Tara takes charge in the latest The Walking Dead

Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 7 episode, "Swear."

Contributing Editor Tara Bennett breaks down the episode, where we discover what happened to Tara and Heath,  as directed by director of cinematography Michael E Satrazemis and written by David Leslie Johnson.

Overview:  On this installment of "Tales From the Walkers," the show feels even more like anthology as the narrative focuses almost entirely on what's happened to Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Heath (Corey Hawkins) as they've been foraging in the wilds for supplies. It certainly hasn't been a fruitful two-week scavenging venture, so Heath is in a dour place, while Tara remains upbeat knowing she has Denise (Merritt Wever) waiting for her at Alexandria. Uh-oh.

The episode serves as a showcase for Tara, who shows all facets of her evolution into a strong fighter, a thinker on her feet, and always, always a smartass with heart. She uses all of it to navigate her time in the secret Oceanside community introduced. 

Highlights

It's a bit of weekly whiplash this season, as there's been such disparate storytelling every week. It's meant to broaden the world of the series overall with the new communities, but the writers can also service single characters outside of the core Rick pack dynamics we've come to expect. I for one don't hate it. I know a lot of fans are in complete snooze mode trying to engage with a very slow build going on in terms of the grassroots mobilization against Negan that's being built in each community storyline. By this episode we are very clear that Alexandria, Hilltop, The Kingdom, Oceanside and even some Saviors inside their compound, have no love, just hate and fear regarding Negan's rule.  OK, we get it. But that doesn't create any burning stakes for most viewers who want more action against the Big Bad instead of cowering from all corners. For me, I'm engaged with The Walking Dead so long as the storytelling and characters are still interesting to me. I like Tara a lot, so "Swear" worked in terms of pointing focus to her corner.  Lots of praise goes to Alanna for reminding us why she's such a great character, and bringing some awkward, quirky humor back into the mix that doesn't feel like the vile bon mots Negan serves up when he's onscreen.

Oceanside was my other positive takeaway from this narrative. For those who know the comic book, Oceanside is introduced in a relatively similar manner, but the show writers have taken the opportunity to really deepen what was more of a trading community into a richer story with all-female leadership angle. Tying their actions of killing every stranger at first sight, and the lack of any males in the small village to a nasty encounter with Negan creates another strong alliance in the future when rising up as a unit coalesces into "All Out War." Plus, characters like NaTanya, Kathy, Beatrice and Cyndie were a great mix of savvy survivalist and sympathetic survivor. Once Beatrice gave Tara the true context of why they do what they do in the wake of Negan, and how important it is that they stay hidden, there was a lot to morally ponder that was interesting and understandable. These women were wise, cautious, ruthless when needed, but, like Ezekiel, are seeking hope and humanity when it's presented to them.

Meanwhile, if you don't know, actor Corey Hawkins is the new Jack Bauer-ish character in the 24 reboot coming next year, so that's why Heath has essentially disappeared by episode's end. Was he taken by a Savior? Did he fight and leave on one of their bikes? Who knows (until we see the new 24 ratings), but I'm glad they didn't just kill the character, as he's important to the comic book narrative, and I like Hawkin's performance a lot. His bleak worldview musings that everyone is out for themselves, especially in the moral gray of what they did at the Savior's compound, made a lot of sense, and I'm glad the show gave him the opportunity to voice how messed up it was for some of the Alexandria group to process in the aftermath. Tara defended their actions more later on in the episode, but regardless, it's a moral low point for Rick's family, and it shouldn't be swept under the rug from an emotional or narrative perspective. And it was good to see him come back to save Tara when he could have truly embraced his mercenary manifesto and let her die.

Lowlights

Boy, that Rachel kid is a tiny terror in the making. If I was Cyndie, I would have put her on a raft to nowhere a long time ago. But, you gotta love Tara's bird salute as a parting shot to the spitting monster.

It's been hard to be cathartic for any fallen heroes this season. The time separating events from the character's actual processing of those terrible moments, or losses, hasn't given the show the emotional resonance it desperately needs, and wants this season. Denise died last season! With the body count on this show, it's not mean to say that feels like a death that took place years ago. So when Tara only gets a scene to discover it and process that loss more than seven episodes later, it's hard to muster much for her. And that feels like a disservice to everyone involved.

"Oh S--t!" Moment

Going back to the situation that put Tara in peril, the blocked bridge was a pretty inventive walker ambush scenario. It's always fascinating how Nicotero's special effects team use real world materials to transform and inform walker decay. Having them buried in sand gave them a bleached-out look that was unique and terrifying for the sequence. And the twist of the sand shifting to reveal the hidden bodies was a great gag,

Tara not finding a Heath walker on the bridge was a relief and a great turn that actually bred hope for his future.

Eugene's emotional welcome of Tara which let her know how much has been lost in her absence was a genuine moment that was needed.

Tara keeping her swear to Cyndie and not ratting out the Oceanside arsenal to get vengeance for Denise, Abe and Glenn was a big moment. It solidified Tara's moral compass, and it puts that community on the backburner as a possible major player at an unexpected time.

Overall

It was a slow episode that was more interested in expanding the world, and Tara's character, than upping the stakes. It tied up loose ends, expanded the character count, but also diverted focus from where most fans want the story to be.

What did you think of “Swear"? Slow episode or great character building?

 

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