“Everything costs something, right?”
That’s the central rule the residents of Grayden Memorial Hospital live and die by in the zombie apocalypse. The fourth episode of The Walking Dead‘s fifth season, titled “Slabtown,” revealed Grayden as long-lost survivor Beth Greene’s new home — and her new prison.
The Atlanta-based hospital plays host to a group of high-strung survivors, including dictatorial police officer Dawn Lerner, who comes armed with a short-fuse temper that leads her to smack Beth around a couple of times throughout the episode; bespectacled doctor Steven Edwards, an art-appreciating coward who uses Beth to dispose of his only medical competition; lollipop enthusiast Noah, Dawn’s scrawny ward with big dreams of freedom; and Officer Gorman, yet another lollipop enthusiast, albeit a much more devious one.
If the people of Grayden help you out, you must return the favor until your debt is paid.
Which is exactly what she does.
Beth teams together with Noah for a hastily realized escape attempt, using lollipops and handguns to kill her way out the door. She doesn’t make it all the way home, but her willingness to try allows Noah to escape. That one victory is enough to put a smile on Beth’s face.
And here’s another reason to smile: By the end of the episode, a familiar face becomes Grayden’s newest resident: Carol Peletier, apparently unconscious and in need of Grayden’s unorthodox medical attention. It’s just as likely that Carol’s faking her injuries, looking for a way to infiltrate the hospital and get Beth the hell out of dodge. Given Carol’s track record, the Graydenites should be shaking in their boots right about now.
Aside from the brief glimpse of Carol, “Slabtown” was all Beth, all the time, without any of the other series regulars in the mix. As such, it lacked the intense drive of season five’s first three episodes, some of the best hours that Walking Dead has ever offered up. But it shined a light on a new corner of the world we hadn’t yet seen, with one of the show’s more underrated characters front and center. Depending on what Carol brings to the table now that she’s reunited with Beth, the Grayden story could be well worth the detour.
Still, something about “Slabtown” raises an alarm. Part of the reason Walking Dead has worked so well over the past few weeks is its emphasis on the ensemble, the evolution of Rick’s group, and the kill-or-be-killed-and-eaten stakes stemming from the late, great Gareth and his Terminus thugs. Spending an entire hour with Beth and only Beth feels like a move out of Walking Dead‘s season four playbook; not necessarily the worst thing in the world, but a bit of a momentum-killer in a time where Walking Dead was doing away with the filler.
But it’s as Officer Gorman says: everything costs something. If the price of those first three season five episodes is a somewhat slower-paced look at another side of the Walking Dead universe, it’s a price we’re willing to pay.