With the past few episodes spent checking in with the various individuals and groups whose lives have been turned upside down by Negan and his brutes, we finally get an update tonight on the last two, Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Heath (Corey Hawkins). After the airing of last week’s “Go Getters,” I was very surprised to see people labeling the episode as “filler.” I think most of us who are familiar with the comics know full well that what happened at the Hilltop is far from trivial and will have a long-reaching impact in moving the plot forward as the season progresses. However, with this reaction, I think it also means that viewers will likely label tonight’s Tara/Heath bottle episode as filler as well, but I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that is not the case. So…pay attention, tuck away what you’ve learned, because chances are, we’ll be circling back here before the season’s end.
IGNORANCE IS BLISS…UNTIL IT ISN’T
Very similar to the season 6 premiere, the episode begins in present day with Tara lying unconscious on a beach, and from there in a fantastic series of flashbacks, we see the events leading up to her being separated from Heath and plunging over a bridge. A mysterious stranger leaves food, water, and a spear for Tara, and when she regains consciousness, she follows the woman back to her camp which is nestled deep inside the forest and brush. While Tara is scoping out the community from afar, she sees that the group is composed entirely of women and children — but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re weak. In fact, quite the contrary. Even though she barely makes a noise at all, Tara is quickly discovered, and before she knows it, she’s being fired on by at least a dozen of these women. She’s finally able to outsmart one of the them — a woman by the name of Beatrice (Briana Venskus) — and grabs her gun, but instead of shooting her, she simply knocks her unconscious. We will soon learn that decision saves Tara’s life.
Tara is ultimately cornered by a little girl, Rachel (Mimi Kirkland), who is nothing less than a little assassin in training. Tara lowers the gun and raises her hands, but Rachel just coldly responds, “Doesn’t matter. We have to do it.” Fortunately, the same girl who had left Tara the food and water on the beach, Cyndie (Sydney Park), shows up just in time and jumps between Tara and Rachel. This neutralizes the situation — at least for the time being until the commune can figure out what to do with her. Primarily due to Tara sparing Beatrice’s life, the group’s leader, Natania (Deborah May) , decides to learn more about Tara and invites her to dinner.
You rest up, and we’ll talk later. Maybe one of us will have a brainstorm — Natania to Tara
Before questioning Tara any further, Natania provides a little background on their community, and in particular, why there are only women. As it turns out, they had been in conflict with another group, and when they decided to fight back, these people killed all of their men — every last boy over the age of 10. They just lined them all up and shot them in the back of the head. After the men were killed, the women and children fled with just the clothes on their backs, and since then, have become very skilled fighters and have built up quite an arsenal of weapons (for the avid comic-book fan, these people may remind you of “Oceanside,” the group whom Michonne ultimately joins). What’s more, to protect themselves and to make sure they are never found by the people they were at war with, this group kills any stranger they come in contact with — which would include Tara.
We would stay hidden. We would stay alive — Natania to Tara
Earlier Tara had told them she was originally from Atlanta and that she had been on the run with a friend for the past couple of years. She also made the mistake of saying she used to work on a type of fishing boat called a “larder” — which was a big load of BS since a larder is a room for storing meat. So, now being caught in a lie, Tara finally decides to open up. She tells them about Alexandria and also about how they, too, have had to do things they aren’t proud of to survive. In particular, she describes their latest attack on the Saviors’ satellite station and killing every last one of them while they slept.
At this point, Beatrice’s eyes get big, and you can immediately tell something is up. To make it all even more suspicious, when Tara suggests that they should merge the communities and help each other, Natania doesn’t object. WTF?! As one of the other women, Kathy (Nicole Barre), points out to Tara, “We just said we don’t want to be found!” So, even though this group has a mortal enemy out there that they’re terrified of and have taken extreme measures to hide from, Natania just smiles and offers to send a guide with Tara to find Heath, and then, continue on to Alexandria “just to see what it’s like.” Uh huh, something definitely stinks.
We can’t be sure exactly when, but at some point Tara catches on, realizes Beatrice and Kathy are taking her out into the woods to kill her, and so, she makes a run for it. Unfortunately, Beatrice finally intercepts her, and this time, Tara isn’t able to get the upper hand and knock her out. This doesn’t look good for Tara, not at all. However, before cutting to the chase and putting a bullet in Tara’s brain, Beatrice does give her the 411 about those people she and her group supposedly took out at that satellite station. As it turns out, when Tara first mentioned “satellite station” while they were having dinner, they realized Tara’s group was fighting the same people who had killed all of their men — the Saviors. That immediately clues Tara in as to how brutal the Saviors really are (keep in mind she has no idea of what has transpired at Alexandria since she and Heath left), but to be sure, Beatrice drives the point home.
You don’t have anything left. Your people are all dead. The Saviors? That satellite post you took out? You have no idea what you started. — Beatrice to Tara
We didn’t start anything, we ended it. They’re dead — Tara to Beatrice
You didn’t stop them. You can’t stop them. That was just an outpost. There are more. More Saviors, more outposts. If they know about your friends, it’s already too late for them — Beatrice to Tara
Then, just when Beatrice is about to pull the trigger, can you take a wild guess who shows up? Yep, Tara’s very own “guardian angel,” Cyndie. She had already saved Tara’s life twice, and so, it’s not surprising that Cyndie goes against her comrades and her own family and tries to help once again. She manages to get Tara back to the bridge and through that walker deathtrap that had separated her from Heath, and in return, she asks Tara for only one thing — she must never tell anyone, not even her own people, about their community. In fact, Cyndie pleas with Tara to “swear,” thus the title of the episode. Without thinking too much about it, Tara does swear, but remember she has been on a supply run since that attack on the Saviors’ outpost last season, and so, she has no idea about everything that has happened, including Denise, Glenn, and Abe being killed. And, when she does, will Tara keep her word even though Alexandria is now in desperate need of weapons and ammunition?
THE POWER OF FAMILY AND SURVIVING VS. THE STRENGTH OF A PROMISE
Once Tara makes it across the bridge, she begins looking for Heath but unfortunately, nada. Initially, there’s a big gasp as we see a walker with dreadlocks, but once Tara gets closer, we realize the walker is female. Whew! But, then, the 2nd gasp occurs when Tara finds Heath’s glasses smashed on the ground. No matter what, it’s obvious there was a struggle, and even if Heath is alive, his aim for firing a gun or doing much of anything else isn’t going to be worth shit without those glasses. The good news is the camper they were travelling in is gone, and unless walkers somehow learned to drive, it’s likely Heath who left in it. So, is Heath alive? Honestly, we don’t know, nor do we know if we’ll ever see him again. All we can say with certainly is Heath has checked out — at least for the time being — while Corey Hawkins goes and becomes Eric Carter on FOX’s 24:Legacy. What happens next with his character? Only time will tell.
Getting back to Tara, thanks to Cyndie and her backpack of food and water, she does finally make it back to Alexandria but doesn’t get the warm welcome she was so hoping for. Eugene (Josh McDermitt) meets her at the gate, and with his crying, Tara immediately knows something bad has happened. It seems nobody tries to sugar coat it because in the next scene, we see Tara in the infirmary holding the doctor bobblehead she had found and was planning on giving to Denise, and while we don’t hear it, we know she’s been told all the sordid details, including the fact that the Saviors killed the woman she loved.
But, no time for grieving because Rosita (Christian Serratos) immediately begins drilling Tara on guns and ammunition and whether she stumbled on any other communities who might have some. And, just when you think she is about to betray Cyndie and her people, she demonstrates that Cyndie was right and that Tara really hasn’t been changed by this world.
There’s got to be a place. We can square this. We can make this right. We have to — Rosita to Tara
We can’t. I didn’t see anything like that out there — Tara to Rosita
Some of my favorite episodes of The Walking Dead have been ones that raised big moral questions, and “Swear” is definitely one of them, which is what makes this episode so great. Let’s think back to when we first met Tara in season 4, and specifically, when Rick met Tara. She had believed the Governor’s false claims that Rick and his group were bad people and was about to fire on them during the battle at the prison. But, then, Rick said something profound:
Do you want to do this? I don’t think this is you — Rick to Tara
Even Rick saw the good in Tara, and so did Glenn when he helped her escape the prison afterwards. Even after everything that has happened, Tara continues being one of the few who hasn’t lost her way. However, Cyndie hinted towards the end of the episode that perhaps she was starting to, given how easily she ambushed that Savior outpost and killed all those people, and I think the dilemma Tara is now facing may be the true test of her humanity and integrity. Tara made Cyndie a promise, and if it hadn’t been for Cyndie, she’d be dead now (3 times over, in fact!). And, while Tara may still be shock and everything may not have sunk in yet, I’m sure she will come to realize that if she and the rest of Alexandria have any chance of surviving the Saviors, they need guns and lots of them. The Catch 22 is Cyndie’s community has the arsenal they need, but revealing it would mean going back on her word. Even worse, exposing Oceanside could get all those women and children killed as well. It’s one thing to slip into a compound and kill some relatively bad people in the middle of the night. But, it’s another to cause the deaths of innocent people just so you and your group can live. Sucks, doesn’t it?
Will Tara do it? To answer that question, I think what Heath says at the beginning of the episode is quite telling and quite ominous of things to come.
I get it now. If it’s you or somebody else, you choose you. You take what you can, you take out who you have to, and you get to keep going. Nobody’s in this together, not anymore — Heath
So, still think this episode is just “filler”? Any way you look at it, you can bet this installment will become quite important as the situation with Negan and the Saviors becomes even more desperate as the season progresses.
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — B+
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com