Today’s episode of The Walking Dead has given me whiplash. After last week’s well-balanced episode, wherein multiple storylines finally weaved seamlessly through the plot, today’s episode ‘Swear’ feels like a swing and a miss—and yes, I’m sorry for the baseball bat pun.
At the centre of this episode is Tara, who washes up on the beach and is held prisoner in a colony of female survivors. Tara, a long-surviving member of Rick’s group, has been out on scavenging detail with an Alexandrian, Heath. Tara and Heath departed midway through season six to go on their scavenging run, and since they left a lot has happened to their group: Dwight shot Tara’s girlfriend Denise through the eye with Daryl’s crossbow, Negan murdered Tara’s best friend Glenn as well as Abraham, and the Alexandrians are now beholden to the Saviours.
It’s becoming tiresome, watching characters act without the knowledge that you, as the viewer, have. The format of season seven leans into this dynamic, as only one set of circumstances is seemingly allowed to occupy the screen each week. Watching Tara’s passionate statement “I have a girlfriend I want to get back to” would usually stir up some emotion in me, however at this point it compels me to roll my eyes and wonder: if Tara does find out that Denise is dead, will the emotional payoff still be there by then? I would have been furious if she didn’t find out about Denise in this episode, but luckily she did and I still felt the emotional resonance. It was heartbreaking to watch Tara return to Alexandria with a gift for Denise, only to be met with Eugene’s crumpled, crying face.
The bulk of the episode takes place in the seaside camp where Tara is captured. It is the first female-only colony that we have ever seen on The Walking Dead, and while its members are strong and self-sufficient, there’s a menacing undertone that permeates the episode. Tara discovers that there used to be male survivors in the camp, but they were all rounded up and shot by the Saviours. Even in episodes when Negan and the Saviours don’t explicitly feature, the show is doing a good job of portraying them as villainous and terrifying characters; however I can’t help but wonder if there are more dynamic ways to portray characters on television as powerful and terrifying. Why must it default to men being “creepy”? Negan himself is outspoken and not overtly creepy, but the miscellaneous Saviours are characterized by an aggressive creepiness that is growing old with me, personally.
Flashbacks of Tara and Heath’s run is dispersed throughout the episode, and in them Heath raises the age old Walking Dead question of moral behavior in the context of a post-apocalyptic society. Heath is clearly struggling with having murdered a group of Saviours before leaving on their run, and his remorse is the first that we’ve seen. It makes us question whether or not the Survivor’s initial attack on the Saviours was, morally speaking, wrong. So far, the audience has been positioned to feel rage, devastation and fear, but not yet guilt or remorse over the fact that maybe this all could have been avoided. These slippery philosophical questions are raised again when Cindy tells Tara, “Nobody’s evil, they just decide to forget who they are.” When this line of dialogue was delivered, I couldn’t help but think about Negan and whether or not there is a part of him that is inherently good. Luckily, Tara answered my own question for me on screen, when she replied to Cindy and said,” Some people are evil.”
Having watched the episode, I can admit that I am glad to have Tara’s storyline neatly tied up since it has been left hanging for almost half a season now. However, I’m not sure Tara is character enough to carry an episode on her own: her dialogue felt forced, too much of an attempt at being young, awkward and cool, and when she tried to fist bump the matriarch of the female-only colony, I could feel myself cringing. I would like to commend Alana Masterson on her performance, but I think it would have shined more if peppered throughout an episode with more than one plotline.