The Walking Dead finally addresses Beth’s disappearance and current whereabouts in this week’s episode. While the creepy hospital featured in “Slabtown” lacks the raw terror of, say, a roving band of cannibals, it does provide a decent arena for Beth to show off her survival skills.
Beth has been missing since Season 4’s “Alone”, and her situation has been one of Season 5’s biggest mysteries thus far (though you wouldn’t know if with Daryl being the only one interested in finding her). As “Slabtown” opens, Beth awakens in a hospital much in the same manner as Rick in the series premiere. Before long, she’s informed by her captors – a group of survivors led by a ruthless policewoman – that she is now in debt to them for “saving her” back at the funeral home. Injured and stuck in the middle of zombie-infested Atlanta, Beth has little choice but to go along with their indentured servitude schtick for the time being.
As Beth goes about her duties at the hospital, it becomes abundantly clear that it isn’t a healthy or fun place to be. Dawn, the leader, is violently abusive and unstable. She clings to the remnants of a pre-apocalypse structure in the hopes that order will one day be re-established. As such, she turns a blind eye to the sexual abuse doled out by her fellow policeman in the name of “the greater good”. Much of the drama that goes on in the hospital is because of Dawn’s personal belief of give-and-take, that those who can’t survive out in the world are of better use within the hospital. Whether they’d prefer to take their chances outside or not.
Beth’s character development has been orchestrated to show that she is a capable survivor, and “Slabtown” really drives that point home. Nearly everyone in the hospital tries to assure Beth that she belongs there because she’s not one of the strong ones, but Beth proves time and time again that she’s not the weakling they all think she is. Whether it’s feeding her near-rapist to a walker, or clearing the way for her new friend Noah to make his escape, Beth steps up both her physical and emotional strength. Even as she’s repeatedly beaten by Dawn, Beth remains unshakable. At the beginning of the episode, she’s quiet and assessing. By the end, she knows she needs to get out and she’s going to do whatever it takes to do so. How’s that for weak?
Beyond Beth, “Slabtown” feels a little unfocused. The hospital is creepy, but it lacks the sense of pure, unleaded terror that Terminus had. It’s only natural that Beth’s situation would seem like a vacation in comparison to the group’s encounter with the merry band of cannibals, but I really expected more from the hospital. It all feels a little vague, even as people are directly telling Beth what they’re all about. She’s trapped, being forced to work against her will, and threatened with rape and violence at every turn. That’s plenty terrifying. Unlike cannibalism, rape and violence is rooted in a common reality. So why doesn’t any of it feel as urgent as it should?
Still, this is Beth’s story. Perhaps the setting of the crisis isn’t as importance as how Beth deals with said crisis. And with Carol in the hospital now (whether or not she meant to end up there), Beth will have a truly capable friend to aid in her escape. Carol and Beth have always had a tight bond, especially with their shared care of Judith. I can’t wait to see them lay waste to the hospital. Maybe Daryl will show up in time to give them a ride home. After all that Beth has been through, she deserves to get back to the people she loves.
Images are copyright of AMC.