The Walking Dead, S5 E4: “Slabtown”

Remember Beth? Blonde, young adult, sings a lot, tougher than she looks? Maggie’s only surviving family member? You know, the girl who kicked it with Daryl after the prison last season? Everyone else has forgotten all about her. Even Maggie’s basically over her, with nary an attempt at even pretending to try to track her down.

Well, turns out the group who kidnapped her wasn’t a crazy Christian cult like I assumed, but a crazy group of survivors holed up in a hospital. They live by a code of compromise, if by “compromise” you mean “endless cycle of inescapable, soul-crushing debt.” The more she gets to know the hospital, the less she wants to stay, and with the help of a confidante they make a break for it. He escapes, she gets dragged back, and then just as the episode comes to a close comes the real kicker…

Officer Dawn isn’t running a hospital, she’s running a cleaner version of a 19th-century debtors’ prison. The Wards are there only to keep the Officers sated, and the women, of course, are there to fulfill a very particular need for the more rapey cops. Doctor Edwards not only came up with the notion of paying off one’s debts but supports it, no matter how fervent his claims to the contrary. He never says boo about what happened to the female Wards—heaven help the cop who dares to sexually assault Carol—except, apparently, with Beth. He seems to care for her, which, given the fact that he used her to murder another doctor to save his own skin, is just as dangerous a position for Beth to be in as when Gorman had his eye on her.

The Walking Dead recap season 5 episode 4 SlabtownI liked “Slabtown” more than it really deserves, largely due to my huge soft spot for Beth. Who would have thought way back in season 2 that I’d not only remember Beth’s name but also genuinely be invested in her well being? Beth reaped the greatest rewards from the deep dose of character development in the back half of season 4, and her partnership with Daryl was easily my favorite subplot of the whole shebang. I still maintain my conviction that a spinoff of just Beth, Daryl, Carol, Carl, Michonne, and Li’l Asskicker would be the best damn spinoff ever. Maggie may have forgotten she ever had a sister, but Beth’s absence was starting to grate on me. If she hadn’t turned up by this episode, I was prepared for a huge rant. In other words, I was thrilled to see Beth again, even if her return was in such a middling ep. At least she’s still alive and about to be folded back into Rick’s group. Here’s hoping she gives everyone a piece of her mind for abandoning her.

Structurally, “Slabtown” was probably the weakest episode of the season so far. It’s not that the plot doesn’t make sense, just that the execution was lacking. None of the other characters were given any depth or dimension, which made it hard to feel bad that Dawn and Edwards were stuck in a hell of their own making. Sure, the whole mess sucks, but only in terms of how it affects Beth. I don’t really care how a murderous art thief or plotting lollipop hoarder feel about their situations because I don’t know anything about them except a few overcooked tropes.

The Walking Dead SlabtownI don’t doubt that there are plenty of assholes like Officers Dawn and Gorman and Doctor Edwards roaming wild in the end!verse, but they’re meaningless if they’re hardly more than plot points and personality types. Moreover, we’ve already seen these people before. Unpopular leader willing to make hard choices for the greater good at the expense of individual lives? Rick, the Governor, Gareth, etc. Creepy, rapey second-in-command? Shane, all of the pervs in Joe’s group, etc. Kindly person who isn’t as good as they pretend to be? Basically everyone else.

What was interesting, however, were the parallels and contrasts between Rick’s group and Dawn’s. Both are cops thrust unceremoniously and arbitrarily into the leadership role. If Rick hadn’t gone mad for half a season back at the prison, and if they hadn’t encountered the Governor, Rick might look a lot more like Dawn than we care to admit. Heck, if Shane had won out over Rick back on Hershel’s farm, I don’t doubt his version of sanctuary would be all that worse than Dawn’s.

Both leaders are willing to make great sacrifices for the larger good, and both take in only those who can pull their weight, but the difference really comes down to Rick having lived in the real world for the last few years and Dawn being isolated from it. She has the luxury of believing rescue is just around the corner because she hasn’t had to battle her way out of a zombie horde in the middle of the Georgian wilderness.

Final Thoughts

  • “The more I take the more I owe, right?”
  • I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I really love the new opening credits. Best one yet.
  • Protip: Never trust a doctor who gets bored during the zombie apocalypse. Or a cop who thinks clean laundry is a more pressing issue than rape.
  • Nice acting from Elizabeth Kinney. The moment I remembered why I like Beth so much was when she was being handcuffed and watching Noah escape. She goes from angry to aghast to hurt to hopeful to happy to on the verge of tears as she realizes she’s lost.
  • Can’t imagine that’s the last we’ll see of Noah. You don’t cast Tyler James Williams for nothing. 
  • I screamed out loud when that zombie popped out of the elevator door. Scared the living daylights out of me.
  • Carol! Oh, dude, I cannot wait to see Carol and Beth team up to take down the hospital. They’ll have that building burning to the ground in a heartbeat.
  • And if Carol’s in the hospital, that begs the question as to who Daryl brought back with him. Morgan? Who else is left?

Alex Brown is an archivist, research librarian, writer, geeknerdloserweirdo, and all-around pop culture obsessive who watches entirely too much TV. Keep up with her every move on Twitter, or get lost in the rabbit warren of ships and fandoms on her Tumblr.

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