The Walking Dead Review: Why the One Who Won't Survive Might Be the Strongest Character on the Show

Monday, 03 November 2014 - 10:05AM
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The Walking Dead
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Monday, 03 November 2014 - 10:05AM
The Walking Dead Review: Why the One Who Won't Survive Might Be the Strongest Character on the Show

As many on the internet have noted, the most horrifying scene of last night's Walking Dead did not involve zombies, gore, or physical violence. It was the scene in which the long-awaited Beth was forced to lick a lollipop as a promise of future sexual assault.

 

 

 

 

We've seen Rick rip out someone's throat with his teeth, the Governor decapitating poor Hershel, cannibals eating Bob's leg while making pleasant conversation with him, but this scene ranks as one of the most unsettling scenes on the show. Just as many people are more frightened by home invasion movies, which technically could happen in real life, than ghost stories, the sexual violence against Beth was likely so disturbing because it's more directly true to life than the aforementioned gore. "I do feel like most women and most girls know what it feels like to have that kind of male aggressiveness," said Emily Kinney of filming the scene. "I do feel like a lot of women and girls have felt that unwanted attention and power trip kind of thing. So unfortunately, I did feel like I knew how that felt."

 

This scene, along with Dawn's outright admission that she used young girls as sexual slaves to "keep her guards happy," was meant to confirm for the viewer that this hospital community is ultimately an evil place, but some were pointing out that Beth was wholeheartedly opposed to staying before she knew the nefarious applications of the "everyone has a job" rule. I personally thought this added dimension to Beth's character, whom I've always liked but hasn't been particularly developed until relatively recently. I was impressed that she immediately deduced the sinister implications of their system of indentured servitude, because from the beginning they're shown to be dehumanizing. They measure the value of people purely by their functions (which makes you wonder what happens to children in this place), which taken to its logical conclusion means that they are less than human, and can be used for whatever means necessary. Sexual abuse was the perfect human rights violation to use as an illustration of this point, because it's the epitome of viewing a human being as a means to a self-interested end, rather than a subjective agent in themselves. 

 

The other theme explored in this episode was the idea that the people in the hospital "aren't the ones who survive." While Beth said almost these exact words last season in resignation, people like Dr. Edwards use this fact as a justification for doing things like murdering innocents, on the grounds that they "don't have a choice." But Beth's character is meant to illustrate the point that there's always a choice. You can die. And although this won't be a popular opinion, I think that in a sense, that makes Beth the strongest character on The Walking Dead. She's the only one who manages to retain her sense of self, and not because she's a sheltered brat who expects that others will save her life, but because she expects to die. Where all the other characters show their strength by indulging their survival instincts to the extreme, Beth shows her strength by overcoming that instinct. Dawn cited her suicide attempt as a reason that she's "weak," but that may have just been the first manifestation of her unconventional type of steeliness.

 

Afterthoughts:

 

-This season has been really good at giving the audience that "one scene everyone won't stop talking about" in each episode. It's good for us journalists, because it makes for handy headlines, and the scenes themselves have been successes so far, but I wonder if they can keep it up without resorting to shock value that doesn't add to the overall quality of the show. 

 

-"Rotters" is the least cool name for zombies yet. Besides "walkers," which I actually love, my favorite is "geeks," which Glenn and sometimes Daryl used in the first couple of seasons.

 

-I liked that we were sort of supposed to think that Beth screwed up something practical, which might have been in keeping with her character a couple of seasons ago, but she had conviction that the doctor's death was not her fault, and she was right. It demonstrates the character development that's been happening quietly in the background for the last few years.

 

-A Hitfix commenter wrote, "I don't blame Beth for mostly being a background character in much of season three and most of four. Somebody had to take care of Judith." Truer words have never been spoken.

 

-Dr. Edwards said that there's no place for art anymore, because "Art isn't about survival, it's about transcendence. It's about rising above, being more than animals." This was an astute parallel to draw, as art has no practical function, but one could argue that it still has value outside of practical function. The fact that Beth still sings demonstrates that she has the ability to hold on to ideals that existed before the zombie apocalypse, like the concept of unconditional human dignity.

 

-So who was in the woods with Daryl last episode? After Melissa McBride got teary at Comic Con, many have speculated that her character will die in the effort to save Beth. I hope this doesn't happen, because Carol has become one of the most interesting characters on the show, although I have to admit that I'm Team Beth over Team Carol (not talking about ships here, but that too, incidentally).

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