Watching ‘The Walking Dead’ With a Zombie 5×4: ‘Slabtown’

Beth has seen some stuff. (Gene Page/AMC)

Every Sunday, I watch the new episode of The Walking Dead with Ed, the guy who sleeps on my couch. It’s a real pain in my ass, because Ed never pays attention and needs everything explained to him. Also, he’s a zombie.

Me: Howdy Ed. Wanna get started?

Ed: Grrrr. Argh.

Me: Yep, we open on yet another close-up of a clock. This show just loves focusing on clocks and watches, and on time in general—my theory is that it’s all about the way people try to impose order on the chaos of the world. This episode is all about the price they pay for maintaining that order. Also, Beth is here “serving time” in a hospital that has basically become a prison.

And then, of course, you’ve got the fact that most of the events in this episode happen earlier than the events in the last few episodes, so we’re essentially filling in missing time here.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: “Rotters” is apparently what these new characters call “walkers.” Ever notice that different groups have different names for them, but nobody calls them zombies?

Ed: Grrr. Argh.

Me: Oh, only you guys are allowed to use that word now? Gotcha.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: OK, so last season, Daryl and Beth were traveling together, and they got attacked by a group of walkers. They got separated for maybe a minute. When Daryl caught up with Beth, her bag was on the ground and a car with a white cross was speeding away. This all makes the story the cop is telling, about them finding her alone on the side of the road fighting off zombies seem pretty fishy. Whoever was in that car had to have seen Daryl chasing after them.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: The actress playing Dawn, the cop, is Christine Woods. She was the lesbian FBI agent on that high-concept, low-intelligence show FlashForward. And then she was the roommate on Hello, Ladies.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: Yeah, apparently zombies…er, walkers, will eat a dead body as long as it is still warm. That’s new information from the show, I think.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: That’s Tyler James Williams—he was the kid on Everybody Hates Chris. He’s introduced rolling his eyes at our antagonist Dawn, so we’re obviously supposed to like him.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: The High is what Atlantans call the High Museum of Art. That particular painting, Caravaggio’s The Denial of Saint Peter, isn’t actually there in real life—it’s at the Met in New York. But the painting is appropriate to the character of Doctor Edwards, who is constantly forced to deny his complicity. So I guess in the world of The Walking Dead, it was on loan to the High when the apocalypse came.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: We don’t really know yet what is going on with Dawn, but she is clearly a master scapegoater. Here she is angry at the doctor, but he’s the one person she can’t hit, so she just smacks our little Beth instead. And Emily Kinney, generally a pretty great actress, really does the “baffled shock” face better than anyone on this show.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: Yes, Dawn makes them change their shirts when they get dirty. Just contrast that with how grimy Rick and his crew always are. During the apocalypse, these people are spending resources to run a full laundry. Dawn even gets her uniform pressed every day. It shows how much relative luxury these hospital dwellers enjoy, but it’s also a great example of just how backwards their priorities are.

Ed: Grrrr, argh?

Me: Joan, played by Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes, has been trying to break out of the hospital to escape abuse she is suffering there. It’s strongly implied that Dawn is allowing the officers to rape her, in order to keep them pacified.

Ed: Grrrr, argh?

Coming right on the heels of the Terminus arc, we’re getting to see yet another version of the “We’re doing what we have to in order to survive” justification. Here they might not actually eat their victims, but they take everything they can from them: their labor, their time, their autonomy, their bodies.

Ed: Grrrr. Argh.

Yeah dude, I gotta say, this unanesthetized amputation is so much more brutal to watch than, say, Gareth eating Bob’s leg in front of him. This scene is going to haunt my nightmares. Did they really have to show it in slow motion?

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: Remember that flashback with Lori and Shane watching in shock as jets destroy Atlanta? Before the events of the show, the city became overrun with walkers, and the government decided to just bomb the whole place with napalm. Leaving the survivors in places like this hospital.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: Beth’s scars are from back in season two, when her zombified mother emerged from Herschel’s barn. Beth was totally disraught and tried to kill herself. But she had a change of heart. Not that Dawn gives a shit about Beth’s character arc. She just cares about keeping people in line using whatever pressure she can.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: Turns out that like many of Rick’s people Beth is really a badass—and a really excellent shot. Unsurprising, considering who her teachers were.

Ed: Grrr. Argh.

Me: Yeah, we finally see the cars with the crosses on them. It seems pretty clear by now that the cops driving them don’t really rescue people so much as abduct them to become workers/concubines in the hospital.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: Dawn seems to believe that the government still exists and has some sort of rescue plan. Her belief in this is almost messianic, and she uses it to justify all the horrors that she allows to happen in the name of this greater good. So when Beth says, “No one’s coming,” what she really means is: your God is dead. All those terrible things you did in his name were just plain terrible things that you did for no reason.

Ed: Grrr, argh?

Me: That’s Carol on the gurney. And no Daryl in sight. Noah mentioned that the hospital cops have a habit of taking the weaker-looking victims with them, and leaving the others behind. So obviously they don’t know what Carol is capable of. But this also means that we still have no idea who was in the woods with Daryl at the end of the last episode. We’re still not caught up to those events yet—guess we’ll have to wait until next week. Same zombie time, same zombie channel.

Ed: Grrrr. Argh.

Me: Sorry! Watching ‘The Walking Dead’ With a Zombie 5×4: ‘Slabtown’