It’s such a pertinent question to the ongoing storyline of The Walking Dead yet it’s barely been addressed in nearly three episodes: What the heck happened to Beth? Even Beth’s half-sister Maggie went off with Abraham and Co. on the mission to Washington last week without so much as saying to anyone, “Hey, if anyone finds Beth tell her…”
We know that Daryl remembers though, and at the end of episode two, he and Carol took off after the mysterious blue car with the painted white cross on its back window. This week, we find out where that car comes from, where it took Beth, and all while getting another abject lesson in how the best intentions of good Samaritans can be tainted and corrupted in a post-apocalyptic world.
Long story short, Beth ended up a Grady Memorial Hospital in the heart of not-so-beautiful downtown Atlanta. A police officer named Dawn Lerner and a doctor named Steven Edwards tell Beth that she was found at the side of the road with a broken wrist and was about two seconds away from being zombie chow. The good news is that Beth will heal, the bad news is that she now owes these people for saving her life.
There’s an immediate comparison between the Grady hospital survivors and Terminus, well-meaning people who built an oasis in hell but are corrupted by the harshness of the situation. In Terminus, the lesson was you’re either the butcher or the cattle when a bunch of bad men took over the town after accepting the offer of shelter and safety, but at Grady, it was the original police officer leading the survivors, loosing his mind under the weight of the pressure to keep everyone alive. Dawn took care of him, and in turn took care of the others. As long as you were useful, you could stay, but the more you take in terms of food, medical care or other resources, the more you owe, and in exchange for a cast and some stitches, Beth is put to work as an orderly.
It doesn’t take long for Beth to start to realize that there’s something deeply wrong at the hospital. Officer Dawn, realized with a twitchy determinism by Christine Woods, tells Beth that even in the world before things like food, clothing and protection didn’t come without a cost, so even Beth’s small act of protest by not accepting any food was pointless because, as Dawn assures Beth, she will be allowed to go once she’s “paid up.” What Beth learns later though from the sympathetic Doctor Edwards is that the building’s surrounded by walkers, so there’s really no way out anyways, whether you’re willing or not.
Good old Doc Edwards. He seemed too nice to be true, didn’t he? The only doctor on staff at the hospital takes Beth under his wing, bucks her up as Dawn tries to break her, intervenes when Officer Gorman gets too creepy, and he even shares his roast guinea pig with her. Still, despite Edwards’ talk of art and being able to do the little things like keeping a messy office as an affront to Dawn’s meticulous and sometimes cruel order, he’s just as big a pragmatist as anyone at Grady Memorial. He tells Beth to give a new patient the wrong medication because he was also a doctor, and a threat to Edwards’ position at the hospital. Even the nice guys aren’t nice when they’re cushy position is threatened.
As for Beth, debt is one thing, but being a willing victim for Officer Gorman the Rape Cop is something else all together. Like how Terminus made you food whether you were willing or not, Grady’s female staff were “comfort” for the male officers whether they like it or not, which still fits under Dawn’s very loose definition of control. As such, the people of Grady Memorial are at a breaking point. Dawn is losing control (as well as her grip), and many are expecting the whole thing to fall apart, including Noah, who does the laundry and appears to one of the genuinely good people caught up in Dawn’s web.