Wednesday, November 30, 2016

(TV) The Walking Dead: The Walking Dead ‘Swear’ Episode Review



(Photo Credit: AMC)
The Walking Dead
Season 7, Episode 6
By Garrett Yoshitomi

This week, The Walking Dead slows down a bit; veering off the beaten path of this season’s Negan storyline, to reunite us with everybody’s twelfth favorite main character, Tara. If you’ll remember (or not), we last saw Tara (Alanna Masterson) in the season six episode, “Not Tomorrow Yet,” when she and Heath (Corey Hawkins) left on a two-week supply run after the group’s takedown of the Savior’s satellite outpost. Since then, a lot’s happened- we’ve seen the deaths of two major characters (three, if you count Denise), as well as the introduction of multiple new characters, including the Kingdom’s King Ezekiel and Shiva. Meanwhile, Daryl’s currently being held captive at the Sanctuary, Maggie and Sasha have moved to the Hillltop, and as recently as last week, Carl and Jesus have stowed away aboard one of Negan’s supply trucks en route to Savior-town. But really, who cares about all of that?

Rather than show us the next chapter in the Rick v. Negan saga, The Walking Dead presses pause on the current storyline to focus on a character most casual fans probably forgot existed, and another character casual fans definitely forgot existed. I haven’t really been jonesing for an opportunity to catch-up with Tara and Heath (I do remember who they are, though, for the record), but their offscreen story is one that probably needed to be told eventually; though, the timing of their episode is pretty unfortunate. I'm not completely opposed to a Tara-centric episode, but when it airs directly after the season’s first real cliffhanger, and grinds the plot to a screeching halt, it comes across as “filler-ish,” and is hard to enjoy. And this *would* have been a good hour of The Walking Dead to enjoy. Tara’s been a group mainstay since season four, and finally finds herself with something to do besides following Glenn around, or getting shoehorned into an out of left field romance (sorry Denise fan).
 
(Photo Credit: AMC)
Realistically, though, there was no other way to handle this. Tara had to go offscreen for a while to accommodate Alanna Masterson’s maternity leave, and bumping this episode up or down in the schedule would have caused more pacing problems than it would have solved. For instance, while postponing this episode, until after Jesus and Carl’s Excellent Adventure, would have been more immediately satisfying, doing so would have made 'Swear' the lead-in to the midseason finale, which is not ideal. And forget leaving this episode until after the midseason break. By then, it would be almost a year since we last saw Heath and Tara, in which case, you might as well not bring them back at all.

The earliest ‘Swear’ could have aired this season is maybe third- right after ‘The Well.’ But, this would have pushed current episode three, the Daryl-centric ‘The Cell,’ back a week, meaning we would've had to wait two whole episodes after the premiere, to see how a member of the main group dealt with the aftermath of Glenn and Abraham’s deaths. The one benefit of this hypothetical schedule, is that we would have had five straight episodes of Savior-storyline goodness, starting with 'The Cell,' and ending with the midseason finale. In reality, though, this never would have worked. Airing such a weak episode so early on in the season could have been disastrous, especially since The Walking Dead still finds itself in a rather precarious ratings situation, despite its all-time viewed seventh season premiere.

So, if it couldn't have been moved forward, and it couldn't have been pushed back, that means the writers made the best possible scheduling decision, right? Well, not necessarily. I think the shrewd decision might have been to switch ‘Swear’ with last week’s Hilltop episode, the fifth of the season. It would have delayed Maggie’s first post-premiere appearance another week, but considering episode four (two weeks ago) tried to “trick” us into thinking Maggie died, an extra week of filler could have squeezed out a bit more suspense, before inevitably revealing that she’s alive and well. Even this isn’t the perfect solution, though. Having to wait four weeks to find out how Maggie’s dealing with the death of her husband is just too long of a wait for such important character development.

As for the actual episode? It’s…not great. Probably the worst of the season. Tara just isn’t a compelling enough character to carry an episode on her own, and it shows in nearly every non-action scene she’s in. But hey, look at how quirky and awkward she is. That’s cool…right? Heath’s contributions are predictably just as marginal, and the fact that Corey Hawkins is slated to star in the new 24 reboot, doesn’t bode well for the character’s long term viability. We do get a nice bit of world building this week, and the Oceanside community does have a pretty interesting culture and origin story, at least relative to some of the other groups we’ve come across. I don’t think this is the last we’ve seen of the Oceanside women, but if it is, they were a pretty satisfying group of one-off antagonists, with an original backstory, and just enough bite to back up their bark. Although, the fact that they were bested by Tara is mildly disappointing.
 
(Photo Credit: AMC)

With just two weeks to go until the midseason finale, The Walking Dead enters the homestretch of season 7A with a half-hearted filler episode that ignores most of the recent central plot development, to focus on a pair of characters that haven’t been heard from (or missed) since the latter third of season six. It’s not incredibly uncharacteristic of The Walking Dead to see its season fizzle out after a strong start, but ‘Swear’ is an unusually poor example of filler, even by TWD standards. It's barely relevant to the season’s overall plot, and fails to tell a particularly interesting self-contained story. In television, each episode is precious. There are only so many hours in a season, in a series, to tell meaningful stories that tie together into overarching narratives. I can’t help but wonder that if Tara had just been killed off in season six, instead of sent offscreen for half a season, maybe this episode could have been used to explore other, more crucial plot points that are currently dangling in the wind, waiting for resolution.

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