If you’d told me that The Walking Dead made a slightly extended episode devoted to Tara and Heath, chances are I’d fall asleep before you explained why it’s a good idea. I’d completely forgotten these two were out on a scavenging run and can’t say I’d be all torn up if they turned that two-week trek into a permanent vacation.
At least Tara continues to be one of the more entertaining (and next to Eugene and Gabe, one of the most awkward) survivors. There’s also the rather significant discovery of the Oceanside Cabin Motor Court, a campground that’s overflowing with pistol-packin’ mamas and home to one very maladjusted young lady. They’ve got exactly what A-town, Hilltop, and the Kingdom need: guns and a grudge against the Saviors.
It’s been so long since we’ve seen Tara and Heath that it’s easy to forget they don’t even know Negan’s bloody reign has begun. That’s made clear as Tara examines her pistol and the Lucille insignia on the grip. She also has no idea that her girlfriend, Doctor Denise, has taken a crossbow bolt to the face. As we flashback to a time before Tara washed up on the shore, it’s painful to hear Heath reflect on the massacre at the satellite station and whine about how little they’ve scavenged. He has no idea that their offensive against the Saviors has cost them so much more than conflicted feelings, or that anything they bring back — even those rusty cans of okra — are for Negan now.
One last attempt to find supplies ends with some good old-fashioned zombie mayhem, which has been rather scarce this season. (Remember when walkers were the scariest threats on this show?) Tara triggers a landslide and unearths a pack of dirt zombies, including one adorable chap who vomits a mouthful of sand. As Heath and Tara are separated, he seems to save himself and leave his pal behind to die. It’s an apparently fitting development, given his statement in the RV that “nobody’s in this together. Not anymore.” By the end, though, we see that Heath was still trying to save Tara when she toppled off the bridge. Good-guy status, confirmed.
So Tara ends up washed up on the shore and nearly decapitated by Rachel, a precocious kid from Oceanside with a potty mouth, a no-snitching policy, and an itch to make her first human kill. Lucky for Tara, the girl’s babysitter is Cindy, the sweetest sniper this side of the Potomac. What Tara finds as she follows Cindy into the woods is sort of a Wonder Woman scenario: an all-woman encampment that’s almost idyllic, until they bust open their sizable armory and start blasting in Tara’s direction. Cue one of Tara’s many awkward moments as she promises to just leave quietly. None of the Oceansiders says a word or moves an inch. “Okay, this is cool, too,” Tara blurts out. “We can just keep doing this.”
Tara somehow survives picking the absolute worst fake backstory for herself, despite what I’d imagine is a hell of a lot of downtime to think of such things. (A fishing boat? Really?) Through some conversations at gunpoint, and later over stew, we learn that Oceanside uses a system of bells and an air horn to redirect the undead away from their camp. (Seems contrary to their whole “off-the-grid hideout in the woods” vibe, but okay.) What’s up with the complete lack of testosterone in this joint? Or as Tara puts it: “I never thought I’d be asking this, but where are all the men?” The story as told by Natania, the leader of Electric-less Ladyland, seems a little suspicious at first. They supposedly got into a scrap with another group and all their dudes were killed.
As that tale is untangled, one of the show’s classic themes surfaces: Is it better to withdraw from whatever’s left of society, or find strength in numbers? Tara insists the Oceansiders can’t hide forever; Natania isn’t so sure, but she agrees to let Tara find Heath and go back to her people if Beatrice, the woman whom Tara butt-ended, escorts her. Beatrice eventually hits Tara with a serious reality check — the Saviors lined up every male in their camp older than 10 and shot them in the head. That’s why the Oceansiders are so hardcore about their isolationism and their kill-all-strangers pledge.
Before Tara blows this fish-taco stand, she gives us two chuckle-worthy moments: an uncomfortable dap with Natania (“We’ll work on that,” Tara pledges) and the all-too-rare “middle-finger directed at a child” in response to Rachel hocking a loogie at her. It’s not quite clear why Tara decides to run away, given that the Alexandrians could certainly use some potential allies. But once again, Cindy somewhat inexplicably puts herself at risk to save Tara. She drops an NFL-worthy hit on Beatrice, leads Tara to the bridge, then lays down some expert cover fire for Tara’s escape through the zombie obstacle course. Cindy’s crack-shot skills should come in handy down the road.
With a bobblehead for her babe, a bracelet from her new pal, and some red-framed shades, Tara strolls back to A-town like a boss … until she sees teary-eyed Eugene. With Denise dead, Tara arrives at a crossroads. Rosita begs for intel on anyone or anything that will help them get even with Negan. Tara promised Cindy she wouldn’t tell anyone about Oceanside — surely just another lie to get by, right? But Tara knows what the Saviors have done to her people now. She knows their capacity for brutality. And so, Tara looks at Cindy’s bracelet and holds up her end of the deal: “I didn’t see anything like that.”
Unfortunately, all of this roiling tension is undercut by our knowledge of what’s to come. We know Oceanside will eventually be revealed and we know it will play some role in a unified Negan coup. It’s not taking very long on the show’s timeline, but from episode to episode, this feels less like a revolution and more like a 100-year war.