Beth is back! While she’s been missing since last season and missing out on all the fun, Beth has been hard at work. Despite the valiant attempt at a hashtag campaign, within the show Beth’s disappearance has been treated as less of a mystery and more of a “we’ll get around to that eventually” kind of thing. We knew she wasn’t dead, so there would be no shock when she popped up again. We were given no clues as to who took her where, or why, so all we could do is wait for the writers to decide when they wanted to address the situation. Now that the Terminus plot is over, there’s a convenient lull in plot tension, leaving room to revisit Beth.
Beth has been in Atlanta since being snatched away from Daryl in a black car adorned with a white cross. It’s the first time we’ve been shown Atlanta since the early days of the show, when Rick first met Glenn and many of the other characters he would soon come to love as his own family. Things haven’t improved in Atlanta. But we learn that the entire city isn’t just populated by walkers, or “rotters” as they call them in this episode – there are also people doing their best to survive. The people who apparently rescued Beth from a walker take shelter within the Grady Memorial Hospital, and they have a system. Officer Dawn, the obvious leader of the hospital, explains to Beth that since they saved her life, she now owes them. She repays her debt through service to the hospital, helping them save lives, helping the community keep turning its wheels. This includes amputating the bitten arm of an escaped worker named Joan. She escaped into the walkers on purpose, intending to die in order to put an end to hospital life. The amputation itself was disturbingly cinematic, as Dr. Edwards used a wire tied around her arm to slowly saw it off. Right off the bat, things don’t seem all too ideal. First of all, Dawn is abrasive, self-righteous, and intensely unlikable. She doesn’t seem to just be the grounded “do what must be done” leader that the post-apocalyptic world demands. She seems to be a neurotic control freak, what with all her talk of sacrifices for the better, and weird brainwashing lectures about how important the hospital is. Not only that, but she’s still convinced that rescue is coming. The last person who honestly believed that was Shane – yeah, Shane. Look how he ended up.
So Dawn ends up being a predictable and two-dimensional antagonist for Beth, as she slowly realizes that she may not be allowed to leave the hospital. Ever. Dawn is different than previous tyrants in some respects. She’s freakishly violent, at one point lashing out and slapping Beth for no reason, leaving her face scratched. She believes in “compromise”, as in letting her fellow officers get away with anything in an attempt to keep them content and within the hospital. There’s a little backstory that’s hinted at about their previous leader who cracked under pressure, but it held too little weight with the present action to really be relevant. The time would have been better spent developing a different side of Dawn, or inventing one. The most interesting part about the hospital setting is how it complements Terminus. We get a look into yet another system of survival. Where the Hunters lured people to Terminus to capture and eat them to survive, the officers and workers of Grady Memorial save people, and then trap them into indentured servitude. While the system immediately seems flawed with the raised question of “Why do you stay?” the answer is actually obvious. Beth manages to make a friend in Dr. Edwards, and he answers Beth’s question by taking her down to the basement and showing her the walkers of Atlanta beyond the vent. They all stay because it’s the end of the world out there. Duh.
All things considered, things aren’t that bad in the hospital by comparison. However, Beth and another worker named Noah still plan to escape. The highlight of this episode, I think, is how even the friendliest of people will still do whatever it takes to benefit themselves. Throughout the episode, Dr. Edwards serves as the softer, kinder figure of the hospital. Because he genuinely is. But when Dawn and her partner Gorman bring in a patient, another doctor, Edwards manipulates Beth into killing him with a dose of clozapine. If there’s another doctor in the hospital, suddenly Edwards isn’t as useful. Noah takes the fall for Beth, but Dawn isn’t fooled and she confronts Beth. Dawn tells Beth that she’s too weak for this world, and that she shouldn’t take advantage of the people who are built for survival. This entire episode really feels like it’s designed to just piss us off. We KNOW Beth is strong, and we KNOW that Dawn wouldn’t survive a second longer than Beth out in the wild. For all we know, Dawn hasn’t stepped a block outside of the hospital since she arrived. Another officer, Gorman, was an obvious creepy jerk from the instant he appeared on screen. He routinely harasses Beth and other women, at one point forcing a lollipop into Beth’s mouth. These kinds of characters aren’t interesting to watch. The Hunters were interesting because they had redeeming qualities even if they were awful. “Slabtown” is just a sensory assault of assholes left and right.
For as much as I hated Gorman, even his demise was slightly unsatisfying, and the whole scene was largely hollow and disturbing. Noah and Beth’s escape plan depends on finding the elevator key in Dawn’s office. Beth sneaks in and finds Joan’s dead body. She presumably killed herself, but why here? Why in Dawn’s office of all places, what reason is there besides plot convenience? She could have carved “*UCK YOU” into the floor of whatever room she was already in and Dawn would have gotten the message. Gorman predictably interrupts Beth’s search and suddenly we’re watching To Catch a Predator. Before we can see whether or not Chris Hansen will intervene, Beth smashes a glass over Gorman’s head and invites him to have a seat over there, on the floor, next to zombie Joan, who bites his fat dumb throat out. As his life flashed before his eyes, I wonder if that human fart reconsidered whether or not the time he spent maintaining his immaculate hair and on-point eyebrow game was worth it in the end.
Beth and Noah launch a daring escape down the elevator shaft the hospital uses to dump their dead bodies. Seeing Beth in action was worth the agonizing amount of scenes that limited Beth to a passive bystander. At one point, the only light in the walker-filled basement was coming from Beth’s muzzle flashes. The two make it outside, but ultimately Noah escapes and Beth is recaptured by Dawn and the other officers. Back inside, Beth slaps down Dawn and calls her out on her ignorance and naivety, claiming that everyone in the hospital will die, and it’ll be Dawn’s fault. To which Dawn hits her again, ending the scene. The big question still remains, why does everyone let Dawn stay in charge? Because she brings order to a now chaotic world? She intentionally allowed Gorman to assault Joan, Beth, and possibly dozens more as a “compromise.” She is actively belligerent to everyone below her. The answer could be found in Noah’s backstory, and his theory that he was saved while his dad was left behind, because he was smaller and weaker and wouldn’t fight back. It’s a system that dances between intriguing and infuriating, and that’s probably the reaction the writers were going for.
All in all, “Slabtown” felt slightly like it wasted Beth’s return as a filler episode. Now that the main storyline has been carried away with Abraham’s group, Rick and the remaining gang will need something to keep them busy before everyone inevitably ends up in D.C. The hospital setting wasn’t established as well as it needed to be, considering that the entire hour was spent inside the hospital. Now that it’s clear we’re going to be spending at least one or two more episodes in the hospital, it’s regrettable how much of the time was spent on dispensable characters. Seeing a ruined Atlanta again was cool since it circled back to the show’s roots, but the characters of Grady Memorial were largely underwhelming. Gorman was horrible, and dead. Joan had very little impact on anything – replace her with any other stock character and her role is still fulfilled. Also she’s dead. Noah was one of two cool characters is now removed from the situation, so we’re left with Edwards, who is a deep and complex Caravaggio fan; and Dawn, who is blandly irritating and sadly still alive. So instead of building upon the status quo from the beginning of “Slabtown”, at the end we’re just left with half of it. Not to say that there aren’t hints of exciting things to come! Edwards’ confession to Beth about his betrayal seems to ignite something in Beth. Perhaps she realizes that if she doesn’t cement a place for herself within the hospital, she might wind up exiled or dead. “Use everything you can use,” she repeats. As she approaches Edwards slowly, gripping a needle, we’re wondering: “Is she about to kill him? To take his place? To make a point?” We don’t get to find out, because at that moment, Carol is wheeled in on a gurney.
And now that the show has reverted back into an alternating format, this may be continued in two weeks rather than next week. Maybe Noah runs into Daryl, and is brought back to Gabriel’s church so Rick can plan how to break Beth and Carol out. We’ll see!