This was posted on Sunday, November 27, 2016 by Rodney Ho on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Life sure sucks on "The Walking Dead" without texting or social media. How can one keep up?
The Facebook feeds for Tara and Heath would have been mighty packed with news during their two-week trip to find supplies right after the Savior outpost killings. Obviously, they wouldn't have kept foraging if they had known what was going on. They missed more plot than I can summarize in a graph.
Highlights: They didn't catch the news the outpost attack didn't destroy all the Saviors. It just emboldened them. Tara missed her lover Denise's death. They have no idea Carol left, almost died and was saved by Morgan and the Kingdom. They are clueless that the Saviors ended up capturing 11 key members of Rick's crew and leader Negan offed both Abraham and Glenn. They don't realize that a guilt-ridden Daryl is now imprisoned by the Saviors. They have no knowledge Alexandria is now under the thumb of the Saviors, that Maggie and Sasha are at the Hilltop, that Carl is hidden in a Savior truck with Jesus hoping to gain intel on Negan's location and possibly take him down.
They have been absent for a whopping nine episodes: four at the end of season six and five from the start of season seven. The actors playing Tara and Heath have been busy away from "The Walking Dead."
Alanna Masterson (Tara) had a baby just around the time season six wrapped a year ago. Tara goes back to season four, helping save the Governor, eventually joining Woodbury but switching over to Rick's group after the Governor dies. While never a focal character, she incorporated herself well into his crew.
Corey Hawkins (Heath) has been a significantly lesser character on the show, a nearly background Alexandria character who was there before Rick's crew arrived. This is only his fifth episode. The actor, who played Dre in "Straight Outta Compton," is now starring in "24: Legacy" on Fox, which is set to debut in February and is coincidentally shot in Atlanta. I believe he shot this "Walking Dead" episode before "24: Legacy"' began production.
The fact Hawkins is on that other show doesn't bode well for Heath's future on "The Walking Dead." Yet (surprise, surprise!) he appears to have survived the episode although it's not 100 percent clear.
Let's go through this episode with a series of questions.
What have Heath and Tara been up to over these two weeks?
They've been scavenging in an RV with very little to show for it. As Heath forlornly noted after the credits, all they had found were eight rusted cans of okra and a bottle of aspirin. He's understandably discouraged, feeling like the entire area around Alexandria has been plucked clean. Tara is trying to be upbeat, noting that there is always something hidden somewhere. Heath, whose character has not been given much to do up to this point, is reeling from what has happened at Alexandria since Rick arrived. He didn't feel good about the savage outpost killings, didn't necessarily agree that was the best move. He realizes the world has become more "every man for himself," that everyone who survives has to make serious moral compromises to do so.
What's up with that bridge?
Heath and Tara come upon a bridge that is blocked off. A bridge seems like a terrible place to create a home. It's open with only two escape routes. Interlopers probably come along all the time. The survivors at some point did use trucks to create a blockade and there is a big sand pile on the other end. At first, Heath and Tara think nobody is around. They sift through the huge pile of sand that appears to be a bulwark against walkers. It looks harmless enough. But Tara pulls at something she thinks is valuable and her disruption causes the sand to fall and exposes dozens of... walkers. They're very ashy walkers and a bit slow off the mark but still potentially deadly. As they kill off a few, they get separated. We learn later in the hour that she gets knocked over the bridge by a couple of walkers while he scurries away, unable to help her. Tara, when she later returns, thinks he got away in a car.
Okay, what is happening with Tara? Is that opening scene a flashback or flashforward or a hallucination?
The producers deliberately mess with the viewers by showing a beach in the opening scene. What is this? "Fear the Walking Dead"? It's actually Jekyll Island pretending to be some Virginia beach, y'all! Here's a photo from myajc.com that may look familiar given the distinctive trees:
Rachel, the young girl with the killer eye, is about to lance Tara, who is unconscious on the beach. But Cindy, an older woman who looks like she's maybe 18 or 19, stops her. She finds it unnecessary to kill Tara and saves her for the first time. Later, she leaves Tara water and a fish. Tara pretends to be asleep and then awakes to follow Cindy to their camp.
Tara does a poor job hiding her presence and the women and children chase her with guns. Fortunately for Tara, they are terrible shots because they miss her despite some very close calls. At one point, Tara hits a woman named Beatrice and grabs her gun but doesn't kill her. Moments later, Rachel stops her and is about to kill her again but Cindy saves Tara a second time.
Natania, the leader of the group, chooses to follow Cindy's lead and not shoot her on sight especially as Tara did the most awkward Lena Dunham-style "um... nothing to see here" dance.
So what's up with this new society Oceanside?
Natania explains to Tara that they normally shoot any stranger who shows up, no questions asked. Tara was very very fortunate. The group is trying to stay incognito because they had run away from what we later learn to be the Saviors. When they tried to fight them, the Saviors killed all their men. They escaped and for now, the Saviors don't know where they are. This hidden alcove has plenty of access to fish and fresh water, enabling the women to sustain themselves. (It helps they have plenty of arms.)
What are Tara's options?
Natania says the only way Tara can survive now is to stay with them. She says Tara appears to be a fighter and a good person to boot. But having Tara leave would be risky. Tara at first lies about her background, saying she and Heath were on a fishing boat. When Beatrice asks if it was a "larder," Tara says yes. A "larder" is not a boat but a place to store meat so Natania knows she is not being truthful. ("Isn't there a boat called a larder?" Tara later asks comically. "There isn't," Natania says.)
Tara eventually explains that they have a group that just took down another group at a satellite station and that she has a girlfriend to go back to. (Sniff.) They could work together, she says. "If you see everyone as enemies," Tara reasons, "sooner or later you'll need a friend."
Natania shockingly says she will allow Tara to go with a couple of "guides" to see if something could be worked out.
Why did Natania trust Tara?
Natania clearly likes Tara. Who doesn't? She has Tara accompanied (without restraints) by two of her best women. She probably figures nothing bad will happen, right?
After a mildly awkward farewell and a middle finger to Rachel, Tara walks toward the bridge to find Heath with the two guides. She then decides to make a run for it. Yet again, the guides shoot at her and miss. Eventually, Beatrice catches up to her, gun drawn, and tells her that she knows about the Saviors and that they are far more dangerous than Tara thinks.
"You have no idea what you started," Beatrice says. "You didn't stop them. You can't stop them. That was not just an outpost. There are more! If they know your friends, it's too late for them."
Beatrice has good reason to shoot Tara but instead over explains: "We don't want you to lead them back to us."
This yapping gives Cindy enough time magically appears and save Tara - get this - a third time!
Cindy lets Tara go after she promises not to say anything about their society to anybody. In fact, Cindy joins Tara to the bridge and helps her escape. That's when Tara realizes Heath probably got away by vehicle.
Will Tara keep her word? Will we ever see that group ever again?
Tara stops by a gift shop and finds a doctor bobblehead for Denise and grabs some cheap sunglasses. She arrives at Alexandria is good spirits. But Eugene tells her all the bad news.
One scene later, Rosita asks her if she found anything that could help them to fight back. A saddened Tara keeps her word. She saw nothing, nothing at all.
The hope for the sake of that all-female group is that we never ever see them again. But why would the producers waste an hour showing Oceanside without plans to return to it. No doubt Tara will at some point reveal Oceanside in preparation for war against the Saviors.
Was this episode worth it?
This hour essentially rides on Tara's fundamental likability. She is a well-meaning person in a lousy post-apocalyptic land. So on that alone, the hour kept my attention and provided enough interesting twists to make it worthwhile.
But for fans of the core crew, "The Walking Dead" is seriously testing their patience. No single actor has had speaking roles in more than four of the six first episodes. Rick, Michonne, Daryl and Carl have been in three. Carol and Morgan? Just one. Ditto with Gabriel (though nobody is complaining on that front.)
The producers have now shown us five different locales in six episodes: Alexandria, the Kingdom, the Saviors, the Hilltop and this all-female crew at Oceanside.
It's clear Alexandria is not going to sustain status Savior dominance quo for long. And the ramifications of what happened episode one will continue to resonate. But how?