth’s origin story was a total lie). And, anytime someone says “You owe us,” nothing good can come of it. A prison operated by fear (of what lies behind the walls and of those in charge) is a dangerous thing- but that’s a lesson the show has hit home multiple times during it’s run already.
While it’s interesting to muse on the state of the characters within the hospital and how they came to be paranoid and power hungry, the key to the episode is Emily Kinney’s portrayal of Beth. As I mentioned earlier, I know there are people who just plain don’t like Beth. I completely get it. Personally, I can’t stand Maggie and Glenn, so I’m not about to try and convince the Beth haters to change their minds. But Kinney’s work within this episode was stellar (especially when you think back to how one-note Beth was in her early days on the series). Beth’s arc from the early moments of the episode to its end was beautifully realized. Watching Beth regress from the strong woman she was turning into at the end of last season was hard to see. But by the episode’s end, the Beth who learned how to survive alongside Daryl was back, leading an escape mission to save poor Noah’s life (I really hope Noah comes back, he was a breath of fresh air) and standing up to Dawn (who, in addition to being a completely ineffective leader also appears to be delusional). And while Beth isn’t free to search for the group at the close of the episode, it’s clear that she has regained the fight within her and she won’t be going quietly into the dark night.
Could the show have skipped a large portion of the episode and simply cut to the big reveal at the end? Sure, it could have. But on a series that has so often sacrificed character development in favor of delivering action sequences, I’m not about to turn down my nose at an interesting character piece. And really, spending most of the episode assuming that Beth’s escape was the episode’s natural end point made the revelation that Carol has been taken all the more interesting. If Beth was able to stage an escape on her own, imagine what Beth and Carol will be able to pull off? And if Daryl is watching and waiting from the outside? Poor Dawn isn’t going to know what hit her.
— Seriously. An episode with Carol and Beth escaping? That would be unbelievable.
— We still don’t know who or what Daryl has with him in the woods. Maybe Noah? The pessimist in me thinks he and Carol got separated. After all, we know the hospital only takes in the weak (or, more accurately, those they think they can control and manipulate), so there’s no way they would want Daryl. Even if Daryl isn’t waiting outside of the hospital, I have every confidence that Carol and Beth can survive on their own.
— As much as I enjoyed the trip to Atlanta and away from the group, I would really like a reunion between Beth/Carol/Daryl and the Rick crew to happen sooner rather than later. Hopefully next week.