The Walking Dead S07E06 “Swear” REVIEW
Essential Plot Points:
- Hey remember Tara and Heath?
- We open on the beach. There are sand-covered Walkers and we hear a pair of women, mother and daughter, discussing life after the end of the world. Rachel, the little girl, takes down a Walker and runs off to another one at the shoreline. She’s about to kill it when her companion stops her.
- The woman isn’t dead.
- And it’s Tara.
- Rachel still wants to kill her, because they’ve been told to. She wants to kill Tara anyway to keep a secret but her companion stops her. Rachel storms off and slowly, Tara is pulled up the beach.
- Earlier, we see Tara and Heath in their RV. Heath is pissed. They’ve been out two weeks and all they’ve found is eight rusty cans of Okra and a bottle of aspirin. They’ve gone out too far, they’re out of gas and it’s time to go home. Tara’s having none of it. There are people counting on them. They need medicine. They need ammo. They need to keep going.
- Heath is still PISSED about the Satellite Station attack. Not just that they killed people but that they killed people for payment even though that payment was food. The young man is burning with shock and self-disgust, claiming the truth is everybody is out for themselves now. Tara tries to talk him down but Heath is having none of it. They’ve got one more day then they’re turning back.
- Tara’s benefactor has dragged her up the beach and into some shade. Tara’s still unconscious but comes round to find she’s been left water and some food. She hides, downs the water and watches the other woman as she pauses, apparently weeps for a moment and then heads up into the woods. Tara follows her.
- She tracks her back to a community of small wooden houses in the forest. Tara sneaks in, spotting recon towers, guards and a large open kitchen as she does.
- Everyone she sees is female.
- And then she’s spotted, and fired upon.
- Tara runs, takes down one of the people chasing her and steals their shotgun and… is held at gunpoint by Rachel, the little girl from the cold open. She , “Doesn’t matter, we’re supposed to,” and then Cyndie stops her at the last minute. The other women surround them. The community leader orders Cyndie to step away and Tara apologises, babbling the whole time.
- Back in the past, Tara and Heath climb a barricade to find an entire bridge full of obstacles blocking their path. It’s potentially good pickings and Heath still very reluctant – they climb over. There are a pair of dump trucks filled with sand on the bridge and it looks like they were trying to make a community.
- The sand is full of Walkers and the pair are separated, Tara apparently seconds from death.
- Except of course she isn’t. We cut back to her in the reception area of what was once Oceanside Motor Court. The leaders of the community arrive and we see that she’s handcuffed to a radiator.
- Natania, the leader introduces herself, Cathy and Beatrice, who Tara took down earlier. She hears bells and Natania explains that they use them to lead the Walkers away.
- Natania asks her what her story is and Tara spins a completely solid story that it’s pretty clear Beatrice doesn’t believe for a second. She explains she was knocked off the bridge and the current carried her down.
- Normally they kill strangers on sight but Cyndie’s intervention has complicated matters. They leave Tara alone to consider their next course of action.
- Later that night, she’s taken to Natania’s house for a meal. She formally introduces Cyndie and Tara. Cyndie is tough, compassionate and troubled by what they have to do. Tara, because Tara’s awesome, instantly bonds with the kid.
- She wolfs down dinner and is brought up short by Natania’s offer to stay. They offer to help her find Heath too, and Tara asks the question the audience has for the last 27 minutes.
- “Where are all the men?”
- It turns out they were all killed in a skirmish with another group, as were numerous others including Cyndie’s 11-year old brother and her mother. After that, Natania explains they decided to kill on sight as a means of protection. They left where they were, found their new home and decided to stay there.
- She levels with them, and Natania asks her to be honest. Tara protests she was. They prove that she was lying and, because Tara’s awesome, she instantly folds and admits that’s true.
- She explains about Alexandria and what they had to do at the Satellite Station. She levels with them, tells them that they did it to survive and asks for them to team up. Cyndie is in favour and Natania shuts her down. But she does agree to send a guide with Tara to look for Heath and then continue on to their community. Cyndie wants to go but Natania shuts her down, hard.
- The following morning Tara and her party head out. As they go, Rachel spits on the ground near Tara. Tara smiles and flips her off.
- On the way out to the bridge they find a Walker and Tara volunteers to kill it. Instead she runs off for basically no goddamn reason at all and is pursued. Beatrice finds her, the two women fight and Beatrice admits that she knows who the Saviours are and that they have no idea what they’ve unleashed.
- Tara realises the Saviours are the ones who killed all their men. Beatrice tells her they killed everybody over ten. Cyndie tackles her and Tara runs.
- Cyndie holds her at gunpoint and makes her swear that Tara won’t tell anyone about them. Tara asks why she would possibly come back and Cyndie talks about how people aren’t evil, they just decide to forget who they are. Tara argues with her but swears to not return and Cyndie gives her provisions and takes her to the bridge.
- Which is swarming with Walkers. Tara tries to send her home but the young girl is having none of it. She covers Tara as they make a run across the bridge.
- Just in time for a horde to break through the tarps at the far end.
- Cyndie and Tara make it across the bridge thanks to a combination of some excellent shooting and Tara just being too damn ornery to die. We see her flashback to her final moments on the bridge and Heath admitting, possibly in his final seconds, that he knows they’re all in it together.
- Then the episode goes to Hell. A Hell this show and Fear The Walking Dead have both visited WAY too many times.
- There’s a Walker.
- It looks like Heath.
- Guess what?
- Yet another fake out. Didn’t work when FTWD did it a few weeks ago. Works even less now.
- Cyndie is dragged away by the Oceansiders but, on the other side of the bridge, Tara gets clear only to find tire tracks where the RV should be and a sign that says PPP. She smiles says, “I hope that was you,” and walks home.
- On the way home she finds Cyndie’s necklace in her pack and an actual honest to God gift shop. Where she grabs shades, and a Doctor bobblehead for Denise. She walks in, sees Eugene, realises what’s happened and…
- … we cut to her, playing with the bobblehead, in what was Denise’s surgery. Rosita tries to get information from her, begging for anything, anywhere, that could help.
- Tara tells her she didn’t see anything that could help out there.
This is an episode that tries to serve two masters. It manages one.
Here’s what works: the entire episode is an extended conversation between two or more women about everything that matters to them in the post-apocalyptic world. Sydney Park’s Cyndie is a brilliant addition to the cast. Not feral but far from settled and brand new in a way no one else is. The chemistry she has with the long-suffering, eternally put-upon Tara is instant and real and we’d love to see another episode with just them front and centre.
The idea is solid too: a settlement made up of the remnants of one destroyed by the Saviours. Not only do we get a little Star Trek in our The Walking Dead but we also get a real sense of just how widespread Negan’s people are. Tara and Heath have been travelling for two weeks, presumably in a straightish line. They have to be upwards of 50 to 100 kilometres from Alexandria and people still know who the Saviours are. That’s the show doing its current bad guys right, just like it did in “The Cell”. Everywhere. All-seeing and far scarier in abstract than they are in person at the moment.
This entire thread is great. We get yet another odd new community and find out how they survived as well as the beginning and end of another group’s story. The bridge idea was actually pretty solid and there’s a real sense of Tara and Heath walking through someone else’s tragedy when they first find it. The show is always at its best when it emphasises the fragility of life and life has never been more fragile than it is here.
Which, unfortunately, takes us to one of the masters it doesn’t serve. We suspect many viewers will be annoyed by yet another digression off the main plot and, for the most part, we disagree with them. This is a great character study and a welcome new perspective on events.
Until the ending.
Tara’s decision to not tell Rosita about Oceanside is farcical, and seems only to exist to further the plot. Unfortunately, especially given the gloriously odd opening, it reminds us of Lost at its absolute worst; characters holding information for no other reason than the story arc demands it. It’s a disappointing beat in this episode especially. Worse still it massively shortchanges Tara’s reaction to Denise’s death. This is the exact moment her entire arc is moving towards: Tara surviving, Tara at peace with herself and Tara happy only to return home to Hell. It needs more room. It gets two minutes. And, judging by the trailer for next episode, we’re not coming back here any time soon either. Even worse than that, it makes Tara’s decision to withhold the existence of Oceanside seem petty.
Don’t get us wrong there is a lot to enjoy here. Some nicely inventive action, some great direction and a pair of absolutely kickass central performances. But The Walking Dead is starting, more and more, to chafe against the demands of the arc plot. When it works, like it did in “The Well” you get something extraordinary. When it doesn’t, like here, you get something that deserves to be extraordinary but isn’t allowed to be. Tara, Heath, Cyndie, the show and the viewers all deserve better.
- “It only hurts because you know what you just said is total bullshit.” Tara Chambler, camp counsellor to NO ONE!
- “The evacuations, the barges, if they were even real.” That’s a great piece of single-line world building.
- “When was the last time you ate?”
“Do soy sauce packets count as food?” We love this. Tara’s pathological honesty as well as her God awful lying make her incredibly endearing this week.
- “Wait, what?” Best.doubletake.ever.
- “If you keep seeing everyone as an enemy then enemies are all you’re going to find.” None of these people deserve you, Tara!
- “I love to run. It’s my favourite thing.” Somewhere out there is an alternate universe where Alanna Masterson is Doctor Who. A perky, sardonic, endearingly rubbish Doctor Who who hates running.
- “Why aren’t you like the rest of them? After everything’s that happened?”
“Why aren’t you?” Again, perfect line.
- Alanna Masterson. Constantly. This episode is basically the Tara Chambler Power Hour and that element of it is absolutely glorious. Tara is us: a complete bystander with no magical plot powers just being swept along by events and surviving based on her wits, her wise cracks and her incredible capacity to know when to shut the hell up. Masterson is just flat-out brilliant throughout and if the episode was more even, this would be Emmy material. As it stands it’s still an all-time great performance from an ensemble member who has been under used for way too long. Either kill her off so she can go to a show that sees what it has or give her more to do, stat.
- Sydney Park as Cyndie. Walks in, aces it, stands toe-to-toe with one of the most fun characters in the show and leaves as her equal. Great job. Much more of her please.
- The direction this week is really good aside from one point. Tara realising the two “guides” are there to kill her plays really oddly. We had to watch it three times to see the intent and even then it looks like Tara, ever the opportunist, is just making a break for it.
- We are reminded this episode that much like the show (previously) seemed overly fond of killing black male leads (see also the entire first season of Fear the Walking Dead) it has a real fondness for messing up couples. Doc was adorable and taken entirely too soon. And we’re not only reminded of that here but completely short-changed on Tara’s reaction.
- Worse still, that reaction makes no damn sense. We’re supposed to think, we suspect, that Tara is so distraught at the Doc’s death that she buys into Cyndie’s view of the world and decides to protect Oceanside by lying to Rosita about its existence. Except why in the BLUE HELL would she do that? She returns to find Alexandria broken and horribly outgunned knowing full well an entire colony of pissed-off, heavily armed women is ready for payback a few miles away. Okay they wanted to kill her but that could be worked around. Two weeks ago Rosita asked Eugene to make her a bullet. Tara just came back with an entire clip and she’s lied about their existence for no reason we can see making sense.
- Why the Hell didn’t Cyndie park at the far end of the bridge on that nice high ground and pick off Walkers at range?
- The fake-outs are moving through insulting into being actual causes for anger at this point. The God awful. “There’s one non-sand-covered Walker and it’s the only black person on the bridge and has Heath’s hair and PSYCHE!” moment is worse than the fake Olivia death a few weeks ago. Which was worse than the fake-out bat murders in the pilot which was worse than the fake Glenn death and so on.
- In all seriousness, this is a show-breaking fault and it’s not going away. It doesn’t build tension, it doesn’t drive conversation, it’s just annoying and cheap. This time in particular given Fear The Walking Dead tried the exact same thing under two months ago. Didn’t work there. Doesn’t work now. Make.it.stop.
And The Random:
- Heath’s death(?) should make the bad list but there are actually understandable reasons for it. Fresh off a barnstorming turn as Doctor Dre in Straight Outta Compton, Corey Hawkins was cast as the lead in the rebooted 24. It’s annoying as all hell for The Walking Dead as he was great as Heath. It is, however, fantastic news for 24. While we could fill an entire article with how desperately that show needed to not be, “Angry white man shoots evil foreigners,” in 2016, we’ll just leave it at how pleased we are Hawkins got the job and that we can’t wait to see it.
- David Leslie Johnson’s previous writing credits include The Conjuring 2 and a chunk of The Walking Dead season two as well as the upcoming Dungeons & Dragons reboot. Venger, David. Just saying. VENGER. You know it makes sense.
- Michael E Strazemis does a great job with the direction this episode. He’s been a camera operator on numerous shows including The Walking Dead, The Vampire Diaries and Leverage (run, do not walk, to the nearest purveyor of the complete five-season boxset. Best £30 you’ll spend this year). As near as we can tell this is his first directorial gig and he aces it.
- Sydney Park, who’s so impressive as Cyndie this week has appeared in CSI: NY, Bella And The Bulldogs and more.
- Deborah May is a veteran film and TV actress last seen as the president in The Last Ship.
Review by Alasdair Stuart