Spoilers through Season 7 of ‘The Walking Dead’ follow.
Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead was a lot better than the last two episodes of Season 7. That’s largely because Tara (played by Alanna Masterson) is a very watchable character when she’s given enough space to shine. The episode did have one enormously stupid moment, but we’ll get to that later.
Certainly Tara does not make my “Top Ten Most Annoying Characters (Still Living) On The Walking Dead” list, and tonight’s episode confirmed that exclusion. Tara is funny, and funny is something in short supply on this show.
I was honestly a bit worried that Tara couldn’t carry an entire episode, and quite frankly I still think that devoting the entire hour to her character was a mistake. Thankfully, the mistake is purely for narrative reasons (detailed below) and not because of Tara specifically.
Tara finds herself split up from Heath and washed up on a beach after an unfortunate and accidental fall from a zombie-infested bridge that was once a survivor settlement. A young woman and an adolescent girl find her there, and the girl, Rachel, wants to kill her. The young woman, Cindy, wants to help her instead.
We learn later that these two are from a group comprised entirely of female survivors. The first and only matriarchal society in The Walking Dead is also the first where they shoot to kill on sight, no matter what. Tara is lucky Cindy intervenes and saves her (three times) from certain death.
It’s interesting to me that the first female society in this show is also by far its most immediately violent. They don’t look to recruit people like Alexandria, or conscript people like the Saviors. They just shoot on sight and don’t bother asking questions. It’s actually not a very good policy, though one can sympathize. After all, the Saviors killed all their men and they had to escape and hide to survive (though why they didn’t range further afield is a little baffling. If you’re going to escape, put some real distance between you and your enemy. The U.S. is a big place.)
Shooting on sight isn’t a good policy because A) you won’t ever make allies that way and B) a society of all female survivors can’t hope to reproduce. It’s also just really mean.
Oh, and when Tara first stumbles on the village and they spot her, about a dozen women open fire, shooting with the practiced aim of an Imperial Storm Trooper, wasting a ton of ammunition, and alerting every zombie and human within five miles of their presence. Not a very smart way to deal with intruders when you’re trying to keep your location a secret.
In any case, they try to recruit Tara so that they won’t have to kill her, but she convinces them to let her go back to her people. She’s taken by two armed Amazons, and I’m not entirely clear about this, but I assume at one point Tara decides that they’re actually just planning to kill her rather than take her home, so she escapes—but only narrowly. Cindy saves her again (the third time) and makes her swear not to tell anybody about the settlement.
Tara, because she’s a smart character, asks why on earth she’d tell anybody about them to begin with, given their friendly welcome to strangers. It’s a good question, and I’m glad she asked it. But she does swear, and later when Rosita asks her if there’s anything she came across that could help them fight the Saviors, Tara doesn’t tell her. After all, they’d just shoot Rosita on sight.
All of this was pretty good. The new settlement means we have a bunch to keep track of: the Saviors, Hilltop, the Kingdom, Alexandria, and now the Amazons or whatever we’re supposed to call them. But at least this new TV-specific group provides an interesting option for our heroes, should they choose to go that route. They could ambush the women and take their guns, for instance (since becoming allies is out of the question.)
Hey I have an idea! Why not just sneak into their camp and kill them all in their sleep? That’s a tried and true tactic, after all.
Where the episode descended into Just Plain Silly territory was near the end, when Tara gets back to the bridge where she and Heath were split up. Earlier, they’d accidentally dug up a pile of zombies buried beneath a big pile of sand. All these zombies are pretty deteriorated and covered in a dusty film that makes them look like this:
This all takes place on a bridge that’s been fortified on both ends. You have to climb up and over to get onto the bridge, so we’re left to assume that all the zombies on it were once the survivors who built the camp in the first place. No new zombies can get on or off of the bridge.
When Tara returns, she’s looking for Heath, trying to discover if he made it out alive or if he was turned into a walker. She gets past a bunch of the sandy zombies with help from Cindy, who is picking them off with a rifle. Then, at the end of the bridge, she sees a zombie whose back is turned to her with dark dreadlocks, wearing a blue shirt the exact same shade as Heath’s. This zombie isn’t covered in sand, either. Uh-oh! We (and Tara) assume at first that Heath must be a goner.
But then the zombie turns around and it’s a chick. A chick with the same hair as Heath and the same shirt as Heath, and mysteriously not covered in the same dusty film every other zombie on the bridge is covered with.
Are you freaking kidding me???
This is so contrived and stupid it’s not even funny. Okay, maybe it’s funny. I don’t know. It’s terrible, terrible TV that’s for sure. It’s another dirty trick, though this time it doesn’t even make sense. Not only is it incredibly unlikely that Tara would ever encounter a zombie with Heath’s hair and shirt that wasn’t Heath, it’s literally impossible that she would on this bridge. You have to be really, really stupid to not realize this, and it makes me wonder if anybody writing this show ever reads over the script before filming.
So I started calling this doppelganger “Heathita” because it makes me chuckle and because come on Walking Dead what the hell?
Pretty bad. A black spot on an otherwise decent (but not great) episode.
I called last week’s episode, which detailed the events at Hilltop and the budding romance between Carl and Enid, the worst the show has ever aired, though the previous week is a close contender for that crown.
I enjoyed the previous week’s dissection of Dwight and Daryl, each a prisoner in Negan’s organization, though each in their own way. And I really liked the introduction of King Ezekiel way back in episode 2.
I had mixed feelings about the season premiere, which I mostly consider a cheap-shot despite being a very gripping episode.
I link to my reviews of this season for a few reasons.
First, I want to point out that I haven’t hated each episode—something I’ve been accused of a lot by upset Walking Dead fans who think I’m being too mean.
I’d say I’m about 50/50 when it comes to enjoying and hating The Walking Dead’s seventh season. That’s far from good, and I really wish I was enjoying it more, but so far it’s terribly uneven.
The second reason is to point out just how distant some of these storylines have become. Tonight we saw Tara’s adventures unfold. It was fully five weeks ago that we caught a glimpse into what was happening with Carol and Morgan in the Kingdom. Looking ahead to the next two weeks (the final two weeks of the first half of Season 7) I see no sign of anything Carol or Morgan related.
Episode 7, “Sing Me A Song” is a “deeper look at the Sanctuary and the world of Negan and the Saviors; members of Alexandria look for supplies” according to the official description.
Episode 8, “Hearts Still Beating” is described thus: “Negan’s unwelcome visit to Alexandria continues as other members scavenge for supplies; things quickly spin out of control.”
Depending on how it all plays out, this means we’ll get some Dwight and maybe some Jesus and Carl since they’re heading to the belly of the beast. And we’ll see everyone in Alexandria. But we may not see Maggie or Carol, Morgan or Sasha, any more at all in 2016. It may not be until February and the back half of the season that we glimpse any of these characters. If that’s true, we will have had one episode with some of these major characters in total for months. As far as I’m concerned, that’s no way to tell a story. That’s no way to treat your main characters (and actors!) let alone fans who actually care about these people.
I could be wrong, of course. Maybe the next couple of episodes will jump around between stories more. But as it stands, other than the season premiere, every episode so far this season has taken us into a singular exploration of one group (or one character!) and that means each week that passes distances us from other characters and other stories. I really dislike this approach, and I hope that the second half of the season abandons it altogether. There’s too much going on to let story lines simply hang for weeks (or months) on end. The Kingdom and King Ezekiel are already starting to fade from our collective memory.
“Swear” is a better episode than the past two, but even though Tara is a good character she’s not a character who needs an entire episode to herself. It was fun to see her be funny and kick some ass, and sad when she returns and discovers what’s happened—Denise, her girlfriend, is dead. So is Glenn, who basically saved her at the prison and took her along even though she was on the other team.
While better (and blessedly Negan-free) Tara’s episode was still pretty bland on the whole. Basically episodes 2-6 should have been combined rather than chopped up into hour-long (or longer) episodes focusing on one group or character at a time. This how has done this before and it didn’t work then and it doesn’t work still. Weaving these stories together would help keep us invested in each character and story, and would remove the need for so much empty filler. Alas, this would cost more (you have to pay all those actors!) and require better, more thoughtful writing.
So far, Season 7 is dragging and tonight’s episode doesn’t pull us out of the slump, no matter how much of an improvement it was over last week. The fact is, many viewers are having trouble finding any enthusiasm over the show right now. I know that’s true of a number of people I’ve talked to, and even I’m having a hard time working up excitement over the show. It’s in a deep slump and it needs some major changes to get back on its feet.
What did you think?