Dead Inside: “Swear” Recap

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This week’s episode of the Walking Dead, “Swear”, was an improvement over the prior week’s episode, which did very little to move the story forward. Yet, the season thus far has still been all about a set up for what is yet to come: translation, I have yet to feel that “I can’t wait for the next episode to see what happens” feeling.

What made “Swear” interesting for me is that the episode has taken a detour completely away from the comic. Aside from a small role for Heath in the beginning and a small appearance by Eugene and Rosita at the end, not one of the characters have their origin in the comic. Further, the new community, dubbed “Oceanside” does not exist in the comic either. (Although there is a seaside fishing community in the comic, it has no leader and plays no part in the war with the Saviors and is barely featured.)

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In this episode, Tara and Heath are scavenging after the attack on the satellite station. They have no idea that the Saviors are still very much a power and do not know the fate of Denise, Abraham, or Glenn. Frustrated that their scavenging has yielded nothing, they engage in a debate which serves as the motif for the show and the season: what does one “have to” do in order to survive in the post zombie apocalypse?

Tara and Heath find a bridge that is blocked off at the ends and looks like a prior settlement and are separated from each other when they are attacked by walkers and Tara falls off the bridge. Tara washes up on a nearby beach to be discovered by a young girl Rachel and an older girl Cindy. Rachel wants to kill Tara because that is the “rule”, but Cindy pulls her out of the surf and gives her food, water and a spear, and leaves her, apparently still unconscious, to fend for herself.

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Tara, unobserved, follows Cindy back to her settlement and sees what has all the trappings of a convent: there are only women, the leader uses a “clicker” to issue commands, and there are bells ringing in the background (to distract the dead.) The group is even led by a strict older lady, who could pass for the stern nun stereotype, named Natania.

They discover Tara spying on them and run to their well-stocked gun stash and attempt to shoot her. Thankfully, their aim is on par with the Storm Troopers in Star Wars. Tara is almost killed by young Rachel, but Cindy, again saves her.

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Tara learns that this group was part of a settlement that attempted to fight the Saviors and lost. As punishment for their uprising, the Saviors killed all the men and boys in their community. Rather than continue to “earn” for the Saviors, the women left to form a secret community close to the shore and luckily found an abandoned military like camp fully stocked with weapons.

Natania explains that because their survival depends on remaining hidden, they “have to” kill all strangers. Tara reveals that she is a horrible liar and ends up telling the whole truth about Alexandria and the attack on the satellite station. For some reason, Natania decides she will let Tara go as long as she promises to keep the secret and never return. It seems odd, when your survival depends on secrecy to place your trust in Tara, who is not only a bad liar, but who also so readily divulged everything about her own community.

Two of the “soldiers” from the Oceanside community are going to guide Tara to find Heath and take her back to Alexandria to access its safety. Tara decides to attempt to escape (perhaps she thought they were taking her out to kill her?) Tara reveals she is as good a runner as she is a liar. She is caught and almost killed, but once again she is saved by Cindy.

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Cindy echoes Heath’s earlier claim that people do not “have to” kill; that people are not evil, they have just forgotten their humanity. Tara dismisses this, claiming that evil exists. However, after making Tara “swear” to keep the Oceanside community location a secret, Cindy agrees to take Tara back to the bridge where she lost Heath. (Could the bridge be a symbol? A bridge between the concepts of “have to” and “choice”? A possible path to maintaining humanity, yet still surviving?)

Cindy reveals that she is a crack shot and helps Tara cross the walker-infested bridge. (Cindy is likely to take the place of Andrea, who is alive and well in the comic and plays a key role in the story as a sharpshooter.)

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Tara makes it back to Alexandria and learns the fate of Abraham, Glenn and Denise. Rosita says that they “have to” retaliate, they “have to” fight, and asks Tara if she found any weapons. Tara (for now) keeps her promise to Cindy and keeps Oceanside a secret, revealing that her character has grown from feeling bound to “having to” resort to violence to survive.

Overall, the episode was complete in itself and contained a mini-arc of Tara’s growth in character. Not horrible, but not great. The episode also solved a looming problem not present in the comic: with all of Alexandria’s guns taken, how will the communities be able to fight and defeat the Saviors? Now we know that somehow the Alexandrians will convince Natania to join them. But based on the set-up thus far, why would they? The Hilltop apparently only has one fighter – Jesus; the Kingdom has a tiger and Medieval Times, wannabes, and Alexandria has no guns. There is nothing in it for Oceanside. In an attempt to build more suspense, this season’s writers made the conflict too lopsided, too hopeless and, consequently, too boring.

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The comic built more tension and excitement by not having Negan completely strip Alexandria of its weapons. In the comic, Negan and Rick knew that the Saviors were more powerful than Alexandria. Negan did not need to take Alexandria’s weapons to force their submission. It is only when Rick is able to combine the Kingdom, Hilltop and Alexandria, that the opposing forces become equal and the Saviors, while still a threat, are vulnerable to defeat.

That said, there are still two episodes left before the mid-season break and hopefully all the “set up” of the last 6 episodes will amount to some form of payoff in episode 8.

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