After venting some serious bile about the show last week I feel somewhat renewed. Weeks of terrible Saviour related frustration had been washed away leaving me to feel optimistic about this week’s episode. Not that it would be a triumphant return to the shows best days, or even if it would be good at all. No, my optimism was due to the fact that The Walking Dead couldn’t get any worse than it has already been. What do you know, Swear proved me right, although it’s easy when your standards are low.
The Walking Dead has a predictably spotty history with stories that centre on one character. You have the good: Morgan’s philosophical journey back to sanity from last season, the bad: anything to do with Beth, or the Governor’s return in season four (although the payoff for those episodes where outstanding, I miss you Herschel), or the so-so: Daryl’s prison nightmare from earlier in the season. So when Swear presented us with the show’s first exclusively Tara story, my first reaction was: “oh shit”. Actually my first reaction was “where the hell has she been, I thought she was dead.” Yet Swear turned out to be a surprisingly solid episode, nothing ground breaking, and I may be being too easy on yet another episode that ignores the main plot, but the main plot is boring and if we are still being denied the Kingdom this will have to do.
A lot of the credit for this has to go to Alanna Masterson as Tara. Yes her panic face is hilarious, but Masterson took full advantage of her screen time to give us a full version of her character. Frankly I never thought this would be a big deal, Tara was never anyone’s favourite, but it is a sign that the show isn’t a complete lost cause if side characters can still surprise you. Her time in the women’s camp gave her a lot more to play with than the broad strokes she’s been given in the past. Not since The Well has there been anything to smile about, but Masterson’s comic timing: a brilliant reaction to the danger she’s in, again showed us something different. It’s nice not to have any tortured, mumbled monologues that don’t mean squat when you really think about them, except from Heath, but only at the start.
Another week another settlement, that’s five for those who are counting, but this one has a twist: it’s all women. Now the last time The Walking Dead done a real female centric episode it was the excellent The Same boat. Swear isn’t anywhere near as good, but it’s still a neat twist on the types of settlements we’ve seen so far, and quite frankly I was getting tired of scene after scene of one guy trying to make another guy shit his pants with verbal threats. In only a few scenes the rules of the settlement are set up: strangers are shot on site in order to keep the location a secret. The Walking Dead has always been clumsy when trying to get its themes across but Tara and Cindy are good symbols for a more hopeful outlook. Tara needs to keep a despondent Heath from throwing in the proverbial towel, and giving in to the world’s more savage nature, and Cindy flat-out refuses to kill Tara, saving her life no less than three times (Tara counted), going against the rules her grandmother set in place.
Heath is sickened by his actions at the satellite station: where the Alexandrians murdered the Saviours. Tara argues later in the episode that this is something they had to do, mirroring Rick’s initial “get them before they get everyone” point of view. It’s only when she’s betrayed by the settlements matriarch that Tara starts feeling the consequences of that blood-soaked night. Held at gunpoint by Beatrice, Tara finds out that the reason there are no men in the settlement is because when they tried to fight, the Saviours killed every male over 10 years old. Add to that her finding out from Eugene that Denise was killed by Dwight, another retaliation from the Saviours, as well as the deaths of Abraham and Glen (who she saved at the prison, come on show, you should have made more out of that loss).
Swear is only a good episode, mainly due to the fact that it barely makes a ripple in the direction of the main plot. Tara may break her promise to Cindy and tell the group about the settlement, but that’s a long way down the road, probably when the other settlements can be convinced to join forces against Negan. Until then it was merely a diversion: an entertaining one, with clever action sequences: Cindy and Tara running across the cars was dynamically directed and made all the more effective by the score. It remains to be seen if this will be Tara’s finest/only hour of the show, or if she will fade into the background until Eugene needs to be brave again. If so Alanna Masterson has given us a great distraction, like a magician on a sinking ship/
7/10 Swear isn’t a great episode but it is progress with Alanna Masterson making the most of her time in the spotlight before the show side-lines her again.