Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review The Walking Dead each week in a series of letters. You can also catch them talking about the show Monday afternoons on HLN.
Like many television viewers in this wonderful modern age, I like to let my favorite shows run for about 20-30 minutes before I begin watching them, thus allowing me to fast-forward through the commercials. Last night, as I settled in to watch “Slabtown” around 9:30, I made the mistake of actually switching to AMC rather than queueing up the episode on my DVR. What I saw—an old character we both remember well, in some new setting with a bunch of new people—made me gasp in horror. This couldn’t be real. Were we actually getting…A BETH-CENTRIC EPISODE?
I really, really didn’t want that. I find Beth to be an utterly boring character, and if I never saw her wide-eyed doe-in-headlights stare again, it would still be too soon. Or so I thought.
An hour later…well, I don’t really know what to say or think. I’m confused. I definitely didn’t hate the episode like I thought I would. In fact, I think I sort of enjoyed it. But—and this is the point I really want to emphasize—I have no idea what the fuck is going on.
I’ve watched and re-watched the scenes, and I still have no clue what this hospital is. Is it called Slabtown? I guess it must be, because of the episode title, but why would it be called that? Isn’t Slabtown more like a name for a cemetery? Or, at a stretch, a gravestone factory? And, not to go full Seinfeld on you, but who are these people?
I’m not even being coy here. I genuinely don’t know what just happened, from any angle. Briefly, here are my questions:
1. The police officer Dawn, who my wife insists was not played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, but who must win every Maggie Gyllenhaal look-alike contest she enters: Is she actually trying to preserve some kind of society, or is she a weird sadist too? Why does she keep slapping Beth?
2. Is the doctor the Walking Dead version of Josef Mengele, or did he just kill that one guy via Beth because his position was threatened?
3. Everyone kept alluding to some evil force…was it just the pervy cop Gorman? I mean, that dude was definitely bad news, but he was more like a stupid thug than a mastermind.
4. Why did they have to beat up Noah again?
5. Was Dawn implying to Beth that she should start sleeping with Gorman because that’s all she was good for?
6. That scene when Noah gave an inspirational speech to Beth about how nobody knew how strong they were, while saccharine string music played in the background and Beth stared at him with the creepiest cultist-zealot-smile she could muster, might be the worst thing I’ve ever seen on this show. I realize this is not a question, but it had to be said.
7. When did Beth turn into Clint Eastwood?
8. After they tackled her, why was it so impossible to catch gimpy Noah when he was literally like 30 feet away?
9. Why did Beth need a key when they were going to escape via the zombie elevator shaft?
10. Did they really think it was a good idea to let Beth just walk free after she killed Gorman and helped Noah escape?
God, this is getting way too long. I just don’t get it, Josh. I don’t get Slabtown, I don’t get how they manage to be on the scene exactly when everyone is about to get zombified (are there 300 cars in their ambulance fleet?), and I don’t get why Beth smiled her movie cliche smile when Noah escaped after he’d just left her for dead.
Overall, I have to say I’m pleased with this episode, because it was anything but a predictable Beth-centric yawn-fest. Still, I would greatly appreciate your expertise on the matters above.
First, I like the occasional reminders that Rick’s gang is not the last group of people on earth. One of the great things about The Walking Dead is that it’s a small, human story at a large moment in history rather than being told from the perspective of the saviors of humanity (Eugene’s delusions of grandeur excepted). But every now and again, it’s good to see other reactions to the zombie apocalypse, from the protectors of the elderly in Vatos to the fascist community of Woodbury to the cannibals of Terminus, and I welcome a trip back to the big city and Grady Hospital. But I can’t imagine anyone was hoping to get 42 minutes of Beth. And I wish I could answer all your questions, but these were some thinly drawn characters with confusing motivations.
1. Listen to your wife. I can see it in the eyes and nose, but nobody’s got those Maggie Gyllenhaal cheekbones. As for the fragile order she’s trying to maintain, I think her obsession of cleanliness was supposed to be some kind of stand-in for her desire to control and keep stability. But the “punishments” she doles out on Noah and Beth point to something more broken in her. She may not be an Emo Hipster Douche who wants to eat you, but we’re seeing yet another leader who falls short of Sheriff Rick. She was ready to pimp out Beth to Gorman to keep the troops happy. As Joan said, “I guess it’s easy to make a deal with the devil when you’re not the one paying the price.
2. Dr. Steven Edwards proved himself a coward, comparing himself to Peter after he murders the oncologist, saying that neither of them had a choice. But Peter repented his actions, and by many accounts, ended up dying for his beliefs. Edwards is just a pathetic little wretch, even if he does have good taste in music. Junior Kimbrough!
3. Gorman was pretty open when he was talking to the doc about overthrowing Dawn—within earshot of Dawn. In a situation like that, I don’t think you broadcast your planned coup. Not really sure what’s going on there other than that Dawn is a weak leader and Gorman is a one-dimensional pervy evil villain.
4. Because she’s a horrible person and a sadist.
5. Kind of? That was a weird and confusing scene, but Joan seemed to imply that’s what was done with her.
6. I’m glad you said something about this. That scene was almost a parody of a meet-cute. I really like Everybody Hates Chris’s Tyler James Williams, but that music just pulled you out of the moment, as did that awkward smile from Emily Kinney (one of her many strange expressions in this episode).
7. I don’t know a lot about handguns, but that seemed like an awful lot of bullets in one clip. Daryl taught must have taught her really, really well. That said, the writers are doing what they can to develop Beth into an actual character, even if this feels like their fourth completely different attempt. Making her into a badass is the latest attempt to make her likable. It’s kind of working. The way she figured out that the doc was a murderer and confronted him on it was one of her finer moments.
8. Noah is pretty skinny. Maybe no one else could squeeze through the opening in that fence?
9. I have no idea. The shaft was wide open before they got there. I also have no idea why the walkers weren’t waiting on them after the flashlight fell and Beth screamed a couple of times descending, then Noah fell, screaming.
10. I have no idea.
And my only guess for the name Slabtown is slabs of bodies that got dumped into the elevator shaft. I’m with you that it was more ambitious than I was expecting from a Beth episode. Forty-two minutes isn’t a lot of time to develop a whole new cast of characters, but this was not the most inspired execution. The twist at the end with Carol was pretty great, though. Do you think that’s part of a rescue plan or did they accidentally come across an injured Carol? I’m hoping Noah and Daryl have teamed up on the outside to facilitate the escape.
The Caravaggio painting was also a cool touch—the idea of masterworks of art just sitting outside the High Museum of Art. The question of whether art still matters is one that hadn’t really been raised yet by the show. But of course it still does, and the fact that Beth can see that, while Edwards has given up, even in the face of a masterpiece just shows how weak and defeated he is in comparison. This episode almost seemed like a reaction to all the criticisms (ours included) that Beth is useless. Dawn even calls her a burden to everyone on the outside and points out her scars from the suicide attempt. But Beth refutes it. She won’t be caged. She’ll fight back. And she won’t quit singing. This is the best version of Beth we’ve gotten yet, certainly better than timid Beth or stoic Beth or even I’ll-give-that-moonshine-a-try Beth. I almost hope she makes it back to the church.
What about you? Have you ordered your Team Beth T-shirt yet? What do you think about Noah? And is Carol going to leave Grady Hospital a smoldering mess (like it actually was back in 2007 when it almost had to shut down)? I’d want a doctor on my zombie fantasy team, but not this guy. I fear the hospital is about to close.
Thanks for the clarification. One thing I noticed while reading your email—if you have any kind of society established in the zombie apocalypse, or even the barest hint of a safe haven, you do not want to run into anyone from Rick’s gang. Whether it was Hershel’s farm, or the prison, Woodbury, or Terminus, these guys are going to spoil your shit. So yes, I would agree with you that Grady Hospital is about one to four episodes away from being overrun, with everyone who isn’t in Rick’s group dying.
I absolutely hope Carol is a plant—a malingering Trojan horse designed to infiltrate the hospital and extract Beth. And I’m definitely leaning in that direction; I think when she and Daryl took after that car, it probably led them close to the hospital, where they found Noah on the run and hatched their plan. We still don’t know who emerged from the woods behind Daryl at the end of last week’s episode, but there are a few possibilities.
1. Noah, Beth, Carol—all survived.
2. Just Beth—Noah and Carol go down along the way.
3. Any other combination, I guess.
But I’m leaning toward no. 2…I have this strange feeling, based on Daryl’s sad look when Michonne approached him, that not everybody makes it back from this one. I can’t imagine Beth dies, because that would make the whole trip pointless, but can’t you see Carol giving her life to save a fellow tribesman? Also, didn’t she and Rick have a kind of emotional send-off in the church before this all began? You know what that means, Josh…any emotional send-off = imminent death for one character (usually the more minor of the two).
I liked the Caravaggio touch too, and I agree that it made the doctor look particularly small-minded. There’s a huge difference between Peter denying that he worked with Jesus in order to save his own life, and proactively killing a fellow doctor because you’re afraid they might kick you out of the hospital. I guess self-preservation is at the heart of both, but the inclusion of murder sort of sets the doctor apart. In that sense, he’s more like Judas, taking action that leads to another person’s death. You think he’ll end up killing himself?
Loved the Junior Kimbraugh, but I liked “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by Blind Willie Johnson even better at the end of the episode. The final lyrics, as Beth watches Carol be dragged in on the gurney, are “I have a bible in my home, if I don’t read it my soul will be lost, nobody’s fault but mine.” I’m not sure if they’re getting religious on us, but I think the larger point is that when a character loses his or her morality on The Walking Dead, and makes justifications like the doctor, it’s only a matter of time before the soul is compromised…and in this world, the body is never far behind.
Two other things I’m with you on: The “it’s easy to make a deal with the devil” line was excellent, and this is definitely the best incarnation of Beth we’ve seen. My last question to you is, who survives???
Yes, that Blind Willie Johnson song was perfect. The show doesn’t use a ton of music, but when it does, it uses it well, even if it’s not always subtle. The Junior Kimbrough song was called “You Better Run.” Here’s a sampling of the lyrics:
You better run
Don’t let him get you
If he catch you, Babe
He gonna rape you
I definitely get a sense from Daryl that somebody from the group didn’t make it out alive—and also that there’s someone new with them. Noah? Morgan? It’ll be a while before we find out as next week looks to be the Abraham show. Just now noticing the recent run of Biblical names.
So the question is: Beth or Carol? My leaning is Beth due to something I’m going to call The T-Dog Principle. The writers hardly gave T-Dog a line before it was time to kill him off, but by the time he got eaten in that dark prison hallway, they bent over backwards to make him likable. Herschel had transformed into everybody’s favorite sage with a corny joke before his execution. Even the Governor got a chance at redemption before falling off the murder wagon with a golf club in his hands and finally getting his due. It’s an effective formula, making every death an emotional event.
Aside from Lori and Shane, Beth has arguably been the group’s least loved character up to this point, and last night’s episode changed that. She showed a strength and resolve we hadn’t seen from her—a resourcefulness that would actually make her a valuable member to Rick’s group. And that might actually make her next on the chopping block. Of course, you could make the same argument about Carol, but she’s actually reached Michonne/Daryl level of badassery, maybe too important to write off the show (at least I hope so).
Please don’t die, Carol Peletier.
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