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‘The Walking Dead’ Review: “Slabtown”

The Walking Dead Slabtown Review Beth
AMC

The Walking Dead’ season 5 brings to life its 4th episode with “Slabtown,” as Beth awakens after her kidnapping to find safe haven at a hospital, only to discover that her new surroundings are predictably not what they seem.

Last week’s ‘The Walking Dead’ episode, “Four Walls and a Roof,” saw Rick and the others realizing the threat of the surviving Terminus cannibals, while Bob shared a surprising revelation about his departure, and Father Gabriel confessed his sins. So, what does the latest episode of season 5 bring? Does Beth make it back to tell her tale to Rick and the others?

Read on for your in-depth review of everything you need to know about ‘The Walking Dead’ season 5, episode 4, “Slabtown”!

“Slabtown” wants us to think about the price. Again and again, Beth was confronted with the idea of contribution, be it by Dr. Edwards, Noah, Gorman or Dawn, that the value of her contributions to the group determine the survival rations she receive in return. Dawn wants everyone to serve a distinct purpose within the group, something especially poignant for Beth, considering that hers and Daryl’s spotlight episodes last season focused on developing Beth as a character with valuable contributions to the series, where she’d previously provided set dressing and songs since her introduction.

The “price” permeates “Slabtown,” and that’s as poignant to the hour’s standing to season 5 on the whole, as it isn’t, at all. This was a nothing episode.

When season 4 of ‘The Walking Dead’ began, the series found itself with something of a narrative problem. On the one hand, Scott Gimple had to pick up what remained from Glen Mazzara’s run, and creatively deal with the influx of Woodbury survivors, simultaneously killing time until the Governor’s inevitable return. This led to weaker episodes among the likes of the redshirt-killing zombie flu and “Brian”’s two-episode redemption arc, but ultimately gave way to stronger storytelling in the back half of season 4. With the groups scattered and broken, ‘The Walking Dead’ took its biggest gamble yet, pairing its most popular character (Daryl) with its least popular character (Beth) in order to develop the latter. To the writers’ credit, the experiment seemed to work. Sure, offhand comments about Beth no longer needing Daryl’s expertise telegraphed their inevitable separation, but the two episodes bought some capital toward Beth’s fate that had sorely been lacking since the second season.

Here, ‘The Walking Dead’ attempted to cash in that credit, giving Beth the spotlight of her own episode. They fell pretty short.

There’s some understandable symmetry in positioning Beth’s new circumstances against Rick’s hospital awakening from the pilot, but there we had the benefit of recognizing that each new character would have something to offer from a narrative standpoint, at least for a few episodes. Five seasons in, we’ve almost no reason to expect that the seemingly idyllic hospital setting, or each subsequent character introduced will prove particularly relevant to the series at large, adding a ticking clock toward the inevitable discovery of something wrong. And while we began investing in Beth’s fate last season, “Slabtown” doesn’t provide nearly enough at stake to sustain that investment, only tying into the series at large with Noah’s climactic escape, or Carol’s last-minute introduction. That positions “Slabtown” solely as setup, with the payoff due to arrive at least some weeks down the line, judging by the apparent focus of next week’s hour.

And while “Slabtown” proposes a few moral platitudes on the nature of survival, Beth’s growth as a character, and the delusion of being rescued, the series has largely shown these ideas to have failed before. Shane’s belief in imminent rescue parallel’s Dawn’s moral compromises to keep her officer’s happy, which themselves reflect the Governor’s power-mad leadership, and ultimately land on season 5’s vague suggestions that an end to the zombie apocalypse may be on the horizon. We haven’t seen any terribly compelling evidence to suggest that Eugene’s claims are anything real, so “Slabtown” becomes something of a funhouse reflection of the series’ past philosophical debates. And while Beth’s kidnapping remained a lingering question held over from the prior season, a season 5 hour spent largely with new characters had seemingly nothing new to say.

Not to mention, where last week’s episode already splintered the narrative in dividing Rick and Abraham’s group, either side of which would have made for a compelling hour, “Slabtown” asked us to invest in plot and characters we’d never before had reason to care for. So, what are we left with? Beth awakens under new circumstances in a hospital, and will almost certainly need to leave and rejoin the main story. Noah escapes, and Carol arrives, ostensibly from a far more interesting story. Beth still needs to escape the hospital. Roll credits.

The “price” we pay to survive in the apocalypse remains a compelling question. Whether Beth’s survival could sustain a stint in an independently-run hospital dystopia was not.

AND ANOTHER THING…

  • If I were a betting man, I’d say Noah was the unseen character Daryl invited to step out of the shadows last week, likely to tell the group of Beth and Carol’s need of rescue. It will be weeks before we see this, and only 4 episodes remain this year.
  • That was Keisha Castle-Hughes filming a brief role as the amputated Joan, before showing up on ‘Game of Thrones’ next season. Alright then.
  • First snake, now guinea pig! Stay tuned for season 6 to see what strange animal Beth gets to eat next!

Well, what say you? Did you get your fill of thrilling zombie killing? Were you surprised by Beth’s new circumstances? Stay tuned for more coverage of the ‘Walking Dead’ season 5, and join us next week for another all-new episode review of episode 5, “The Choice,” on AMC!

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