A review of tonight's “The Walking Dead” coming up just as soon as I offer you a suck on my lollipop…
Last week's episode split up the main group into two smaller groups, but there was still the matter of what Carol and Daryl were up to while Rick was slaughtering the Termites, and the possibly related question of where Beth disappeared to after her day at the country club with Daryl.
“Slabtown” addresses Beth's whereabouts, and sets us up to find out how her misadventure intersected with Carol and Daryl's, with a solo spotlight episode akin to – but significantly better than – the Governor's wandering in the wilderness early last season. Carol only appears briefly at the end on a hospital gurney, and beyond that it's all Beth, all the time, as she comes to realize what a bad situation she's found herself in with Dawn and her crew of rapey fellow cops.
“The Walking Dead” has only done a handful of episodes featuring a single character that we know, and once upon a time it would have sounded ludicrous that Beth would have been one of the characters to merit such treatment. But her time in the prison and, especially, her travels with Daryl after the diaspora, turned her into a genuine character with inner strength rather than someone vaguely familiar lingering in the background waiting to be bitten. And “Slabtown” toyed nicely with that transition, since Dawn takes one look at this skinny blonde belle and assumes she's helpless, while we know better. Emily Kinney was definitely enough to carry the hour – especially paired with interesting guest stars like Christine Woods (as Dawn) and Tyler James Williams (as Noah), and inserted into this place that's like a funhouse mirror version of the time in the prison, complete with a cop running things.
The brief war with the cannibals raised the thematic question of what sorts of people are built to survive this horrible world, and how far one has to go to stay alive. “Slabtown” touched on this as well, with Dawn's misguided belief that Gorman and his pals needed to have free rein with the female “wards” in order to maintain order and keep people safe, along with Dr. Edwards setting up the death of the other doctor to protect his own position in the hospital. But Dawn is maintaining this awful status quo for the same reason that Abraham is driving Eugene to Washington, and for the same reason Bob kept smiling pretty much until he died: out of a belief that this nightmare has an end, and that everyone has to prepare for life to return to how it used to be.
It's pretty safe to assume at this point that Eugene's a fraud – and that even if he's not, circumstances (a zombie bite at the wrong time, or discovering that even the impenetrable world-saving bunker has somehow been breached and ruined) will conspire to prevent the show from having to abandon its premise. But the characters on this show have survived in the apocalypse for so long that they've either decided that this is how life is and that they have to do their best to survive it, or you can cling to the belief that if you've made it this far, it has to be for a reason, and a happy ending has to be coming. And the show hasn't necessarily picked either philosophy as the “good” one. Rick is a cynic like Gareth was; he just hasn't resorted to eating people yet. Dawn and Abraham both believe rescue is coming, but it's hard to imagine Abraham running a shop like Dawn has. Sometimes, when we see communities that resemble pre-apocalyptic life, they're benign, like Hershel's farm; others are rotten to the core like this hospital or Woodbury.
“Slabtown” was a little clumsy in spots – it took longer than intended, I think, to make clear what the male cops were doing to the women(*), and even if you accept that Shane is the world's greatest marksmanship teacher, it's absurd that Beth would be hitting so many head shots both in total darkness and then disorientingly bright sunlight – but on the whole it was another solid outing of what's been a good season so far.
(*) For those of you who happened to watch both this and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” tonight, it was a very schizophrenic evening for lollipop references.
Before we go to the comments, it's time once again to explain how this blog's No Spoiler rule applies to this show:
1. No talking about the previews for the next episode.
2. No talking about anything else you know about upcoming episodes from other sources – and, yes, that includes anything Gimple and Kirkman have said in interviews.
3. No talking about anything that's happened in the comic that hasn't happened in the TV show yet. (Or anything that's been revealed, like character backstory and motivation.) As with “Game of Thrones,” the goal is to treat “The Walking Dead” TV show as exactly that, and not as an excuse for endless comparisons with the comics. If you want to talk about the comics, feel free to start up a discussion thread on our message boards.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com