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The Walking Dead's Emily Kinney on Beth's Return: "She's Not Going to Be Owned"

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.] Fear not, The Walking Dead fans: Beth Greene is...

Adam Bryant

[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead. Read at your own risk.]

Fear not, The Walking Dead fans: Beth Greene is alive and well. (OK, maybe not well...)

Viewers last glimpsed Beth (Emily Kinney) near the end of the fourth season, when despite the protective efforts of Darryl (Norman Reedus), she was taken under mysterious circumstances by someone in a car with a white cross on the rear window. On Sunday's episode, Beth resurfaced in Atlanta at Grady Hospital, which was being run by a cop named Dawn (Christine Woods) who oversaw a makeshift medical staff and security force.  But Dawn wasted no time letting Beth know that they hadn't saved her life out of the goodness of their hearts: "You owe us," she said just moments after Beth woke up.

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As Beth set about working off her "debt," she got to know other members of the new group, including Noah (Tyler James Williams), another young man who had been working in the hospital for a year, and Dr. Steven Edwards (Erik Jensen), the hospital's only real physician. While they seemed normal enough, Dawn and her underling eventually revealed a darker side, particularly Gorman (Cullen Moss), who preyed on the weaker women in the hospital, including Beth. After realizing the bad outweighed the good at the hospital, Beth and Noah plotted their escape.

Of course, their prison break was impeded by a herd of walkers. While Beth shot her way through the zombies, Noah managed to slip beyond the fence. Unfortunately, Beth was captured by Dawn's people and beaten. Out of allies, Beth seemed poised to harm Dr. Edwards — who tricked Beth into killing an injured doctor to ensure his continued importance at the hospital — until she saw none other than Carol (Melissa McBride) being wheeled in on a stretcher!

So, what's Beth's next move? TVGuide.com chatted with Kinney about Beth's new personal horror show and why her doomed escape plan was actually a success. Plus: Find out why Kinney believes Dawn no longer has power over Beth.

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When Beth disappeared last season, how much did you know about how and when she would be back?
Emily Kinney: I did know when I disappeared that I would be back. But I didn't know any details about what you see in Episode 4. I didn't know what the environment would be or who the other characters would be or anything like that.

So, what were your thoughts when you saw just exactly what environment Beth was in?
 I was really excited to be exploring a whole different world, to see how she would do on her own without any of her family or team. I loved the episode because I like how it unfolded with her discovering just how bad these people were. Along the way she's figuring out who is to be trusted and who is not to be trusted. She's slowly realizing what's going on in this world and in this system and figuring out that it's not for her.

She seems a little shocked by what she sees, even though she's had run-ins with people like The Governor.
Kinney: In that first scene when she sees Atlanta, I don't think she's ever seen anything like that. She went from being isolated in the farmhouse to then being on the road with everyone. That's where she goes, "Oh, this is everywhere. We're not going to be able to find a place where it's normal again."

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We've seen Beth as one of the characters who kept the faith that eventually the world could go back to normal. But when she's arguing with Dawn, she says "Nobody is coming to save us." Has this experience made her give up hope?
Kinney: I don't think she doesn't have anything to hope for, but I think she does believe what she's saying to Dawn. The way that Dawn is physically and mentally abusing people is wrong and there is no reason for it. It won't be, like, "Oh, she did all these bad things but it's good that she kept everybody in their place because now someone's coming to save us." I think that Beth, in that moment, is just asserting that [Dawn] is wrong. I do think she has hope as far as her own survival.

Beth certainly proved to be stronger than we've seen her in the past.
Kinney: She's learning about herself as she goes. Going all the way back to Season 2 when she was thinking of suicide to now, I think she's discovering more and more about her personality and what she is learning to put up with or not put up with.  [She's learning] just how strong she really is without that safety of a big group or her family or Daryl. She has a lot inside of her and she's definitely stepping it up. I think in this episode you see her grow up a lot. She really stands up to Dawn at the end of the episode.

Beth helped Noah escape but she couldn't make it out herself. Why do you think she smiles in that moment?
Kinney: Even though she is not able to get away, she's very happy to have helped Noah. I think that even though she's captured in that moment, she realizes that they don't have the same kind of power over her. She knows what's going on, she doesn't agree with it, and she's not going to play the game. Even though in that moment they have her, I think she feels like she succeeded.

But once Noah is gone, Beth is out of allies. Dawn doesn't like her, and Edwards turns out to be not so trustworthy.
By the end of the episode, there's a certain unfiltered fearlessness about Beth. She's not afraid to tell Dawn what she thinks. She's not afraid to tell Edwards, "I know your deal. I know you're a faker." She's got the scissors in her hand, and who knows what she's going to do? In that moment, she's not going to be owned. She's holding onto the fact that the way that Dawn and Edwards are treating people is not right and that's not the kind of person that I'm going to be. She's almost in this trance-like fearlessness kind of thing.

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But then she sees Carol and something changes.
Kinney: And I think that seeing Carol sort of snaps her out of it. It makes her think, I might have an ally here after all. I might be closer to my family than I thought. There could be another game plan here than just fighting for myself. I think that instilled within her a tiny bit of, "Oh, there is a chance. Worlds are colliding a bit and maybe I could find someone I know."

It's true that Beth stands up to Dawn, but she still bashes her in the head. Does Dawn still have some power over Beth?
Kinney: The way that Beth is standing up to Edwards and Dawn in those last few scenes shows that she's more of an equal with them. In the beginning of the episode, they walk all over her. They're telling her we saved you, you owe us. I think by the end of the episode there's definitely a change. There's a balance in power, and I think the reason that Dawn beats her up so badly is because she feels so out of control. She feels like Beth has something on her and she needs to assert her power by beating her up.

It's obviously a sign of faith that the writers devoted an entire episode to a story about Beth. What do you think this character brings to the story?
With Beth there's a sense of it's not just about survival for her. I think there's this sense of there's more to her. They have her singing. She had this interesting conversation with Edwards about art in this episode. Even back in the prison, when they showed Beth's room, there's stuff on the wall and she's writing in her notebook. I do think that Beth represents that sense of, "We can't just be trying to survive." We're human beings that need to make sense of their lives, that need to have art, that need to have love.

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Do you think that's what keeps Beth tied to her humanity, even when she comes across evil in the world like Gorman, who tried to rape her?
Kinney: I think that's the hardest thing. She does have this connection to music and art and life and she's coming up against all these people that are so awful. How will she hold onto that? Will that continue to be who she is as she grows in this world? I don't know. I hope so.

Where do you think Beth is at emotionally given all that's happened to her?
Kinney: I think she's still processing a lot of the trauma she's been through. I think all the characters are. She has very strong emotions, but she's stable. In Season 2, if she felt something very strongly, she was in this state of she was going to commit suicide. She still feels things very strongly but she's not going to go off the deep end. I think she's figured out how to, at least in this moment, put [the emotion] somewhere else. She can feel the emotions, but still fight to survive. She's got a very strong will to survive.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. What did you think of the episode? Are you glad Beth is back?