‘The Walking Dead’: Southern bells

The Walking Dead
“Swear”
November 27, 2016

Alright, so remember all the way back to March 6? That was the date the episode in which Team Rick attacked the Saviors’ satellite outpost aired. That was also the last time we saw Tara and that guy Heath. After the raid, the two of them headed out on a two-week scavenging expedition, hoping to find weapons and bullets and whatever snacks they might happen upon. Snacks! Because snacks are the greatest!

However, all that they actually find are some nasty old rusty cans of okra. No one likes canned okra, canned okra is not a thing, and the canned okra causing Heath to have something of an emotional crisis, wondering if killing all those Saviors was the right thing to do. Maybe not! Maybe, as it turns out, it was a terrible thing to do that had long-reaching consequences!

Tara and Heath later find themselves on a bridge that has been barricaded with shipping containers. They carefully make their way onto the bridge which is littered with abandoned cars and camping tents and, for some reason, two giant dump trucks that have spilled their loads of sand. Heath notices some bullets in the sand, but before he can report this to Tara, she starts yanking on a bag she found in the pile causing it to collapse. And as it turns out, this sand pile was hiding a couple of dozen walkers, all of whom are now free and begin attacking Heath and Tara. So, great job, Tara. Way to go, Tara.

phil-modern-family-thumbs-up

Tara and Heath are separated, but just when it looks most dire for Tara, Heath manages to shoot some of the walkers attacking her. Unfortunately, he seems to be overtaken as she tumbles off the side of the bridge and into a river.

Later on a beach, a young girl, Rachel, is happily spearing washed-up merzombies while her teenaged companion, Cyndie, watches. Rachel spots a body and is about to spear it when Cyndie stops her — and good thing, too, as the body is Tara and she’s not quite dead yet, just unconscious. Rachel argues that they “still gotta do it,” but Cyndie insists that she not kill Tara. Rachel petulantly leaves Cyndie to take care of Tara on her own: she won’t tell on her, but she’s not going to help, either. THE SASS ON THIS ONE.

So Cyndie drags Tara’s limp waterlogged body into the shade by herself.

Sometime later, Cyndie stares at the clock in her room (8:21 for those of you who are interested), before wandering back to the beach to leave a couple of water bottles, a dried fish and a spear for Tara. Tara, who was only pretending to be asleep, follows Cyndie back through the woods and to her compound which apparently is one big Lilith Fair: women, gardens, weaving, laundry and not a man in sight.

bitches-get-stuff-done

Suddenly, the women start herding the children inside the buildings before going to an impressive armory and arming themselves. And then, to Tara’s complete surprise, the women start shooting at her. Fortunately for Tara they are all about as good a shot as Michonne and all of them, miraculously, miss her. RUNNING THROUGH THE WOODS, RUNNING THROUGH THE WOODS, RUNNING THROUGH THE WOODS. Eventually, Tara gets the jump on one of the women and manages to take her gun from her, pistol-whipping her with it.

But that’s when that Rachel kid shows up again and pulls a gun on Tara, happy to have another chance at killing her. Cyndie stops her AGAIN, and manages to convince the community to not shoot her on the spot.

Instead, the leader of Amazonia Lesbos Oceanside and Cyndie’s grandmother, Natania, chains Tara to a radiator for some questioning. Tara half lies: she claims that she and her friend from Atlanta had been on the move, working on some fishing boats, and that she fell off a bridge after she and her buddy were attacked by walkers. All she wants to do is leave here and go find her friend and if they could just unshackle her and point her in the right direction, that’d be cool.

Instead, the women make her dinner and ask her to stay there with them. She seems like both a skilled fighter and a good person, and since she doesn’t have a home she needs to return to, why not join their lady commune? Tara is like, “Yeah, about that. Where are the dudes?” Natania explains that they group got into a “skirmmish” with another group, and in the end this other group killed all the males over 10-years-old. After that, the women children picked up and hid in this location which they guard by killing anyone who wanders into it. And the long and short of it is, they can’t afford to let her leave, lest she give up their secret.

This, for some reason, prompts Tara to tell the truth: “Well, actually, I’m from a whole other community, and we have walls and houses and cookies! And I know those guys you are talking about, but get this! We killed them! It’s all good! We can help each other out!”

At this news, Natania agrees to allow Tara to take a couple of scouts to find her buddy and visit her community.

terrific great key.gif

EXCEPT NOT TERRIFIC. NOT TERRIFIC AT ALL. Because as soon as Tara and these “scouts” get out into the woods, past where Oceanside have set up warning bells, these bitches straight up try to kill her.

Tara manages briefly to escape only to be caught by one of the scouts who villainsplains to her that there’s nothing left in Alexandria for her; that there is no way Team Rick did the job on the Saviors that she thinks they did. Team Rick only attacked one of many outposts, there are so many more Saviors out there, and Oceanside can’t afford to allow Tara to lead the Saviors back to them. But before the scout can pull the trigger, Cyndie saves Tara’s ass. AGAIN.

However, Cyndie won’t allow Tara to leave until she swears — SWEARS — she won’t come back or tell anyone about them. After some dumb back and forth, Tara swears she won’t reveal Oceanside’s existence to anyone and Cyndie gives her a backpack of food and water for her journey back home.

Cyndie then leads Tara to the bridge, where she helps her navigate her way through the sand walkers. At one point, Tara believes she sees Walker Heath among them, but instead it’s just some lost African-American lady walker who, conveniently for story-telling purposes, somehow happened to get mixed up in this crowd. THE POINT IS: Heath isn’t a walker, the camper isn’t where they left it, and she finds some weird unexplained badge that reads “PPP,” so Tara is hopeful he escaped. Have fun on the 24 reboot, Heath!

Tara makes her way back to Alexandria, picking up some sweet sunglasses on the way. Once she arrives back home, Eugene lets her in, and his face falls.

In the infirmary, Tara processes the news of Dr. Denise’s death and all the other terribleness that happened while she was gone while Rosita grills her about any leads on weapons or ammunition Tara might have found on her excursion. “NOPE,” Tara says. “Didn’t see a thing. Certainly not a town full of badass ladies and guns they don’t know how to use.”

Alright, so let’s start with this fun fact: The Walking Dead‘s ratings have slipped from a season high of 17 million with the season premiere, to 12.5 million for the second episode, down to 11 million for last week’s episode — which is at season three levels. And, really, is there any mystery why when the majority of this season has been watching tertiary characters eating dried fish?

Here’s the thing: the season premiere was excessively — arguably unnecessarily — brutal, and if I weren’t writing about this show, it might have been the point where I gave up on the series. And to keep those viewers who weren’t completely turned off by Glenn and Abraham’s deaths, the show really needed to give us some time with the characters we are deeply invested in as they processed this new reality. But instead of focusing on that, our attention has been diverted to all these other new characters and communities that we frankly don’t care about.

I know what the show is doing, I get it: we are expanding The Walking Dead universe and finding allies for Team Rick to align themselves with in an eventual war with the Saviors. But did we really need a full 60 minutes devoted to Tara to accomplish that? And if we are going to spend a full 60 minutes with Tara, if she is THAT IMPORTANT this season, why gloss over her learning of Dr. Denise’s death and all the other horrible things she missed out on in the last two weeks? If Tara’s story isn’t going to be a B or C storyline like it should have been, the least they could have done was given her some emotinal closure.

But if the episode were more about world-building than it was about Tara, if we’re going to spend time with a bunch of people we don’t know, HOW ABOUT SPENDING THAT TIME WITH JERRY OR THE GUY WITH THE PET TIGER?

jerry-twd-deuces
JERRY!

Furhtermore, splitting up our favorite characters — keeping Carol, Daryl, Maggie and Rick and Michonne apart from one another — is a narrative choice that I don’t think is working all that well. I DON’T CARE ABOUT TARA FLIPPING OFF A 10-YEAR-OLD; I WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CAROL LEARNS THAT DARYL HAS BEEN IMPRISONED BY NEGAN. COME ON.

And another thing: where, exactly, are we going with the new moral dilemma The Walking Dead has presented us with? We spend a lot of time in this episode talking about the choice to kill fellow humans, without coming to any sort of real conclusion. Was Rick’s decision to preemptively kill the Saviors evil or not — what are they trying to get at here? On the one hand, The Saviors are undeniably evil, and Team Rick’s decision to kill them, while ultimately hastily planned and uninformed, might have spared everyone a great deal of trouble down the road had it worked.

However, there is an argument to be made that Negan and the Saviors hadn’t really done anything directly to Team Rick to warrant such a response. Furthermore, Negan’s reaction to Team Rick’s slaughter of his men was comparatively restrained — especially upon learning what they did to the menfolk of Oceanside.

And then there is the moral ambiguity that is the Oceanside’s policy of “kill first, ask questions later.” Because we identify with Tara, we are naturally inclined to think that this policy is irrational and wrong; but once we know what happened to these women, it becomes understandable and sympathetic. So which is it: a bad rule that endangers innocent people, or an intelligent policy that keeps an otherwise vulnerable population safe? Where are we going with this issue of preemptive killing as Team Rick and Oceanside hav both engaged in: is it evil or smart?

The problem is not that the show is asking these questions — these are interesting, complicated questions to ask. But when each new episode focuses on some new community and new characters instead of the moral and psychological issues our core characters are navigating, these very important questions are never satisfyingly explored.

In other news, I have no idea what the “PPP” stands for on that badge, and honestly, I don’t even care. This is just The Walking Dead trying to gin up curiosity by being needlessly cryptic, kind of like that “JSS” nonsense.

Speaking of cryptic hoo-ha, in this episode, we saw Tara’s wrist tattoo which reads:

xxvi
xiii
xxii
ix

If you care, those Roman numerals correspond to 26, 13, 22 and 9, which also correspond to the letters Z, M, W and I. Someone thinks they may correspond to Proverbs 26: 13: “A sluggard says, ‘There’s a lion in the road, a fierce lion roaming the streets!'” and Proverbs: 22:9: “The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.”

MAYBE THEY CORRESPOND TO THESE VERSES. MAYBE NOT. I DON’T ACTUALLY CARE. DOES ANYONE CARE? ARE WE CARING ABOUT THIS?

The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.

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One thought on “‘The Walking Dead’: Southern bells

  1. I know I’m waaay in the minority based on the recaps I’ve read, but I really liked this episode. Tara and her sarcastic ass are a welcome sight. The Oceanside ladies are in an interesting dilemma and you can clearly see where the world building is going, what, with their giant armory but complete lack of any shooting skills.

    I completely agree with you on the glossing over Dr Denise thing though. Had they taken time for Tara to really emote over the situation, I think the episode is received much differently. Overall, it was probably my 2nd or 3rd favorite episode in a pretty “meh” season so far.

    Like

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