It may surprise you to know that, if you’ve been reading my reviews of this show up to now, I didn’t particularly like Swear at all. But why? It had plenty of Tara – and that’s true, ever since I’ve started these reviews I’ve been angling for Tara to have more airtime, and it’s silly she didn’t appear at all in Sing Me A Song in like the Rosita scenes there. But see, my problem with Swear is not with Tara, she was in her element, nervously and adorably talking her way out of trouble, that was fine and partly distracted me from the problems with the episode. My problem was with the situation she found herself in – and her being there at all.
Maybe she needed something to do. Maybe. But what is more important is that we just spent a whole episode on introducing yet another community that will inevitably band up against the Saviours and take them down – or get exterminated as an example. Or something tying in to the main plot. But we already have two satellite communities, Hilltop and the Kingdom, each with their own interesting political systems. There’s nothing Tara’s secret community currently offers to the plot that they don’t aside from being yet another backup and a reminder of what the Saviours do to those that cross them – which we already have a great idea of. It’s also been so long since the Kingdom episode that they seem like a distant memory – and yes, now we’re missing screentime for Carol and Morgan, whose arc this season seems to have disappeared into the ether. Swear was just one step too far in the Walking Dead’s current tour of travelling around all the separated characters and spending an entire episode on each of them, in all honesty the content itself was much the same as the previous lot. Had there only been three, that might have worked. Five, going on six, is just getting lethargic.
This community is typically suspicious, killing outsiders, but we’ve seen it all before and it feels cookie-cutter by this point, there’s no meaningful overarching theme to have them there – and if they ever are the cavalry in a battle against the Saviours then they won’t be much of a fulfilling one. And again, how will they interact with the Kingdom and the Hilltop? Why do we need more than two of these? Even the mystery of Heath’s disappearance isn’t of much interest when it had been so long since he’d been on screen that he looked completely different from his last appearance (i.e. no more wondering if he was a girl).
Sing Me A Song is a step in the right direction, if only because Swear had no Jeffrey Dean Morgan and to make up for that, we get a whole episode of Negan swaggering about and making himself all chummy with Carl, although you get the feeling that he’s only letting Carl live because he’s the protagonist’s kid. Why would Rick and Carl be so special to him that he’d go through extra effort to torture them? He’s already beaten Rick, it feels to me that any real tyrant in Negan’s position would have just killed Carl by now as an example – he’s almost an adult and ‘he’s just a kid’ talk doesn’t really fly based on what we know of Negan. But his affable swaggering was very watchable and the things he’s putting Carl and the others through make him seem more rounded, even as he explains why he’s a tyrant and why he gets to have all the women and they cannot cheat on him (particularly note how reasonable he makes himself appear to be, when he couldn’t be any less reasonable) – and then him finding Judith was pretty excellent tension at the end.
It also had so many more plots, which is good, as hopefully they’ll be picked up on in the next episode with more plots and The Walking Dead will learn how to properly Game Of Thrones and tell multiple stories per week. It does come at the cost of lengthening the episode which, if that becomes a regular occurrence will seem odd, and many of the plots went weird directions, for example, Father Gabriel laying a smackdown to Spencer with the ‘tremendous shit’ line, but then he disappears from the rest of the episode, which is less good. Jesus has magical vanishing powers too, he manages to get on top of a Saviour van at the end after having been absent since the beginning of the episode. And who knows what Michonne’s plan is. It’s probably the same foolhardy thing that Carl tried, but at least she has more of a plan about it than walking into the Saviour’s camp with a machine gun. A little bit more of a plan. Not much. Rick&Aaron and Daryl also had plots that are left hanging after this episode. At least they’re not spending an episode on each plot, but they really need to bring more characters together.
Rosita and Eugene’s plot will probably be one of the more important in the long run, I do like the chemistry of the two together, as the hot girl and the nerd who’d probably never be a regular pairing on other shows, but we’re still on the bullet-making stage and I want it to get to the bullet-firing stage as fast as possible. That seems like something that should be applied to the whole show. So we can have more bullet-firing and wanton violence, because that’s what exciting in this show these days. The character stuff tried but it’s not doing anything new, the closest we have so far was the torture of Daryl and the plight of Dwight in episode 3, and that’s what is dragging it down at the moment, the lack of good character stories to tell.