“If it’s you or someone else, you choose you. You take what you can. You take out who you have to. And you get to keep going. Nobody’s in this together. Not any more.”
A truly interesting sidestep for The Walking Dead this week, as David Leslie Johnson’s clever script took one of Alexandria’s less interesting residents and put her into a situation the show’s not done before. Tara (for it was she) carried the whole episode with some aplomb as she found herself washed up on a beach next to a hidden community that was populated entirely by women.
The female-only community is a fairly common trope of post-apocalyptic drama, so I’m only surprised it’s taken the show this long to get around to it. Refreshingly though, the script steered clear of the usual ideological reasons portrayed for such communities excluding men, which are usually a skewed criticism of feminist ideology. Instead, the secret tied in to the season’s overall narrative – there were no men because the Saviors had killed them all.
It was hard to tell exactly when this story fitted into the overall narrative. We haven’t seen Tara for a while, but truth to tell I hadn’t actually noticed. She’s hardly been the most charismatic of characters, and it even took me a while to recognise that she was the woman washed up on the beach in the pre-credit sequence. I’d assumed she had a plotline coming what with the death of her girlfriend, but at this point she doesn’t even know about that.
Neither, in fact, does she know that the raid on the Savior outpost at the satellite station was far from the end of the fanatical baddies. So I’m unsure if this is set much earlier than recent eps, or she and Heath simply haven’t been back since (which seems unlikely). I don’t recall, but they may have been sent off on a long-term scavenging expedition.
Either way, only those two fairly minor characters from the regular cast appeared, and Heath (the agreeable Corey Hawkins) was barely in it; in fact the ep ends with no answer as to whether he’s even alive. So it was down to Tara to be the audience identification point, as we were introduced to a whole new community’s worth of characters.
Given some meatier material than usual and an unprecedented central role in the story, Alanna Masterson made the character more interesting (and more fun) than usual, her snarks and hopeless attempts at subterfuge evoking more than a few laughs along with the drama. I mean, why pick a fishing boat as your lie if you know so little about them you think there’s a type called a “larder”? And yet that fit perfectly with the character being (re)established for Tara. She’s a hopeless liar.
She’s also one of the show’s trademark strong females (at least when the writers remember she exists). Last week, I bemoaned the fact that the Hilltop only seems to have two characters, both male; this week’s ep generously redressed the balance, with Heath and the briefly appearing Eugene the only males to be seen. Only about five of the women from the Oceanside community were shown in depth, but they were all interesting, and I hope we see more of them. And that’s still more actual characters than the Hilltop can muster after a couple of years on the show.
An interesting dynamic was set up from the first, the beach sequence with Rachel (Mimi Kirkland) and Cyndie (Sydney Park) neatly establishing the community’s rules – and the fact that not everybody agrees with them. On the face of it, killing every stranger you come across does seem a little extreme; but as the script gradually revealed what had happened to the men, and why the community was so well-hidden, it came to make sense. Desperate people will take desperate measures.
Deborah May made an imposing figure as community leader Natania, with able support from Brianna Venskus and Nicole Barre as her fierce, distrustful lieutenants. It came as no surprise that, with Tara having refused to stay, her escorts had been secretly tasked with knocking her off – it’s only consistent with what had already been established, and Natania evidently believes in the rules. No surprise either that it was teen rebel Cyndie who saved Tara. Or indeed that Tara kept the secret despite Rosita’s entreaties – she’s stronger than we thought.
Gore of the week
Not actually a gory episode in the usual sense, this did have a couple of very imaginative depictions of Walkers. The scenes set on the barricaded bridge, with dusty, desiccated Walkers rising from the piles of sand, were eerie and effective.
I suspect they may have been a tribute to some old zombie movie (Jess Franco’s Oasis of the Zombies perhaps?) but it’s not one I know.
A surprising ep then, for foregrounding one of the more minor characters and deliberately subverting the usual trope of the all-female post-apocalyptic community. Given some decent material for once, Alanna Masterson shone as Tara; let’s hope she doesn’t have to fade into the background again. And the women of Oceanside were all strong, interesting characters; I hope (actually I rather expect) that we’ll see more of them as the Savior arc continues.