This Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 7 Episode 6
The Walking Dead had its strongest episode of the season tonight, which is especially remarkable considering that it starred Tara, a character who hasn’t really contributed anything of value since she was first introduced in season 4. Perhaps it’s because she’s fallen by the wayside since her early scenes with David Morrissey’s Governor, but I’ve had a hard time justifying Tara’s existence on the show. Besides some very sweet moments with Denise (Merritt Wever) that helped flesh out Wever’s wonderful role last season, the writers haven’t really done much with Tara. And that’s a real shame because Alanna Masterson proved tonight that she’s incredibly charming and can inject a lot of fun into an episode.
Of course, Masterson is aided by the introduction of yet another settlement of survivors, this time a group of gun-toting women who shoot first and ask questions later. The characters are not so subtly inspired by the Oceanside settlement from the comics, althought some liberties are taken in bringing this group to the screen. For one thing, the Oceanside settlement has never actually been shown in the comics, only mentioned indirectly in a couple of issues, which means the show had a lot of leeway in bringing this group to the screen.
While the settlement itself doesn’t quite wow, it’s inhabitants do. Led by matriach Natania (Deborah May), the group continues this season’s fantastic portrayal of kickass, empowered women. The women of Oceanside, like Maggie and Sasha last week, take the terrible tragedies in their lives and turn them into strength, breaking free from their oppressors (the Saviors, of course) in an almost Moses-like exodus of their former settlement after all the men are brutally killed. This powerful backstory, while quickly summarized in a bit of exposition, sets the foundation for an episode all about survival and how far you’re willing to go to do so.
Every survivor’s actions thus far are called into question in “Swear,” which gets its title from a promise between Tara and young Cyndie (Sydney Park), the teenager who saves Tara more than once in the episode. And even that promise is called into question when it comes to the good of both Oceanside and Alexandria. Tara, of course, chooses to keep Cyndie and the rest of her people’s location secret from Rosita at the end of the episode, even though the guns Oceanside has could help Alexandria fight the Saviors. That very important decision also ties back to Tara and Heath’s conversation about all of the terrible things they’ve done to survive, including the murder of a whole outpost full of Saviors.
Heath, who is played by 24: Legacy star Corey Hawkins, has become demoralized by his actions at the outpost, and believes that people no longer care about each other in the new world, that the need to survive has brought out humanity’s most selfish tendencies – like killing a whole group of people in exchange for some vegetables, as Hawkins puts it. This is all the more significant coming from Heath since he’s a scavenger, someone who inherently provides for other people. The episode does a great job of making it look like Heath’s fully embraced his new philosophy, especially after it seems like he’s abandoned Tara when she’s caught in the middle of a walker horde. I’ll admit that I was fooled into thinking Heath had actually left Tara to die, although it wouldn’t have made any sense since she’s eventually found on a beach several hours later.
Tara and Heath’s encounter with the walkers was actually one of the few frustrating things about the episode. Zombies pose a pretty unique problem in horror entertainment, don’t they? Sometimes they’re capable of eating people within seconds and other times they struggle to even take a bite. The action sequence between Tara and Heath and the walkers stinks of convenience and plot armor. I mean, the extras do ANYTHING but bite them. Yet I’m absolutely sure that if Tara and Heath weren’t the stars of the episode, we might be saying goodbye to one of them tonight. Particularly Heath.
Was I the only one who expected Heath to die tonight? Now that Hawkins is starring in his own drama, it seemed like an easy excuse to give the audience some blood and guts. Maybe it was too expected? Instead, we get a pretty open-ended exit to Hawkins’ character. Perhaps that’s in case 24: Legacy gets cancelled? Anyway, we’ve reached five episodes without a major death on the show, and I have to wonder if The Walking Dead is pulling its punches this season. The fact that Abraham and Glenn died over a month ago doesn’t negate the fact that the audience WANTS MORE BLOOD… Or maybe that’s just me.
Still, I can’t help but feel that the last two episodes have been a course correction for the show, which has really struggled to strip away the weight of that increasingly annoying premiere and the introduction of Negan. The extremely dark and grim tone, while it might make for great drama for those who enjoy torture porn (I’ve dealt with and even welcomed quite a bit of it while reviewing this show), has only really provided one flavor of storytelling thus far. Even important characters like Negan, who likes to remind viewers how eeeeeeeeeeeeeevil he is constantly, have started to wear a bit thin. Yet here comes Tara, on her eternal quest to get a fist bump, to provide just the right amount of nervous quips while in the face of danger. I never thought I’d say this, but Tara is exactly what this season needed all along.