Beth is back! In “Slabtown,” the fourth episode of the fifth season of AMC’s The Walking Dead, Beth—who had been taken by roadmen at the end of the previous season—wakes up with the trappings of old-fashioned civilization around her.
The lights are on. Wall clocks still tick forward. People are wearing uniforms, just like they used to. We meet police officer Dawn and medical doctor Steve who have been holed up in Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta with other survivors, some of whom reportedly found Beth on the road and saved her. Within the first few moments of their meeting, Dawn makes the stakes clear when she tells Beth point blank, “You owe us.”
The hospital has a time warp quality to it. The ventilators and other medical machines work. People are clean, neatly dressed and tightly coifed. They have normal professions—cop, doctor, nurse, even a janitor. There’s order, in other words. But the price for this, it quickly becomes clear, is being useful. It’s obvious that the denizens of this group are accruing debts and constantly trying to chip away at them however they can. Or, as the tightly wound control freak who runs the place, Dawn, eventually puts it: “Food, clothes, protection. When have those things ever been free?”
In the hospital cafeteria, Beth meets the quiveringly pervy officer Gorman who tells her a walker was “eyeing your thighs…but I got there first.” Ew. Beth forgoes dinner when it becomes clear Gorman is going to want something unsavory in return. She bonds with doctor Steve, who is chilling in an office equipped with a record player, Junior Kimbrough vinyl, and a Caravaggio somebody stopped finding valuable once the dead began shambling around looking for brains to munch. (It’s The Denial of St. Peter, which Steve makes reference to later, though I can think of at least a half-dozen more that would have been apt given the times.)
Beth, who begins paying her way by assisting the doctor, witnesses the gut-wrenching way this group makes its decisions. One survivor named Joan who seems to have tried to escape but gotten bitten in the process has to undergo an emergency amputation, which we get to see—and hear. As far as grating sound effects go, chalk on blackboard has nothing on sawing wire on bone.
Beth also meets Noah, a scrawny janitor planning his own emancipation. Both Joan and Noah eventually tell Beth that Dawn is only barely in control of brutes like Gorman. Shortly thereafter, Gorman himself proves this is indeed the case when he suggestively forces a lollipop into her mouth in a scene that’s as uncomfortable to watch as anything involving Marlon Brando waving around a pad of butter.
Everybody here seems miserable, but they can’t really leave. Dr. Steve takes Beth on a tour of the grounds that shows how trapped this group is by the mass of walkers outside. He seems like a good guy—until he sends Beth to give a patient an injection that ends up killing him. Noah tries to take the fall for the incident (and gets a beating for it). Turns out, the patient in question was a doctor from a nearby medical center Steve had known before the fall. Steve wanted him eliminated to be secure in his role as the group’s only medical personnel. (So much for the Hippocratic Oath.)
Gorman’s last unseemly advance toward Beth ends with Joan—who turned after committing suicide—eats his face off. Beth and Noah attempt to escape. He gets out, but Beth is caught by Dawn’s goons. In the final scene, Beth grabs a pair of surgical scissors and is about to make some carnage when Carol is carted in unconscious on a stretcher.
Zombie Kill Report
8 gun shots to the head by Beth; 1 boot heel to the face by Beth; 2 head shots by Dawn’s officers.
Estimated total: 11
Increasingly, this season seems like Gulliver’s Travels penned by H.P. Lovecraft. Each new group we encounter is organized along a different set of principles, makeshift morals depending on their particular shared experience. Each one reminds me of a city state with its own deviating customs—the cannibalistic Terminus, this Spartan-like hospital group. Noah, at one points, hints at more to come when he talks about his home in Virginia. “We had walls,” he says wistfully. And, of course, there’s Rick & Company which is still forging its values.
This group appears to call the living dead “rotters,” which though cooler seems less apt than “walkers.” What’s your favorite non-walker term from the series?