This week in The Walking Dead, we got the inevitable ‘Beth-centric’ episode, revealing what had happened to her after her split with Daryl. To many viewers, the idea of an episode revolving entirely around Beth – and this time without Daryl there to add some balance – wouldn’t be a great idea. So did ‘Slabtown’ defy expectations? No, not really.
I have nothing against the character of Beth, or the acting of Emily Kinney. The problem is that she seems to have always been a bit of a hollow shell, without any developing and defining characteristics beyond being portrayed as ‘young’ and ‘naïve’. Despite having seen as much as anyone since her introduction – from her boyfriend Jimmy being torn to shreds, to seeing her father being killed – she still fundamentally feels like the same character we first met, just with very infrequent quirks of courage.
As a comparison – Sansa Stark on Game of Thrones brought similar criticisms early on, yet we’ve seen her evolve into a very different, and far more complex character as the series has developed. So while it may sound like a character assassination, it’s a simple fact that an undeveloped character, like Beth, sticks out like a sore thumb on TWD.
Alongside the focus on Beth, ‘Slabtown’ also introduced a new group/setting to the show, as we found her with survivors in a hospital back in the now ruined Atlanta. The idea of such a strictly-enforced ‘semi-socialist’ model for survival in the zombie age is quite interesting, as is the insight it brings into the characters enforcing it, in particular, Christine Woods’ newcomer Officer Dawn Lerner, someone whose police background fits with her fairly authoritarian outlook.
While it wasn’t dwelled, we were given a look at what’s become of Atlanta since we left in season one; it wasn’t pretty viewing, with widespread urban decay coupled with the devastation of bombings. There was also the potential to portray a contrast between Beth’s background – as part of the Darwinist, survivalist main group – and the Hospital survivors, but instead she made no mention of where she had come from, despite still remembering her group, thus quelling any possibility that her head injury had caused any sort of amnesia.
This was, unfortunately, one of many plot holes in this episode. Surely a hospital would be overrun with walkers early on, given that it houses so many people already on the edge of death. Also, why didn’t Beth just say that she wasn’t alone? Most crucially, why did Beth and Noah escape via a dangerous, lengthy route, despite the guards somehow getting out to stop them almost straight away, showing a much quicker route? This stands out the most, as it essentially boils down to trying to keep Beth there, so that the eventual reunion with Carol could take place. The worst kind of bad writing is when it happens on purpose, to fit the intended plot.
‘Slabtown’ was a blip of an episode, hampered by misplaced development of both character and plot. The Carol/Beth scenes next week, or when it’s revisited, should be interesting though.