At the end of last week's episode we had Jesus and Carl hidden in the back of a cargo truck on the way to find Negan's lair. Great, that's exciting, that means we can get down to business of dishing out some payback. We get to tonight's episode, 'Swear', and rather than picking up where we left off, we're in the middle of nowhere in an RV with…. Tara (Alanna Masterson) and Heath (Corey Hawkins)?
For those that might not recall (I couldn't remember when I'd last seen either of them), it turns out they haven't been seen or heard from since they set out on a supply run last season just after the assault on the Saviors' outpost. For those playing the home game, that would be about ten episodes ago. Now in real life, it did give the actors time off to have a baby (Masterson) and a stint on the 24 reboot (Hawkins). Over their two weeks on the road they have been out scavenging the countryside and have found nothing to speak of, and are nearly out of fuel and food. They decide it's been the length of time they said they'd be gone, and it's time to head back to Alexandria.
Spoilers Below, so be warned before continuing:
During a skirmish with walkers on a Bridge, Tara falls over the edge and into a river that feeds out into the ocean. Fortunately she doesn't drown, and instead winds up washing up on a beach, only to be found by a pair of new characters – Cyndie (played by Sydney Park) and Rachel (Mimi Kirkland). It turns out that the newcomers are part of a community called Oceanside. A lovely place very much taken with salted fish (they are along the ocean after all), and has a standing rule that all outsiders encountered are to be killed on sight. The much younger Rachel is quite ready to fulfill that rule, while Cyndie urges her to not kill the still unconscious Tara.
After waking up, Tara secretly follows Cyndie though the forest to discover the very heavily armed and well-hidden community of Oceanside. On the one hand it would seem that the level of camouflage that has been built up would be a positive aspect in that passers-by wouldn't know they were there until they were standing in the midst of the buildings, as Tara finds out first hand. But on the other, while they do have guard positions in the trees, it would also be very hard to keep walker intrusions from sneaking into the perimeter (especially at night). The other difference that is quickly realized is that there are no adult males around – it's exclusively female.
As we've found with any number of the communities that have been encountered during the series, the particular habits and eccentricities of each have been formed based on their experiences with outsiders over time. It turns out that some of the reasons around Oceanside's shoot first and don't ask any questions later policy is based on some of their own experiences with the Saviors.
The perennial debate of what should be done with Tara who, by virtue of having seen the community and its defenses, should probably not be permitted to leave again. We've seen this before so many times, it's kind of like you can plot out how our character is going to escape each time within the first five minutes or so. It's like they just can't help but largely recycle prior storylines at this point.
The frustration with this episode is that perhaps it's not bad per-se, but it's not what the viewers are hoping for. This is episode six of the season, and thus far we've now had four of them be mostly or entirely about a very small subset of the characters (in the case of The Cell, it was really only about Darryl). There's not that many episodes in a season of TWD, and to burn so many without really advancing the main story arc or dealing with the primary character grouping.
It really feels as if the showrunners had recently been re-watching episodes of Lost, and thought – hey, they did it, so maybe we can have full hour single character-development episodes too. To TWD, I have to regrettably say, no, you can't. You're going to need to pick up the pacing and share episode time a lot better between characters if you expect to keep viewer engagement for very long.
Sure Tara does an ok job in working her way through the episode, escaping, battling across the bridge for a second time, and making it all the way back to Alexandria. She gets some good lines in, but she's not a main storyline character. She's one of those walker-bait characters that happens to get in the way when one of our main characters (Rick, Carol, Darryl, etc) needs someone to take one for the team.
Now, I complained about a lack of walkers last week, and this time at least it's better. No I don't count the trapped and very waterlogged walker on the beach as being as zombie attack scene. However there's really a nice little small hoard of zombies attacking Tara and Tara/Heath at two different occasions during the episode, and it's nice to see the SFX team getting their A-game back into play.
Once again this half of the season has a total of eight episodes before a break until February. That means we only have two episodes left to get the gang together and take some action. I still expect we'll lose at least one good-guy/gal character, and likely two before we get to see Negan get what's coming to him. No, I wouldn't be shocked to see Carl go out in a blaze of glory; at the same time I bet Maggie will give birth in the final episode in a scene in a montage intercut with an epic final showdown with the Saviors.
What do you think – will the mid-season break end up radically different? Do you like these tier-2 character stories taking up full episodes?