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The Walking Dead - Slabtown - Review

The Walking Dead, “Slabtown,” was written by the team of Matthew Negrete and Channing Powell and was directed by Michael E Satrazemis. Negrete and Powell last teamed up on last season’s “Inmates.” Seems they have a thing for teasing us with unexpected Carol (Melissa McBride) entrances! Of course, this episode is most exciting for revealing – FINALLY! – what happened to Beth, and Emily Kinney knocks it out of the park, delivering a brilliant performance as we see Beth forged anew. I’m betting this new Beth has the strength to rescue Carol!

Once again, the writing in this episode is just extraordinary, proving that this show is just so much more than another zombie show. This season continues to open out the universe and show us how different groups of people would copy under the same circumstances. What do they hold on to and how does that affect the new society that they find themselves in. The episode is also full of great direction and cinematography. Overall, for instance, this episode is much lighter and brighter than the previous few episodes, and that’s a reflection of Dawn’s (Christine Woods) compulsive directive that everything be kept neat and tidy – like their clothes and her uniform: wash it separately and press it. She keeps herself aloof and rigidly adheres to her principles. Even her hair is neat - and maybe held back just a little too tightly...

There’s a beautiful shot early in the episode of Beth looking down a long and rather dark hallway to Noah (Tyler James Williams) who is in light at the end, mopping the floor. There’s another contrast when Noah and Beth are escaping. Did anybody think that towel rope looked even remotely safe? Beth drops her light as she goes down the shaft, and the fight through the walkers to the outside is in dark. But we see the walkers getting killed in bursts of light as Beth shoots them. When Beth and Noah burst out, the light is super-saturated. The scene ends with Beth watching Noah from afar again as he escapes – and she smiles.

The opening shots of Beth opening her eyes and the clock are all a homage to the very first episode and Rick’s awakening. This is really the beginning of Beth’s journey as an adult, and we see her decide not to be a burden anymore and to harness the strength she has within herself to save herself. She also has the same kind of ‘what’s going on here’ moment as Rick. We see destroyed Atlanta out the window, but then this seemingly normal Doctor – Edwards (Erik Jensen) – and Officer come in. You have this moment of has she been dreaming? But then, there’s Atlanta right behind her. It’s interesting that they introduce themselves with their full names and titles while Beth only gives her first name. It’s another sign of how tightly they are holding on to societal norms. I never could quite make out what they were calling the walkers, but it sounded like “rioters” to me – like they were still people, or at least a known quantity that the police could deal with.

Beth is immediately told, “If we hadn’t found you, you’d be one of them now, so you owe us.” Beth pretty quickly comes to see what that means. It’s like indentured servitude or how miners used to be forever in debt to the company store. But it seems, according to Noah, that no one ever earns their way out. Edwards was the one to suggest it in the first place as a way to get Dawn to let him save people and share their resources, but Dawn has put control above helping, and Edwards has placed his own life above all others because he doesn’t think he has a choice. As always, these people are in the situation they are because of the choices they made.

Beth figures out pretty quickly that the more she eats, the more she owes. Food becomes a central motif just as it did for the Termites. Survival becomes all about eating – it’s one of the first necessities that you have to take care of. We’ve seen Hershel the farmer try to make Rick a farmer too, remember. How you get your food, what it is, and what you do with it are all important markers of who you are. Gorman (Cullen Moss) quickly makes it clear that he is watching everything Beth eats and is willing to take his price.

        Moss is really terrific and creepy – especially in the lollipop scene. Both Kinney and Moss are wonderful as pushing that lollipop into Beth’s mouth really does become almost a rape – and certainly a promise of things to come. Kinney’s Beth is still the scared child at this point. But when Gorman corners her later in Dawn’s office, Beth has changed. He has completely under estimated her and says he’s lucky she’s not a fighter right before she smashes him in the head with the lollipop jar – thank you poetic justice! – and FEEDS him to Joan (Keisha Castle-Hughes).

It’s interesting that we learn immediately that the meat they’re eating is guinea pig – EW! But it tells us where they’re getting it – and Edwards points out that guinea pigs are used for food in Peru, so it’s not like they are breeding and butchering dogs and cats, right? Edwards is prepared to share with Beth and keep it a secret. But is he really a good guy here or is this like feeding a stray dog so that it stays loyal to you and you can use it to your advantage?

        Dawn tries a similar tactic when she brings Beth a tray. This scene is nicely shot to emphasize that Beth is trapped as we see her through the shelves. Dawn points out that Beth is getting food, clothing, and protection in return for her services and those things have never been free. After all, Beth was also expected to contribute at the farm and at the prison, right? Beth says she didn’t ask for “this” and Dawn points out that she didn’t either. There’s a really nice tie back to last week’s episode, when Dawn stresses that they have to be ready to “fix it” when the nightmare ends. Like Bob (Lawrence Gilliard Jr), Dawn believes this is a nightmare and that it will end – as he told Rick. Interestingly, when Bob meets Daryl (Norman Reedus), he offers his last name too – adding, does anybody care anymore about that?

Noah uses the lollipop to reach out to Beth as a friend and possible ally. He reinforces the child-like quality of their relationship by identifying himself as a member of the Lollipop Guild (a Wizard of Oz reference for those who might have missed it). Noah has seen something in Beth and tells her that he’s not as weak as they think he is either. We learn that Noah is pretty sure they took him and left his father because they thought his father would be too strong and cause problems – it seems likely that that’s why they left Daryl too. We also learn that Noah was in Atlanta looking for his uncle – could his uncle be one of our own survivors? Bob? Tyreese? I’m betting that it’s Noah in the woods with Daryl.

Noah is a pretty strong biblical reference and Edwards compares himself to Peter the apostle at the end of the episode. Is the hospital the ark or the flood? Remember that Noah is the only one to survive the flood – with his family. Again, this is a nice tie in with the religious questions posed in the last episode – when does a church become simply four walls and a roof? Noah also sacrifices himself for Beth, taking the blame for Trevitt’s (Timothy Scott) death. Beth tries to help him when she hears Dawn beating him, but Edwards holds her back.

        In another of the most powerful scenes, Beth calls Edwards on having her murder Trevitt.  I loved Kinney’s face in this scene – it’s so clear that she’s now come of age. Edwards tells her that he had no choice. If the others had discovered Trevitt was a doctor, he would have lost his value – Gorman would likely have killed him! He says that when they arrested Christ, Peter denied being his disciple. Clearly, Edwards thinks that Peter’s duty to spread the word – like his own ability to heal – was more important than loyalty. In the end, of course, Peter is also crucified anyway. Beth is clearly about to kill Edwards, when Carol is wheeled in on the stretcher. Now she has no choice, she needs Edwards to help Carol.

Edwards has carved out a nice little niche for himself. He tells Beth that he keeps it messy because it’s his way of “getting back at” Dawn. He also tells her that he’s often bored now compared to when he felt like he was drowning in research. He certainly knows how to kill walkers, and they know to amputate a bitten limb, but beyond that, he’s given up. He’s clearly not searching for any kind of cure.

        He has music and a Caravaggio painting. When Beth comments on its beauty, Edwards says it no longer has a place. “Art isn’t about survival. It’s about transcendency, being more than animals, rising above.” Beth asks, “We can’t do that anymore?” Edwards says he doesn’t know, but Beth points out that she still sings. We see her singing as she’s working and Joan responds to it, saying it’s nice. I’ll be interested to see if we see Beth singing again – it’s been one of the things that has marked her innocence and set her apart from the others. Will she have lost this now that she’s had to embrace her strength?

Dawn plays a large role in helping Beth to find that inner strength. Dawn tells Beth she knew that Noah was lying and she punished him anyway. Dawn says that every sacrifice has to be for the greater good and Beth is not the greater good because she’s not strong enough. Beth insists she is strong enough, but Dawn asks her how many people have had to save her. This is why Beth smiles when she is able to save Noah. Dawn admits to her that there have been compromises – like letting the officers rape women like Joan. It’s Joan who tells Beth, “It’s easy to make a deal with the devil when you’re not the one paying the price.”

        Clearly, Dawn was making he deal with Gorman. Dawn justifies everything as necessary to justify having killed her own superior – Hanson – when he lost it. She goes on to tell Beth that “out there, you are nothing but dead or somebody’s burden,” and Beth tells her “Bullshit,” but Dawn points to the scars on her wrist. It was true when Beth tried to commit suicide, but at the prison, she’d taken on the care of baby Judith. She has grown since we first met her in season two. I loved her looking innocently at Dawn, telling her Gorman wanted to see her in her office, knowing she would find walker-Joan there.

In her final confrontation with Dawn after she’s been re-captured, Dawn wants to know who Beth thinks she is. Beth tells her that Gorman attacked her so she was more than justified in killing him because she knows that Dawn was not going to do anything about Gorman. For Dawn, Gorman was a necessary evil to maintain order until help came. Beth delivers a reality check – “No one’s coming, Dawn! No one’s coming!” Beth has taken her own survival into her own hands and her struggle to get out of the hospital proves that. I loved the slow motion shot of her shooting, running, kicking, and fighting for all she’s worth to get out of there!

I thought this was another great episode that carefully continued the themes we’ve been following. Kinney delivers what feels like a break out performance for the character – not unlike the journey that Carol went on. I fear it’s going to be a few episodes until we find out what happens next at the hospital though. What did you think of the episode? Are you impatient to find out how Carol ended up there? Is it possibly part of a plan? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

About the Author - Lisa Macklem
I do interviews and write articles for the site in addition to reviewing a number of shows, including Supernatural, Arrow, Agents of Shield, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Forever, Defiance, Bitten, Glee, and a few others! Highlights of this past year include covering San Diego Comic Con as press and a set visit to Bitten. When I'm not writing about television shows, I'm often writing about entertainment and media law in my capacity as a legal scholar. I also work in theatre when the opportunity arises. I'm an avid runner and rider, currently training in dressage.