With the cannibal storyline concluded, it’s time for a change of gear – and “Slabtown” was definitely that. The choice to focus simply on Beth resulted in an episode that stands alone from pretty much everything else the series has done to date. With its cast of new characters and hints at past traumas, it almost felt like the pilot for a potential spin-off – though those thoughts had gone out of the window long before the episode reached its typically bloody climax.
In some ways confining events to a single location with a small cast of beleagured characters made this feel more like a conventional zombie movie than usual. There’s certainly a dash of Romero’s Day Of The Dead in the claustrophobic corridors of the Grady Memorial Hospital and its paranoid, heavily-armed inhabitants.
Arguably the best thing about Scott Gimple’s reign as showrunner has been the development of the minor characters. Not so long ago, The Walking Dead was basically all about the core group: Rick’s family, Daryl, Glenn, Hershel and Maggie. Everyone else was zombie-fodder. Remember old one-line-a-week T-Dog? Under the Gimple regime, however, most of the second-tier characters have been developed quite nicely. Emily Kinney had some great scenes opposite Norman Reedus last year and she’s stellar at the heart of this episode, bringing out both Beth’s vulnerability and her resourcefulness.
Yes, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. That really was Tyler James Williams – aka little Chris – from Everybody Hates Chris – as Noah. Blimey, he’s grown. Aside from fighting zombies, Williams is also a rapper, appearing on the soundtrack of Let It Shine. He is only 22. Jesus.
Also good is director Michael Satrazemis. He uses the change of location as an excuse to make an episode that’s visually very different to the show’s standard format. The clean lines of the hospital stand in stark contrast to the show’s typical grungy grey-green tones. The outdoor scenes, with the ruins of Atlanta framed in the background are very evocative and Beth’s foiled escape from the gloom of the building is marked by an over-saturated sky. Hardly ground-breaking stuff, but refreshing in this show.
The new cast arrived fully-formed, if a little shallow. Dawn (Christine Woods) is the hard-nosed leader – not quite a psychopath on the same scale as the Governor, but certainly broken enough to be very dangerous. And it’s obvious from the moment that we meet him that Officer Gorman (Cullen Moss) is going to be the episode’s antagonist. He’s a loathesome sexual predator and the scene where he forces the lolly into Beth’s mouth is stomach-churning. Frankly, it’s a joy to see Beth outsmart him and let a walker munch on his face.
More subtle was the characterisation of blues nut, Dr Edwards. He’s positioned as the more sympathetic face of the hospital, but the subtle way he manipulates and allows another doctor to die to save his own skin is both shocking – and from his point of view – smart.
Sure, it was a slower-paced episode than previous weeks, but that’s no bad thing. And the reveal of an injured Carol at the end was certainly an intriguing – and ominous – note to finish on.
What Is Slabtown?
The episode’s title comes from the nickname given to a district in Atlanta, established in the 1840s and primarily known as the city’s Red Light district. The episode is geographically accurate, in that the area is now occupied by the Grady Memorial Hospital.
Hey you, what's that sound?
Somewhat uniquely for The Walking Dead, Slabtown features several songs actually being listened to by characters. Dr Edwards is clearly a blues fan. He plays both “You Better Run” by Junior Kimbrough and “It’s Nobody’s Fault But Mine” by Blind Willie Johnson. The track at the start of the episode was “Be Gone Dull Cage” by alt-rockers, Kiev.
Call me squeamish, but I found the scene where Beth and Dr Edwards bond over a dinner of delicious guinea pig uniquely revolting. Give me a scene of zombie gut-munching any day!
The Walking Dead airs on AMC in the US on Sundays and Fox in the UK on Mondays.
|The one where: The one where||Beth goes to hospital, listens to records, eats a guinea pig|