I’ve seen some mixed reactions so far to last night’s Beth-centered episode of The Walking Dead, “Slabtown,” but I am erring on the side of “Go Beth. You are a sh*tkicking, zombie-killing rock star,” and the way things have been going with her sister Maggie lately, Beth may have surpassed her in terms of pure ass-kickery. Emily Kinney may be petite, and she may not be the show’s best actress, but the writing of last night’s episode (from Matt Negrete and Channing Powell) propelled her to new heights within the series.
“Slabtown” gave all the cast regulars except for Beth a break from an episode and finally answered the question of what happened to Beth. She was “saved” from a zombie attack by a police officer named Gorman and transported to Slabtown, a section of Atlanta originally built with abandoned concrete plates. It’s the present site of Grady Memorial Hospital, but back in the 1840s, it was the red-light district in Atlanta and known for its crime and debauchery.
In The Walking Dead universe, it’s home of a hospital where several survivors are holed up in their own community, of sorts. This community “saves” people who might be able to help out around the place (of course, they first break one of their bones or hurt them in some way before they “save” them in order to create a debt). There’s Dr. Steven Edwards (Erik Jensen), a reasonably nice guy who just wants to be useful; there’s Officer Gorman (Cullen Moss), a rapey cop who feels that debts should be repaid with sexual favors; there’s Noah (Everybody Hates Chris‘ Tyler James Williams), who has been repaying his debt as an orderly in the hospital for over a year; and then there’s Officer Dawn Lerner (Christine Woods), who is the autocrat of the hospital. She enforces repayment with beatings, if necessary.
It’s not an ideal place to be, and it leaves Beth under the thumb of some sketchy individuals. After four seasons with Rick’s crew, Beth realizes that she’d prefer personal freedom to relative safety from the walkers, especially once she finds out that, you know, the occasional rape is involved.
After another patient, Joan (the wonderful Keisha Castle-Hughes, soon to be one of the Sands on Game of Thrones), takes her own life rather than allow herself to be raped again by Gorman, Beth takes out Gorman and Zombie Joan finishes him off.
Afterwards, she and Noah decide to escape. That escape brings out the best in Beth, who is gradually evolving into another, slighter version of Carol. After wading through dead bodies and killing zombies in the dark (in an unrealistic but impressive sequence), she and Noah make it outside of the hospital. While Noah manages to escape, Beth is tackled and apprehended. She’s very pleased with herself that Noah escaped, however.
Once back inside, Beth sees someone new being brought in on a stretcher: An apparently unconscious Carol. There, of course, is where the bastards decided to end the episode (and scenes from next week suggest that perhaps the hospital subplot won’t be picked back up next week, to our infinite frustration).
I thought “Slabtown” was another in an impeccable string of The Walking Dead episodes, which have managed to show enough zombie-killing to keep things exciting, but also introduce new threats, more bleakness, and build on new and existing characters. “Slabtown” also gave us yet another new formidable villain in Dawn, who believes she’s doing what she’s doing for the betterment of her community. Like the Governor, and like Rick at his most extreme, she’s another character on a power trip who believes that survival is predicated on her ability to control the people of her community. That she’s also female (and married to the rapey guy) adds an interesting dimension to the character, too.
The main takeaway from the episode, however, is that Beth has finally arrived. As she suggested to Daryl last season, she can take care of herself, and — as she has also learned from her group of survivors — she looks out for others.