Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Walking Dead Season 7, Episode 6: Swear

Oh, The Walking Dead. Why do you despise your loyal audience so?

This week the series goes completely off the rails and ignores the comic book, heading into new and uncharted waters (that was a joke, son). Instead of furthering the main plot (aka the Negan storyline), we get another episode featuring a minor character discovering yet another community of survivors hidden in the Virginia countryside.

And just to top it off, this was another extra-long episode! Why do these obscure characters always seem to get super-sized running times devoted to their uninteresting adventures? I honestly don't understand it.

I get that it's necessary to set up these new communities, as they'll no doubt play a big role in the "Negan War" storyline that's surely coming down the pike. But the show doesn't need to devote entire episodes to these colonies— especially when that forces the audience's attention away from the main characters and their plight for weeks at a time.

I've said it before and I'll say it again— this show needs to learn the art of cross-cutting. Give us a scene of Rick & Co. in Alexandria, then cut to Carol in The Kingdom, then to the Hilltop, then back to Alexandria. Lather, rinse, repeat. It's not rocket science, it's basic writing.

If you don't think these distracting side-stories are a problem, then try this little exercise. Imagine you're watching Star Wars: A New Hope for the first time. Luke, Han & Leia have just escaped from the Death Star, and are racing back to the Rebel Base on Yavin to mount an attack against the Empire. You absolutely can't wait to see what happens next. 

Then the movie ends. Three years later the next chapter comes out. But instead of continuing with Luke & friends, instead the film returns to Tattooine to see what the Sandpeople are up to. We'll spend two entire hours with them as we examine their settlement and really get to know their culture. Three years later there's another movie that focuses on the Jawas. Turns out the Stormtroopers didn't quite kill all of them, as a couple survived and make it back to their village. We'll get a good look at their little society, and find out what makes them tick. Then three years after all that, we'll finally get back to Luke & the Death Star.

See what I mean? The audience would tear up the theater if that had happened back in 1977.

Obviously the Oceanside people will return at some point, as it wouldn't make any sense to devote an entire episode to them for a one-shot appearance.

This episode finally gives us the long-awaited return of Corey Hawkins as Heath. Well, sort of, as he's in it for all of about five minutes. I have to say, I'm VERY disappointed in the show's treatment of Heath. He's been a major character in the comic for years now, so I was very excited to see him finally pop up in the Season 6 episode First Time Again.

And then he all but vanished from the series. He appeared in exactly four episodes during Season 6, and was last seen in Not Tomorrow Yet, which aired on March 6, 2016. What the hell, The Walking Dead? Why go to the trouble of introducing him if you're never going to do anything with him? At this point he's the most underdeveloped character on the show. Hell, we know more about freaking Spencer than we do Heath! I doubt if most fans even remember him or know who he is. Better to have left him out altogether than to ignore him like this.

And then he finally returns in this episode, only to immediately be written out of the show. Or maybe not, it's all deliberately vague. Fuck you, The Walking Dead!

I know why they left Heath's fate up in the air at the end of this episode. Actor Corey Hawkins was recently cast as the lead in Fox's new 24 reboot, which explains his prompt exit here. I'm betting Heath's fate is inextricably tied to 24: Legacy's ratings. If the new series is a hit, then it's bye-bye Heath.

For the past few weeks the internet has been lousy with articles on The Walking Dead's rapidly plummeting ratings. A couple seasons ago it was the highest rated show on cable, and often beat out regular network shows. This season viewership has plunged back down to Season 3 levels.

It's not hard to figure out why, AMC. You introduced an unpleasant new Big Bad, you killed off two fan-favorite characters in the most brutal way possible, and you completely neutered (figuratively, not literally, heh) another popular character. And then instead of focusing on the core cast, you keep insisting on taking these slow, languorous side trips, filled with characters we've either never seen before or who we forgot even existed.

And then you wonder why viewers are abandoning ship?


The Plot:
There's a bunch of flashback shenanigans in this episode, which makes it overly convoluted, so I'm going to ignore all that and recap the events in order.

Heath and Tara (remember them?) are sitting in an RV, still on their epic eight-month-long two week supply run. Unfortunately they haven't found anything of value, and Heath says it's time to head home. He also goes on about the Savior Satellite Outpost Massacre, and how he now understands one has to do whatever's necessary to survive. Tara says he's talking crazy, and they need to find ammo and supplies for the people back home.

Later they find a bridge that's blocked by cars at both ends. They climb over the cars and find a group of abandoned tents in the middle of the bridge, along with a huge mound of sand at one end. Tara pulls a backpack out of the sand pile, which causes the entire thing to collapse, releasing dozens of walkers from within (?).

They shoot and stab their way through the walkers, trying to make it back to the RV. Unfortunately Tara's surrounded and cut off from Heath. He tries to fight his way back to her, but she's overrun. She jumps off the bridge to save herself. Heath sees her fall, then runs to the RV and presumably high-tails it outta there.

Some time later, a young girl named Rachel finds Tara washed up on a beach. She tries to kill Tara, but an older girl named Cyndie stops her. The two argue, as Rachel says they're supposed to kill all outsiders on sight. Cyndie finally wins, and drags Tara out of the water and into the bushes.

Tara wakes up a bit later, and sees Cyndie's left her water and a homemade spear. She enters the woods and finds a bustling fishing community, filled with women doing laundry and tending gardens. Suddenly the women open their armory and start passing out weapons. Tara realizes she's been spotted and runs, as the women shoot at her.

Tara doubles back and hides behind a house. A woman (named Beatrice) comes around the corner and Tara disarms her and knocks her out. She's then surrounded by dozens of armed women. She tries to talk her way out of the situation, with no luck.

Cut to Tara chained to a pipe inside a house. Several women enter, and one introduces herself as Natania, the leader of the island community of Oceanside. They question Tara, who lies and says she's from Atlanta and has been traveling with a friend for two years, until they were attacked on the bridge and separated. She asks to be freed so she can find Heath.

Natania says normally they shoot all outsiders on sight, but they've let her live because she spared Beatrice when she could have killed her. Later one of the women leads Tara to Natania's house for dinner. Natania says Oceanside has an endless supply of fish and is fairly safe from walkers. Tara asks where all the men are in the community. Natania says they're all dead, killed by the Saviors. She wants Tara to stay in Oceanside, which would solve the problem of what to do with her.

Tara comes clean and says she has to find Heath and return to her girlfriend in Alexandria (aka Dr. Cloyd, who, unbeknownst to Tara, is dead). She says they're protected by walls, and they wiped out the Saviors in their Satellite Outpost (again, unbeknownst to her, there are many, MANY more Saviors out there). Natania says she'll send a guide with Tara back to Alexandria to check it out.

The next morning Beatrice and another woman take Tara into the woods. She realizes something's up, and they're planning to execute her. She takes off running and somehow loses them. She sees Beatrice walk by and attacks her. They roll around on the ground for a while, but Beatrice gets the upper hand. She tells Tara that the Saviors invaded their former home and killed every man over ten years old. The survivors were supposed to work for the Saviors, but they fled into the night with only the clothes on their backs and founded Oceanside, which they'll keep secret at any cost.

Beatrice is about to kill Tara when she's tacked by Cyndie. Tara escapes. Cyndie catches up to her and makes her swear (we have a title!) never to tell anyone about Oceanside. She agrees, and Cyndie escorts her back to the bridge. It's still filled with the dusty walkers, but with Cyndie's sharpshooting help, Tara makes it across.

Tara finds Heath's glasses lying broken in the road. She also spots the RV's tire tracks heading away from the bridge, along with a key card with "ppp" scrawled on it. These items may or may not indicate that Heath survived. Tara walks back to Alexandria., where she's met by Eugene. He tells her what happened to Dr. Cloyd. In the infirmary, Rosita asks Tara if she found anything on her supply run. She keeps her promise to Cyndie and says no.


• This is a pet peeve of mine, so your mileage may vary— I don't like it when time passes more slowly on a series than it does out here in the real world (see the first three or four seasons of LOST).

For example, Heath and Tara went on their supply run in Not Tomorrow Yet, which, as I mentioned earlier, first aired on March 6, 2016. We don't see them again until this episode, which aired November 27, 2016. That's almost nine months! Yet in this episode, Heath says they've only been gone for two weeks.

So in the fourteen short days that Heath and Tara have been gone: Rick & Co. killed the Saviors in the satellite station. Dwight killed Dr. Cloyd. Maggie began having complications with her pregnancy, and they tried to get her to the Hilltop. Everyone was captured by Negan and his Saviors. Negan killed Abraham and Glenn. Carol woke up in The Kingdom and met King Ezekiel. Daryl was taken to the Sanctuary, where Dwight began his program of psychological torture. Maggie made it to the Hilltop and decided to stay. Whew!

• Way back in Not Tomorrow Yet, Rick & Co. invaded the Savior's Satellite Outpost and wiped out everyone there. During this mission, Glenn and Heath entered a room full of slumbering Saviors. Glenn murdered one in his sleep, noting that it was the first time he'd ever killed a living person. Heath started to kill the other Savior in the room, but hesitated as he was visibly upset and conflicted. Glenn killed the Savior to spare Heath the pain of doing so.

It appears Heath is still affected by this incident, which happened just two weeks ago for him, but almost a goddamned year ago to us. Kudos to the writers, I guess, for remembering this little detail about a character that most people forgot was even on the show.
• There's an Oceanside community in the comic, that trades goods and services with Alexandria and the other "good" communities. So far they've only been mentioned in dialogue though, and we've never actually seen the place or met anyone from there.

• Welp, now we know why there's a boat linked to Alanna Masterson's (aka Tara) name in the opening credits.
• The Oceansiders give us yet another nickname for zombies— "bobbers." I guess because they find them floating in the water around their island?

• I'm very confused as to what happened on the bridge that Heath and Tara encountered. 

Both ends of it were blocked with cars, and the middle was filled with a few tents and a couple of campfires. It seemed like a relatively safe have for a small group of survivors. So far, so good.

But then there was a dump truck that had dropped a huge load of sand on one end of the bridge. Heath finds dozens of shell casings in the sand, and Tara somehow accidentally knocks the pile over (?) dislodging twenty or so dusty walkers. Huh?

As near as I can tell, a group or survivors blocked the bridge and camped there, which was a pretty good idea. Unfortunately a bunch of walkers somehow got onto the bridge anyway (?). The campers shot at the walkers, but apparently didn't know to aim for their heads. Then one of the campers must have used the dump truck to drop sand on the walkers, immobilizing them. And then with the walker threat gone, the campers all promptly abandoned the bridge.

See? It doesn't make any sense.

• The Oceansiders are so desperate to keep their little community a secret that they kill any and all intruders on sight. Yet somehow Tara stomps around their camp for a good ten
minutes, even walking past a couple of sentries, and no one notices. That's some pretty lax security on their part.

Tara seems a bit confused in this episode. She condemns the Oceansiders' "Kill All Humans On Sight" policy, even though they have a good reason for doing so. Yet she tells them the story of how Rick & Co. wiped out the Saviors' satellite station because they posed an imminent threat to Alexandria.

Um... those are both pretty much the same action/philosophy.

Beatrice tells Tara that the Oceansiders fled from the Saviors with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Yet they have a huge armory full of guns.

We know that Negan confiscates ALL weapons when he invades a settlement. Apparently the Oceansiders must have found a huge cache of guns after they ran from the Saviors, because they're pretty well armed now.

• Actress Deborah May plays Natania, the leader of the (nearly) all-female Oceanside community.

On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, May played Haneek, the leader of the Skrreean people, a matriarchal society who overrun the space station while seeking their fabled promised land.

A few years later on Star Trek: Voyager, May played Lyris, the leader of the nearly all-female planet of Taresia.

Apparently when you need someone to play the leader of an all-woman society, Deborah May's your go-to gal!

• When Tara is crossing the bridge again, she catches a glimpse of a walker with dreadlocks just like Heath's. She calls out to it, and sees it's actually a female zombie with a similar hairstyle.

I'm calling bullsh*t on this cheap fakeout. As we saw earlier, the ends of this bridge are completely blocked by cars. The only walkers on it were the ones trapped under the sand pile, and they're all covered in a thick coating of beige dust.

The dreadlock walker is relatively clean, with no dust on her. So how the hell'd she get on the bridge? Did she climb over the car barrier? I doubt it. The only reason she's impossibly plopped down in the middle of the bridge is to make the audience briefly mistake her for Heath. Bad form, writers!

There's some odd symbology in this episode that makes no sense, but will no doubt be made clear at some point in the future.

At the beginning of the episode, when Tara's lying on the beach, we see she has a series of Roman numerals tattooed on her wrist. The numbers we can see translate to 26, 13, 22 and 9.

I have no idea what these numbers could mean. Some fans have theorized the numbers correspond to biblical passages. I kind of doubt that, as Tara's never seemed overly religious. Besides, if that's what they are, why not just spell it out, like all the John 3:16 signs you see people holding up at sporting events?

At the end of the episode, Tara finds a key card with the letters "ppp" written on it. Presumably this card was deliberately dropped by Heath, as a message to her. She stares at the card for a few seconds, as if it means something to her.

I have no idea what this means either. No one on the show's ever said it, and it's not been established as a private joke or code between Heath and Tara. How could it be, since we haven't seen either one of them since March?

That vague Virginia geography strikes again! Last season Heath and Tara went on an extended supply run. In this episode Heath mentions they've been gone two weeks, and claims they've driven farther than anyone from Alexandria's ever gone.

They probably didn't drive in a straight line, as they likely zigzagged and wandered as they searched for supplies. Still, how far do you think they could have gone in two weeks? A hundred miles? Two hundred? More?

However far it was, Tara apparently walked that same distance back to Alexandria, armed with only a makeshift spear. She must know one hell of a shortcut!

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