Review: The Walking Dead - 'Slabtown'

By: Heather Seebach

**Warning: The following contains spoilers about S5E4**

As I live and breathe, I don't believe it - a good bottle episode! About BETH! I'm learning that I am in the minority who actually liked this episode, which surprises me. This one finally revealed what became of Beth after that mysterious car with the cross in the window kidnapped her. Thankfully it also put to rest that ridiculous theory that Gabriel took her. Despite not involving any of the other main characters, I enjoyed the hell out of Slabtown! It is full of menace, tension, and mystery, and presents a side of humanity that would absolutely exist in the post-apocalypse.

Beth wakes up at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. The last thing she remembers is fighting a walker alongside Daryl but her captors tell her they saved her life. And because of that, they add (very creepily), "So you owe us." This group of survivors is led by a cop named Dawn, who runs the hospital with her fellow male officers, alongside some patients and a single doctor. The entire time Beth is there, she is made to feel she "owes" something, which kicks off the eerie, rapey vibe right from the beginning.

 The little mysteries add up quickly - Was Beth truly found by these people after she was taken? Why does Dawn so badly want to save that man? What the fuck is going on with Joan? What is Dawn hiding? Who's ID is that? All these are soon answered but I found myself wrapped up in the little vague details.  Then you have slap-happy Dawn (who clearly has a screw loose) and the doctor who is a little too nice. Despite having only just met these characters, I was interested! Do I want a whole subplot dedicated to them? FUCK NO, but for a stand-alone episode, it adequately pulled me in.

 This episode was light on zombies but I have never been one to mind that. Give me human enemies on The Walking Dead any day! Beth faces not only liars and rapists here but a dictator-like leader who deliberately allows it all to continue for "the greater good." I absolutely believe there would be people this naive in such a post-catastrophe situation - idiots who think rescue is coming and anything that happens until then is justified. Those people are way scarier to me than zombies. But for you gore lovers - how about that cheese wire amputation, though?! Guhh.

This almost-idyllic little hospital community is very interesting, albeit maybe a little redundant after Terminus. Like Terminus, its dark side is exposed rather quickly but perhaps that is for the better. Perhaps the writers learned after Woodbury that there is no use in dragging out that "Is this town really safe?" stuff - the answer is always a resounding NO. Inside Grady Memorial, Dawn is queen and the police are her worker bees. I like how Noah explained that they left his father behind because he was "big and strong." Of course, that sort of trait would usually be encouraged in a world overrun by zombies but Dawn & co. only want weak people they can control. I think this hierarchy is an interesting notion we haven't quite seen on TWD before, and I'm pleased to meet a new anti-Rick, especially a female one. Even the idea of a self-contained community set inside a hospital, where the floor level is blocked off by walkers, is kinda awesome!

Slabtown addresses interesting ethical issues and backs them up with some tight dialogue. My favorite exchange was between Beth and Dawn (Bechdel would be proud). Dawn verbally bitch-slaps Beth with everything we the viewer have hated about Beth all along! "You are not the greater good. Out there, you are nothing - you are dead or somebody's burden." Dawn also describes their unnerving "system" wherein the "wards" must keep the officers happy for their survival. Rapey as the Governor was, even he wasn't doing this sort of thing! The fact that it is a woman (and an officer of the law) makes it all the more disturbing." To quote Joan (with another solid line): "She can control them but she doesn't because it's's easy to make a deal with the devil when you're not the one paying the price."

So Beth decides to make her escape with Noah but first she has to fend off gropey Gorman using the undead corpse of Joan who has seemingly killed herself (?). Did you notice the "fuck you" carved into the floor? I guess she had every intention of coming back and wreaking zombie havoc! Then Beth and Noah go down the elevator shaft, through the nasty cadaver pile (amazingly without so much as a dry heave), and out to the hospital parking lot. That is where we get confirmation that these people did indeed abduct Beth (as evidenced by the crosses on all the vehicles). And just when it looks like Beth is gonna leave the Noah the sucker (no pun intended) behind, he goes and bails on her! Ha, sucks to be Beth!

On top of her getting captured AGAIN, her doctor buddy tricked her into killing someone to save his own ass and she takes another beating from the lady in blue. Good news, though - Carol has arrived! I did not see that coming and I'm kinda excited! Carol rules. I now have no doubts that Noah is the mysterious person behind Daryl in the bushes from last week. If that is the case, we'll likely see a heroic Daryl rescue in the near future. Personally, I'd much rather see Beth and Carol fuck some shit up and save themselves!

 To summarize: Usually, I would HATE the idea of basing a whole episode around one character I hate and a bunch of characters I have never seen; however, this one just worked for me. Unlike that atrocious episode where Beth and Daryl whined for an hour and burned a house down, this one actually advances her character a bit. I am all for a female character being realistically shaken - they shouldn't all be hardened bad-asses ala Carol, Maggie, Sasha, etc. - but she needs to be challenged every now and then, not simply rescued over and over again. As to the argument that this episode was "boring" and "killed the momentum", well, I just don't see it. The creepy factor ranged from mild to mouth-raped-with-a-lollipop, and the little mysteries kept me engaged. The show's momentum is still intact, as far as I'm concerned. Keep it coming!

Miscellaneous Thoughts:

- I always get a kick out of hearing what new groups of survivors call the zombies. These folk call them "rotters", in case you missed it.

- Did anyone else think for a second that Joan was still alive and motioning Beth to use those scissors/hemostats/whatevers on the cop? Psst, stab him with this...

- I thought Beth brandishing the weapon as she approached the doctor at the very end was a bit much. Yes, he lied and placed this enormous emotional burden on her but she still seemed a bit too quick to want to stab that fucker. Or maybe it's just me.

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