Oh right, yeah, Tara. Thus far absent, nobody’s favourite survivor returns for the first time since the big Saviour massacre last year. Out on a supply run with Heath (remember him?) and blissfully unaware of the deaths of Glenn, Abraham and girlfriend Denise, she falls into a spot of bother when the pair are separated, reacting to a walker attack like a pair of absolute amateurs.
Swear opens strongly, Tara found unconscious, washed up, lost on the shore of a sunny beach and discovered by a pair of chipper but dangerous young women. In a season which has been all about establishing other communities outside of Alexandria, it’s not long before Tara stumbles upon Oceanside, a settlement run and inhabited only by women. It’s an intriguing idea, but through circumstance only: the men in the group were executed by the Saviours or otherwise killed (as referenced by Simon last week), rather than it being an express decision by the women of Oceanside. What could have been an opportunity for the show to ruminate on a world better off without the likes of Rick or Negan in it (and the community here certainly looks like a relatively happy one) is cast aside in favour of the usual (lengthy) dialogues on trust, opening up to outsiders and the moral sacrifices made in staying alive.
Even the unusual opportunity for a purely female-centric episode of prime time TV is squandered thanks to the brief appearances of Heath and Eugene. Neither really gets in the way (even Heath barely registers before being shipped away to his 24 spin-off) but Swear could have been so much more. Otherwise, it’s a Tara solo episode, and it goes about as well as one could possibly expect a Tara solo episode to go.
Disclaimer: Tara is, at present, my most hated member of The Walking Dead family; yes, even more so than Carl or Negan. Give me Spencer any day. She’s considerably livened up here with a nervous, cheeky personality transplant whenever she interacts with anyone outside her circle of friends, but she remains a major irritant nevertheless, from her dumbly bringing down a horde of zombies upon herself and Heath to gormlessly sneaking about Oceanside, oblivious to the fact that everyone knows full well she’s there, hiding in the bushes. Alanna Masterson tries, but Tara is not an interesting character, and her constant pained, sorrowful facial expressions distract. She does flip off a kid though.
Even the dullest of Walking Dead episodes tend to have something to offer, and in this case it’s the novelty of Oceanside – a community we haven’t even seen properly in the books yet – and the zombie action which bookends the story. The cold open with the walker on the beach is brilliantly done, and (Tara’s stupidity notwithstanding) the battle on the bridge is exciting also, pitting her and Heath against some sandy zombies. That neither Tara or Heath are chomped during the ensuing battle stretches credulity to breaking point – even for The Walking Dead – one can practically see the cogs whirring trying to get Tara from point (a) to point (b). She gets there though, and back again too, returning to Alexandria in time to learn of Denise, Glenn and Abraham.
This isn’t enough to get her to break her promise to new pal Cindy that she wouldn’t tell anyone about Oceanside, but one can’t imagine that being the case for long. These disparate communities and characters are all building to something bigger than themselves. And maybe even something bigger than war, once they can get around Negan. In that sense, Swear is stronger in concept than execution. It has some smart ideas, good new characters (Cindy is an early favourite) and does some fine world-building. Unfortunately, it also drags painfully and is lumbered with one of the show’s most infuriating characters as its lead.