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Looking on the bright side of last night’s episode of The Walking Dead, at least Tara’s slowly developing into a character with enough personality and gumption to carry an entire episode without making me want to see her become zombie chow. But that’s really all I can say that’s positive about “Swear,” the latest in a seemingly unending line of episodes that do nothing to move the season arc forward in any discernible manner.
On paper, the concept of Oceanside sounds pretty interesting. A hidden camp of women who shoot any trespassers on sight. Very Amazonian of them. But there were so many problems with the execution of this story, the biggest one being what was the point of meeting the Oceanside colony? There is every chance we won’t see them for the remainder of the season and perhaps longer, since they seem pretty hellbent on not revealing their location. And Tara did the decent thing by not spilling their location to Rosita, which was one of the first morally sound choices anyone on this show has made in years. So, why show us Oceanside? Will they participate in the big battle to take down Negan? Will the Alexandrians eventually show up there and ruin everything about the village? I just don’t understand the purpose of the place. If it was to tell us how bad Negan is yet another time, well, glad the show thinks it can waste an hour long episode on that.
Aside from introducing us to yet another new group of people, the episode had almost no stakes. We knew from the moment Tara was captured that she would escape. Tara had a reason to want to return to Alexandria- even though we knew she would be much better off simply remaining with the Oceanside gang, which was supposed to lend an air of sadness to the whole endeavor. However, since it’s been so long since Denise died, that particular emotional pull was missing (considering Tara’s absence from the show was necessitated by Alanna Masterson having a baby, I can’t fault the show for it, but it did make it a bit hard to recall all those emotional beats from way back in last season and make them relevant again).
Removing the suspense regarding whether or not Tara would opt to return to Alexandria, the only remaining tension of the episode was whether or not she would survive the trip. And, if I’m honest, even that element of the episode wasn’t successful. Why go on this tangential journey with Tara (and Heath, who will likely be off the screen for a while, since Corey Hawkins will be starring on the 24 reboot on Fox) if she won’t return to Alexandria? It would ratchet the arc from pointless to incredibly pointless were Tara to die at the hands of Oceanside or in the jaws of a walker. So, we knew she was going to come back to Alexandria in one piece and then have her world shattered.
I’m all for the show fleshing out its supporting cast (and, considering Masterson is in the show’s opening credits at this point, Tara should become a bigger player in the show), but this was not the way to go about it. Introducing an new subset of characters who, for all intents and purposes, appear to be one-off characters, continues to bog the show down in unnecessary plot threads. If Oceanside ends up riding to the rescue of Hilltop, the Kingdom, and Alexandria in their inevitable battle with the Saviors, I suppose that will be something (although it will be pretty awful writing, as everything we know about Oceanside suggests they would never, as a group, decide to do this).
But, considering how poorly the season is going (and how the show’s ratings are falling at an unprecedented rate), indulging in world building is not what needs to be happening- particularly when the series still has supporting characters with almost no characterization or complexity. Focus on making me care about Aaron or Spencer and then take the time to add in new communities.