It’s not like the previews and trailers didn’t put it right up there for the world to see, what with Dawn in uniform in a hospital, and people dressed in scrubs.
The survivors’ world is shaping up, we are beginning to see their context. Beth is no longer wandering the wilderness. She has arrived at civilization. Where her former group finds religion is useless, she sees the police have become fascists and pimps, doctors are murderers, and the barbarians are at the gates where we were supposed to be healed.
Of course, these are just institutions. In the empty church over the past two weeks we did see faith (Carl), forgiveness (Maggie), and justice (Rick). The institution that Gabriel so relied on was just “Four Walls and a Roof.” In “Slabtown,” we see once again it’s the people who provide the human fundamentals we now seek in institutions.
In “Slabtown,” Beth serves the actual functions any functional society needs:
Beth helps Noah escape in search of freedom – she is the liberator;
She confronts Dr. Edwards on his murder – she is the jury and judge.
When Beth allows Joan to find final justice against Officer Gorham – she is the executioner. Beth knows completely what she’s doing to Gorham when she sets him up in the office, and she’s happy to let Dawn get a glimpse of that gory little tableau. After all, as Rick said a long time ago that “there’s a new sheriff in town.”
When she strolls down the hall with the scalpel, is she nearing a role as the executioner as well?
This episode was a good deal of exposition as far as the social structure in the hospital, and a question about one’s obligation to a social structure one doesn’t volunteer for, but to which a member owes her life. Exactly how much should you be forced to give? Where is that moral line between dignity of free will and free-loading?
What’s interesting is that as much as Dr. Edwards and Dawn talk about “out there,” with Edwards utter lack of confidence “we’re the ones who don’t make it,” Beth has been “out there.” For her seeming meekness, she’s becoming a bad-ass, in a very grounded, unassuming way. She has integrated her transcendence and her humanity with her fierce survival skills. Where Edwards decides to relinquish any assertiveness so he can appreciate art, even if it is a manifestation of his own guilty conscience, Beth has no such conflict: “I sing. I still sing.”
Did Edwards’ sense of helplessness lead to his moral bankruptcy? He keeps a masterpiece of the epitome of cowardice, but he remains a coward. He’s no Governor or Gareth, but he is closer to Gabriel: both turned their backs on their God and faith. Cowardice can make one as brutal and savage as ambition and rage.
The Talking Dead panel quickly noted the similarities between Beth’s story and Rick’s at the beginning of the series; actress Emily Kinney revealed this was discussed during shooting.