Whose Episode Is It?
Hey, remember Tara and Heath? Tara, the American hero who once flipped Rick Grimes off as hard as she could? And Heath, the Alexandrian guy who it seemed might be pegged for some character development before he had to go star in “24: Legacy”? Well, they’re back! And quite a few things have changed in the two weeks since they’ve been on a supply run, but they remain blissfully ignorant as the episode begins.
Obligatory Zombie Action
The zombies long ago stopped being the central threat on “The Walking Dead,” but we still have to have some zombies show up every episode, lest the makeup department not earn their keep. This week, Tara and Heath encounter a bunch of zombies buried under several dump trucks worth of sand, who quickly overwhelm and separate them. Tara takes a nasty fall off a bridge, and Heath vanishes for the rest of the story, probably because Corey Hawkins has become too big a deal to play a bit part on this show. That leaves Alanna Masterson to carry the episode, which is fine by me. Tara has always been a sentimental favorite of mine, with her humorous streak and unwillingness to be a full-blown Ricketeer stormtrooper. It’s nice to have her back.
Yet Another Human Faction
If you were hankering for more settlements that we’ve somehow not encountered before then you’re in luck, because “Swear” adds another one to the list. At least this time Tara and Heath have been traveling for two weeks, so the new group they find could be conceivably far enough away from Alexandria that contact between them has never been made. (How on Earth did Alexandria and the Hilltop not encounter each other until last season, especially since both sides have scouts?)
After her bridge tumble, Tara is found on the beach by a 20-something woman named Cyndie, and a young girl named Rachel. Rachel seems downright enthusiastic about killing Tara right then and there, but Cyndie stops her. She drags Tara to some shelter and leaves her some supplies, which gives Tara the opportunity to track her back to her village, which appears to consist only of women. Of course, Tara’s not a super spy, so she’s discovered basically immediately and gets shot at until Cyndie again comes to her aid. Cyndie, it seems, is a rebel who does not agree with her people’s “shoot all strangers on sight” philosophy. And since Cyndie is the granddaughter of the group’s leader, Natanya, they decide to spare Tara for the time being until they figure out what her deal is.
Man Is the True Monster
“Swear” is one of those “Walking Dead” episodes where characters debate philosophy, which has not always lent itself to compelling viewing. But it works out pretty well here. Early in the episode, Heath is still traumatized by the Ricketeers murdering all the Saviors at the satellite outpost back in “Not Tomorrow Yet.” I’m very glad that’s been brought up again, since that episode was a moral turning point for Rick and company that they’re still paying for today, but it’s rarely been addressed in those terms. After those events, Heath has given in to despair. “If it’s you or someone else, you choose you… Nobody’s in this together.” Tara thinks that’s bullshit, since she’s both more optimistic about people in general and lying to herself about the atrocities her group voluntarily committed (plus she’s currently unaware of the consequences of those actions).
The women Tara encounters may have a more hard-line philosophy than Alexandria, but it’s still the same idea: they’re doing terrible things because they think it’s what they have to do to survive. Tara even says as much when she tells Natanya about what Alexandria did to the Saviors. The difference is that Tara thinks there are some good people out there, and that the women shouldn’t be so closed off. Natanya eventually agrees to send some scouts with Tara to find Heath and return to Alexandria to investigate a possible alliance.
Except it’s a total grift, and the scouts are actually leading Tara into the woods to murder her. Tara makes a run for it, but ends up scuffling with one of the scouts, who gets her at gunpoint. Tara pleads for her life but the scout, Beatrice, lets her know that they know about the Saviors. They fought them once, and in response the Saviors killed all the men and boys over 10 years of age. (This does very little to dispel the notion that Negan is keeping Rick alive solely because Rick is the main character of the show.) The women were supposed to work for the Saviors, but they managed to escape and hide. So that’s why they kill all strangers on sight: to keep their location a secret so they never have to go back.
So yeah, it seems that Alexandria was the last place on Earth to be discovered by the Saviors, and yes, it’s extremely tedious that the show has gone to such lengths to build the Saviors as such a threat. Not one, not two, but three communities have been established to send the Ricketeers the message that the Saviors are very bad and that the Saviors can’t be beaten. And considering the glacial pacing of Season 7 so far, I imagine that point will be hit a few more times before this half-season is through.
A Shred of Humanity
Still, the moral twist of the women’s community in “Swear” is an interesting one, albeit one we’ve seen before. Much like the denizens of Terminus, the women of Cyndie’s group encountered evil and became evil themselves. They put their lives above all other concerns, and when the only goal of living is to live at the expense of everything else, then living is meaningless.
After Cyndie saves Tara once again, she insists that Tara swear she’ll never tell anyone about her community. When Tara asks why she would tell anyone, Cyndie responds, “Because maybe you could get something out of it. Anything. Why did we kill those two people who just came near us? Why did you kill all those people at that satellite station? Because you all thought you had to. But none of you had to. You just did. Nobody’s evil, they just decide to forget who they are.” Tara still thinks that there is true evil out there, but Cyndie’s words still affect her. “The Walking Dead” has always had a pretty tricky relationship with morality, choosing mostly to gloss over it in favor of keeping the main characters in exciting conflicts, so it’s nice for someone to lay out just what lines they’ve crossed.
So Tara finally makes her way back to Alexandria, only to learn about all the terrible things that have happened in her absence (including the death of her girlfriend). Rosita asks her point blank if she knows where any weapons are, and Tara, remembering how well-armed Cyndie’s people were, says no. For now, their secret is safe.