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The Walking Dead: Alanna Masterson goes inside Tara's big episode

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SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have watched Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Swear.”

Where the hell are Tara and Heath? That’s been the question on the minds of every Walking Dead fan ever since we saw the duo drive off from the Saviors’ satellite station outpost last season for a supply run (which also conveniently allowed actors Alanna Masterson and Corey Hawkins time off to have a baby and film a new 24 reboot, respectively).

Well, we finally got our answer: After two weeks of unsuccessful scavenging, the pair got separated on a bridge, with Tara washing up ashore by the new hidden community of Oceanside. The women there tried to kill her, then tried to get her to join them, then tried to kill her again. But she made a friend/ally in Cindy, who helped her escape. That was the good news for Tara. The bad news was waiting for her back in Alexandria, where she learned of the deaths that had taken place in her absence, including the loss of her girlfriend, Denise. We spoke to Alanna Masterson to get her take on Tara’s big episode. (Click through both pages to read the entire interview.)

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Before we get into last night’s episode, we haven’t seen Tara for a while because you were off doing important things like, you know, having a baby, so you missed the big cliffhanger finale from last season as well as the premiere. What was it like experiencing that as part of the cast, but also being off when it all went down?

ALANNA MASTERSON: I knew what was happening in the script, and I was pretty bummed to not be a part of it. But just the timing of it and having my daughter, I had to miss the finale. But I didn’t know, obviously, how the first six episodes of the season were going to go, so when I found out that I wasn’t going to be in any of them, I was like, “Oh, where are Tara and Heath? Like, where did they go?” So I knew I was safe from Negan, but also to have to see two of my closest friends go was pretty rough.

So did you say your goodbyes to Steven and Michael when you left last year?

No, because I was in Georgia when they shot episode 1, and I went every night. After I put my kid to bed, I went every night and just stayed with them and was there while they were filming everything to show support for everyone and to be there for them. So I got to see them up until their last scenes, which was really nice.

What was it like coming back to the show, yet kind of coming back to a completely different show with completely different people at this new Oceanside community?

For me, it felt awesome and a really cool thing for Tara to experience, because when she came in, she came in without the group. She came in with just the Governor, and so it’s nice that this was on the flip side for her, and she’s introducing the audience to this new world of Oceanside.

This script is written by David Leslie Johnson, who isn’t one of our staff writers. He’s a freelancer, and he understood Tara so well and understood her humor, and her joy, and also her sincerity. So it was actually nice because it was a person that I was like, oh, how are they going to be able to write this script about Tara in Oceanside? And I thought they did a really good job. And Corey is such an incredible actor, and all of the new women were so wonderful to work with.

According to the crew, it was one of the hardest episodes they’ve shot in all seven seasons, because we were on that bridge for three days, and it was like the hottest it had been in Georgia, and there was no cover. There was no shade, and there was a lot of physical activity, and stunts, and everything those days. So the new people really stepped up and really did a great job.

You mentioned the new cast members, and except for the few scenes with Corey Hawkins, who plays Heath, and then the stuff at the very end, the majority of the episode is you working with all new people. What was the process like of getting to know all these new people?

Luckily, I make friends pretty easily. I’m very inclusive and very warm and open because that was how I was treated when I arrived. Everyone was very warm and very open to me. I had to show them the ropes a little bit and also show them how we work. It’s a very taxing show, and it’s very tiring, and if, at any point in that episode, if I had just given up, or been upset, or been annoyed, or didn’t push myself, I think that would’ve set the example for the new people that they didn’t have to work as hard. I think they really did an awesome job. They feel like the show, and they just fit right in.

How cold was that water in that scene at the beginning where you have washed up on shore?

The water was actually really nice. I mean, that day was a little tricky because I had to sit in that water from sunrise until about 4 p.m. because of the tide and having to wade out there and lie down. There were a bunch of other shots that you didn’t end up seeing, but I was in the water for a really, really long time, and in wet clothes. Being in wet jeans is, like, literally the worst thing ever, and on top of that, you couldn’t get back to the top of the shore because it was so muddy and slippery.

When you watch the episode, you see the little girl, Mimi, kind of slip. It was so slippery. The camera crew couldn’t even get out there. It was definitely crazy, but it was such a wonderful bonding experience for the crew and me because the show has never left Senoia, Georgia, really, and we got to go to the beach. We got to drive six hours and go to the beach and shoot all day. It was amazing. All the crew had their shoes off. It was actually really fun. But yeah, the water wasn’t too bad. It was just being in sandy, wet clothes all day that kind of sucked.

Tara makes this story up to the Oceansiders about being on a fishing boat, and then at the dinner scene she comes clean and there’s a real change in her and she drops the façade and tells them they need to work together. What does she see in these people and the way they are living and hiding in the woods?

For Tara, there’s a bigger picture here, and to be hiding in the woods and saying that you’re not going to let me leave because I could bring people back to you — I mean, it’s like, this is my life, and there are more people out there in the world, and if we start working together, we could actually beat these Saviors and beat these people. Because Tara doesn’t know that there’s something more [with the Saviors] . She thinks they got rid of them. But she knows that there’ll be more threats, and that things aren’t in this world as they should be.

So I think she just gets serious with them and is like, you have to snap out of it. This isn’t about you and your people in this little Oceanside. This is a world that we have to live together in, and with zombies as well. I don’t think she just means the Saviors. I think just in general she’s saying that they could work together to make the world a better place, or to make the world what it used to be like.

And I love that Tara’s kind of sussing them out. She tells them a fake story because she wants to see what type of people they are. She’s also a very good person, and she’s a very honest person. So it’s not like she was there to harm anyone, and I think that’s what she’s trying to get through to them. She just ended up there, and it wasn’t because she was searching for them. It just happened, and she has a lot to get back to and a lot to do for her group, and she can’t just be trapped out here in Oceanside.

NEXT: Masterson on Tara’s big promise and return to Alexandria[pagebreak]

Apparently I’m a huge dummy because I was sitting there thinking, Oh, this is cool. They’re actually going to take her to the bridge. I guess Tara figured it out quicker than I did that maybe that wasn’t their intent and that they weren’t actually taking her to the bridge. So what was it like for you to play that moment where she figures out that they’re taking her out into the woods to kill her?

Obviously with time in episodes and stuff, things get cut a little bit shorter, but there were a few other beats and a few other moments that really showed it with Tara putting it all together with the two of them, and that’s when she just decides to book it, and she’s like, I’m getting out of here no matter what. She gets to see the Oceansiders’ position and understand a little bit more why they’re so defensive and why they don’t let people in and all of this stuff. She’s grasping that these Saviors are really bad people, and there are more of them, and they did this to them, and I think she has a little bit more empathy for them and understanding why they are the way they are.

But she hesitates before she swears to Cindy that she will not tell their group about them. What is that hesitation all about?

I think that she genuinely doesn’t want to tell the group about Oceanside. I think that she wants to keep her agreement, and she wants to honor Cindy. But she also knows that there may come a time when they are needed. I don’t think she knows when or just how yet, but she hesitates a little bit because it’s kind of a crazy thing to say you’ll never tell anybody about this place. But I think genuinely in her heart, she doesn’t want to give it up.

She’s just thinking about whether she needs to leave one of those options open down the road, I guess.

Yeah, for sure. She doesn’t know that the Saviors came and took all of the guns. So she’s not thinking when she hesitates, like, oh, but I need those guns to kill the Saviors. She’s just in general thinking about either needing their help as an army or needing their arsenal, and she also doesn’t want to lie. You’ll see throughout the season what making that promise does to her.

You mentioned filming on that bridge during the hottest week of the summer. Tell me about shooting those scenes on the bridge with those sand walkers. I may never look at a beach the same again.

I read the scripts and was like, oh, cool, walkers. Like, I’m pretty used to it by now. And then I get to set, and I see these walkers, and I just can’t believe that each time they come up with something cooler… They were so amazing. You know, they were buried in the sand — buried in the sand breathing out of straws. So they got in take after take after take and didn’t give up. And again, we couldn’t have made this episode if people hadn’t given 110 percent, because the conditions were just so hard, and something like that, like being buried beneath sand? The worst.

I mean, it was an amazing episode — even the people that built the giant bridge that I fall off of, they built a fake version of the bridge with a pad 10 feet below to make it all look real. There was a girl walker who flew over with me. She was so sweet and amazing. I felt really proud of myself as an actor, but also as a new mom. It was just a really remarkable episode to shoot, and it really brought me and the crew super close together.

You have that scene at the end where Tara walks up to the gates of Alexandria. She’s got her goofy sunglasses on and is smiling and all happy to get back and see Denise, and then she is met by Eugene at the gate. He’s crying. Were you playing that as if it takes you a beat, and then you know exactly what that means?

At this point, she knows Eugene so well that she doesn’t really have to ask to know what’s going on. And she’s so excited to get back. She’s finally gotten back, and she’s so excited to see Eugene, and she just sees it from a mile away. That’s why she pulls the sunglasses off, because she just can’t believe it and can’t understand. And I actually like the way that it was written, how [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] did it. Instead of the audience having to relive Denise’s death, and Glenn’s death, and Abraham’s death through dialogue with someone explaining to me, I like that there’s no explanation, and I like that it was just a crushing moment, but just with a look.

What will Denise’s death do to Tara? She made this promise to the Oceansiders, but she also didn’t know what had happened to her girlfriend when she made it.

Tara is obviously super devastated, but I think that Denise, of all people, would’ve told her to protect the innocent. I really believe that Denise would’ve said, “Do the right thing.” So I think that she’s channeling Denise — and even Glenn, really. I’m not just going to give up these innocent people, and their home, and their guns, because as far as she knows, they don’t quite need them. Obviously, what’s happening with the Saviors is horrible, and they do need guns, but I think she is hoping that they’ll find some other ones so that she doesn’t have to give up this group.

For more Walking Dead intel, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.