By Brian Ives
Over the course of four-plus seasons, ‘The Walking Dead’ has used a wide range of music from artists that span nearly every genre and era including Bob Dylan, Motörhead, the Stanley Brothers, Sharon Van Etten, Wang Chung and Tom Waits, whose song “Hold On” was sung by cast member Emily Kinney. During the show’s fifth season, we’ll be talking with Thomas Golubic of SuperMusicVision, who helps choose the show’s music, to get the scoop on what you heard last night.
Season five of The Walking Dead is now four episodes deep, but in the first three weeks there was no time for non-score music moments, what with the blowing up of Terminus, the fighting over buses, the finding of priests and the bloody killing of cannibals (admit it, that last one was a bit satisfying). But, fittingly, the return of Beth Greene (played by actress/musician Emily Kinney) to the storyline also marked the first episode of the season with a music moment; in fact, episode four had three of them.
Soon after Beth wakes up in Grady Memorial Hospital – it’s the first time we’ve seen her since last season – we hear “Be Gone Dull Cage,” by indie rock band Kiev. Music Supervisor Thomas Golubic told Radio.com about selecting that band for the scene: “With our introduction of Grady Memorial Hospital, where Beth is being held, we had an opportunity to explore a new sound for The Walking Dead, a place with its own unique structure, personality, and rules of conduct. Thematically, this is an environment of totalitarian control with Dawn as the unquestioned leader, keeping everyone under her thumb at all times.”
While the show has often used well-known artists on the show, they’ve also enjoyed giving exposure to younger, indie artists including Waxahatchee and Sharon von Etten. Kiev, whose sound Golubic compares to the Pixies, fits into the latter category: “With The Walking Dead, we generally find it to be more effective to the storytelling to introduce lesser-known artists, which the audience has no previous association with. Kiev, a 5-piece band from Orange, California, have a brilliant, but criminally overlooked, debut album [2013’s] Falling Bough Wisdom Teeth. ‘Be Gone Dull Cage’ has an artificial calmness in the verses that supports the repressed environment of the hospital. The bursts of energy at the choruses reflect Beth and the other inhabitant’s desperate desire to break out.”
Kiev was excited to be involved with the show – as many artists are – and created a custom version of the song to fit the scene. “Be Gone Dull Cage (Walker Version)” is now available on iTunes and will be on the show’s next soundtrack album. This week’s episode also dipped into the blues, via another new character, Dr. Steven Evans, who seems to be an ally of Beth’s.
Beth has always represented lost innocence, and has been a conscience for the characters on the show. Removed from her post-apocolyptic family, she still represents a desire for a basic humanity, which seems an even quainter idea to Officer Dawn than it did even to Daryl (tellingly, both characters pointed to the scars on her wrist as a sign of her weakness). Beth made the argument to Dr. Evans that art still matters, even as the world crumbles. As they sit in his office, next to a painting, they listen to blues artist Junior Kimbrough’s “You Better Run”… on vinyl! (Clearly this man had his priorities in order: he kept a turntable and LPs in his office even before the world went to hell). But Evans laments that, despite his highbrow mancave, art “Doesn’t have a place anymore. Art isn’t about survival, it’s about transcendence.”
Beth argues, “I sing. I still sing.” Notably, she doesn’t actually sing in this episode. She does, however, hum: albeit while mopping up blood in a patient’s room. That blood came from a forced amputation after that patient got bit while trying to escape the hospital. Beth’s humming soothed the patient, and provided her with what was likely one of the last pleasant moments of her life. Whether or not that is important or not is open to each character’s – and each viewer’s – opinion. And how you feel about that will say a lot about how you feel about art itself.
As for Beth, she would rather strike out on her her own and face the walkers – and a world where her sister and friends may or may not be alive and looking for her. For all the accusations of her being “weak,” she decided to choose the unknown over her safety. And here, we’ll offer the requisite “spoiler alert.”
Her escape attempt didn’t go well: another new friend, Noah, gets away, but Beth was not so lucky. She grins, watching him escape and then makes a rather drastic decision to do some serious damage to… well, we don’t know who, because before she carries out her new plan, we see an unconscious Carol enter the hospital on a stretcher. Through this segment, we hear Blind Willie Johnson’s classic “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” As Johnson sings about the Bible, “Nobody’s fault but mine/If I don’t read it, my soul’d be lost,” as we’re left to wonder how far Beth will go to escape Grady Memorial. And when, if ever, we’ll hear her sing again.