The Walking Dead: 504 “Slabtown” Review
Reviewed by Louis Rabinowitz.
Ever since a car with a white cross snatched Beth all the way back in episode thirteen of season four, fans have been wondering where the younger Greene sister is – and aside from a few cursory lines, we’ve barely had a hint about the whereabouts of Beth since her disappearance (with Beth’s sister happily gallivanting off to Washington) – until now, at least.
Slabtown was season five’s first bottle episode, focusing pretty much just on Beth and a new cast of almost all slightly shady characters. Dialling back the frantic pace of the first three episodes a little, Slabtown was a slightly more conventional horror story with the familiar, slightly leisurely pace we saw for most of last season – and while it certainly had its strengths, it did represent a slight dip in quality from the opening of season five.
Beth has grown steadily as a character in the few seasons she’s been part of the show – starting off as a slightly more vulnerable counterpart to Maggie, Beth became a unique character with a genuine difference in outlook that marked her out from the killing machines that a lot of the main characters became. Given her chance to shine here, Emily Kinney continues her strong work as Beth – resourceful and strong but with a hint of vulnerability, Kinney shows that after her bottle episodes with Daryl last season, she’s more than able to carry an episode by herself.
The supporting characters are mostly an interesting bunch too – Dr Edwards seems at first to be an amiable if slightly cookie-cutter token sympathetic character (with shades of the ill-fated Milton back from season 3), but the late twist that he made Beth kill a doctor to ensure his safety lends the character a far more interesting, slightly cowardly edge. Likewise, Noah, played effectively by Tyler James Williams, is a likeable and engaging character (even if his escape at the end did make Noah look a little selfish as he abandoned Beth) – and that’s handy, since it looks like we’ll be seeing him again in the future. However, Officer Dawn is a slightly grating character – an irritating zealot who indulgences quite a lot in some recreational patronizing of Beth when she’s not slapping Beth for very little reason. Dawn is obviously being set up for a satisfying fall later on, but for now she’s a thoroughly dislikeable character with very little character depth.
As mentioned above, Slabtown is far more slowly paced than previous weeks – and while the slow burn of tension is often captivating to watch, the first half in particular felt a little laboured; the compact storytelling of previous weeks abandoned for lengthy exposition scenes. However, there was still plenty to enjoy in Slabtown – it served up a couple of effective gory horror moments (the arm amputation scene was particularly nasty/thrilling, delete as applicable), and once it got into its stride the episode was as taut and exciting as you’d hope, serving up a handful of surprising twists and a thrilling if slightly brief escape scene – as well as a particularly satisfying moment of revenge involving a jar of lollipops.
A general problem with Slabtown was the coherence of the plot – while the hospital clearly isn’t Disneyland, the truth behind the hospital and the survivors is only really hinted at in vague clues (the concept of debt was an intriguing one, but it was never fully explained). This central vagueness rendered the episode slightly incoherent – none of the interesting concepts are executed particularly well and the episode ends with this viewer still feeling a little lost as to what all the hospital’s sinister secrets actually were. There’s still time to explain in future episodes and the hospital arc clearly isn’t finished, but it’s a shame that unlike the brisk reveal of Terminus’ true nature, the hospital’s true nature is somewhat fudged.
Thankfully, Slabtown pulls out a doozy of a cliffhanger, with Carol being carted into the hospital. It’s precisely the curveball that the hospital plot needed and reinvigorates a plot arc that was threatening to go round in circles before the gurney was wheeled in with everyone’s favourite warrior woman lying on it. However, while it’s not a flaw of Slabtown per se, the cliffhanger brings into question the structure of the season – next episode will see a bottle episode for Abraham’s gang, meaning answers about Carol and Beth will have to wait until at least episode six, and of course we still don’t know who was in the bushes with Daryl at the end of the last episode. The odd structuring of the season means answers about the cliffhangers have to wait for several weeks, which could create a little bit of a pile-up of questions that’ll continue to build as the show continues to zip from group to group.
Overall, Slabtown is a good episode that serves up some strong horror and a great central performance from Emily Kinney, but the episode suffers from an undercooked backstory and a slowly paced first half. Season five is still going strong, and Slabtown is a decent enough entry, but it’s a little disappointing to have to dip down to ‘slightly above average’ after the barnstorming start to the season.
Scene of the Episode: Revenge is Sweet – Beth gets some sweet, sweet revenge on her creepy attacker in satisfyingly cathartic style with the aid of a convenient walker and a jar of lollipops.