The Walking Dead: 7.06 Swear
After last week’s episode ended on such an exciting note, this week’s The Walking Dead could easily have been boring and disappointing, given that once again the focus was shifted to a different character in a different place. Up until now, Tara has only really existed as a secondary character, so it’s unsurprising that many people had doubts about an episode centred around her. Fortunately, Swear was a successfully engaging episode after all that didn’t just feel like unnecessary filler. It introduced us to another new community (the second new bunch this season), let us get to know Tara a lot better, and concluded with her finally returning to Alexandria. The episode format helped make the plot feel like it was progressing, rather than dragging out. It began with two new characters finding Tara unconscious and washed up on a beach. The rest of the episode alternates between showing what happened from then on, and showing the events that led to Tara getting washed up in the first place while on her scavenging trip with Heath. This "what’s happening now, and how we got here" storytelling technique has been used before on the show, and works well to retain audience attention and curiosity.
To summarise the main plot of the episode: the two characters that find Tara in the shallows are young woman Cindy, and the younger Rachel. Rachel wants to kill Tara on sight, “because they’re supposed to,” but Cindy doesn’t allow it. When she retreats back to her community, Tara follows her, and discovers a small group composed entirely of women (aside from a couple of male children). She thinks she’s unseen until they start shooting at her. She manages to disarm one of her pursuers (whose name we later learn is Beatrice) and hits her in the head instead of killing her. Moments later, however, she’s surrounded. The group handcuff Tara while they talk to her and try to figure out what to do. Normally this group of survivors shoot strangers on sight, but her interactions with Cindy and Beatrice saved her that fate. Tara initially lies to them about where she’s from, but when called out on it later admits the lie and proposes their communities help each other, as the women there can’t keep their existence a secret forever. They offer to escort Tara back to the bridge she knows and go with her to see what Alexandria is like, but along the way Tara realises their true intent is just to kill her. She gets away with the help of Cindy, and swears not to tell anyone about their group. Also, it turns out the reason there are no men in their group is because the Saviours killed them all in cold blood.
The emotional tale of their clash with the Saviours does more to lend credit to how much of a threat Negan’s group really is than any of Negan’s actual scenes in the last few episodes have. Negan’s recent appearances have largely just portrayed him as obnoxious, but the horror and fear in Beatrice’s expression and voice as she explains what he did to them reminds us that when he’s not swaggering around delivering self-indulgent one-liners, Negan can be truly menacing. The story also ties this side-plot into the bigger picture, and neatly fits the new group into the growing trend of "more and more people have beef with the Saviours."
As far as what happened to Heath, he got separated from Tara while trying to save her from the group of walkers that pushed her into the river that led to her being washed up at Oceanside. We don’t know if he’s alive or dead, though we can tentatively assume the former given that A) Tara found his glasses near some tyre tracks, and B) it would be very unlike The Walking Dead to have a character die without it being on-screen. Possibly the biggest flaw in the episode was the moment where the audience was fooled into thinking Heath had become a walker, when Tara encountered one with the same hairstyle and shirt colour as him. In an area populated by lots of the undead, this coincidence might just be excusable, but given that all other walkers in the area had very distinct appearances from being buried in sand, this conveniently Heath-like dead woman had no business being on that bridge.
On her way back to Alexandria, Tara stopped at a souvenir shop and picked up some pink sunglasses for herself, and a doctor bobblehead for her girlfriend Denise (who she didn’t know was dead). As she approached the gate of Alexandria she looked so pleased to be back, it was almost upsetting. Eugene was there to welcome her home. Despite not being the most emotive of characters, his sad expression said everything and it was simple and very effective. From there, we cut to seeing Tara and Rosita talking about their sorrow and Rosita’s desperation for some way to fight the Saviours. Rosita asks Tara if she found any guns or anything while out scavenging, and even though the women she encountered did have a small arsenal, Tara replied “I didn’t see anything like that out there.” It was a great line that especially worked well because Rosita wasn’t just asking about guns, she was asking about anything that might help them, but as Tara learned, the women at Oceanside wouldn’t. However, despite the fact that she swore not to tell anyone about them, it seems likely that sooner or later we will return to that group. But for now at least, Tara is keeping her promise, and only time will tell what the consequences will be.
In conclusion, Swear was an unexpectedly good episode, and after watching it I now have a new fondness for Tara. An episode about her was long overdue given that she’s been on the show for several seasons now, and Alanna Masterson definitely delivered (she had a child during her character’s recent lull in screen time, so she really DID deliver). We got new insight into Tara’s humour and her headstrong nature and pragmatism, and this added depth to her character means that the show is currently doing really well in terms of how many well-rounded, developed women it has in its ensemble. For all its other faults, between Tara, Maggie, Michonne, Rosita, and Sasha, The Walking Dead is setting a great example of how to do diverse and fleshed out female characters - an area in which many other shows on TV right now are lacking.