I genuinely forgot all about Tara. There was a moment during Negan’s pit stop in Alexandria when I wondered about her whereabouts, but just as quickly forgot I even asked the question. Yes, we tend to tune in for our favorite characters and tune out for the others, and clearly for me, Tara has become part of the latter. Considering how much we feel for her, it goes to show how much she’s been impacting the overall story as of late: not much at all.
Not even the characters themselves care to mention her much, mainly because they have bigger problems.
We last saw Tara before the season 7 premiere, when she invited Denise to come with her on a two-week run. Tonight, we find out what she’s been up to in her very own extended (yes, this one was 70 minutes) episode, like it or not.
We first find her passed out on an unknown shore as the soft waves lazily drift by. A woman and a young girl are on the beach, running up to walkers they find so the girl can take care of them with her wooden spear. She walks over to Tara, thinking she’s another one, but the woman shouts “She’s not a bobber.” The girl says “We still gotta do it,” but is persuaded not to, even though it seems like the law of the land. At the same time, the girl won’t help her keep Tara alive, and she leaves the woman to pull Tara’s still-breathing body away from the water.
A flashback sees Tara sitting in a trailer and sharing a snack with Heath (Corey Hawkins, for those who need a refresher). They’ve been on the road past the two-week mark and have gone farther than originally planned, with nothing to show for it. They barely have enough gas for the return trip. Heath starts back on his old fears about how Rick’s group has always been about themselves and doing things for themselves instead of for the benefit of Alexandria, though Tara calls it all “total bulls—t.” According to her, they do what they do — like what they did to the Saviors at the satellite station — to stay alive. Changing the subject, Heath says they can push towards the shore but have to go back after that, even if all they find are rusty cans.
When the flashback breaks, we get a glimpse inside yet another new community. We find out later the woman who saved Tara is named Cyndie, and she’s now lying on a bed and scanning a map. She looks up at the clock on the wall before going back to the shore to tend to Tara. Cyndie places two water bottles, something wrapped in cloth, and a spear on the sand beside Tara’s seemingly unconscious body, lying under the shade of an uprooted tree. She walks away, and Tara quickly opens her eyes to see if the coast is clear before taking a swig of water. Cyndie is still seen off in the distance, but Tara slowly snatches the cloth package and finds an uncooked fish.
NEXT: Enter The Green Place
Tara follows Cyndie through the woods back to her community, a collective of cabins draped in vines, leaves, and moss, and heavily camouflaged by a thick sea of trees and bamboo stalks. As Tara ducks under bushes and behind trucks, she sees only women: Two adults chatting as they carry laundry into a house, a lookout with a rifle perched on a wooden treetop fort, a group of girls gleefully chasing each other out of a cabin. There’s a gathering over picnic tables situated near a garden. It’s like this world’s version of The Green Place from Mad Max: Fury Road: A collective of women living and supporting each other in a post-apocalyptic setting — only this one is actually green.
A clicking sound signals danger and snaps the women into action. Many hurry the children inside as more still head to the armory to grab guns. A few shots fired in Tara’s direction confirm she’s the threat; she sprints through the woods back in the direction from where she came, but she’s closely followed. She hides behind one of the cabins and easily gets the drop on her pursuer, a short-haired woman who rabidly commands Tara to kill her as she is stripped of her rifle. Instead, Tara cold-cocks her with the handle and flees, only to be blocked by the little girl from the shore who’s now brandishing a handgun.
Cyndie throws herself between them and shouts for the girl to stop, but by then the other community militia have surrounded them. An older woman runs forth and screams at Cyndie to get away from Tara, despite pleas she hasn’t done anything wrong. Tara tries to break the tension with a few jokes and explain she didn’t mean to wander in uninvited, but she’s taken as a prisoner anyway.
Another flashback reveals Tara and Heath discovered a bridge. Both sides are barricaded off by large, metal crates that hide the abandoned tents and cars stuck between them. They explore the area, but the dead plants suggest nobody has been there for quite some time. In any case, it all turns out to be a trap. They see two crashed dump trucks in the background, each of their displaced sand deliveries converging to form a giant mound. Tara tries pulling out a large bag stuck within, but Heath tries to warn her when he notices a litter of bullets covering the cement. She pulls the bag loose, which causes the sand to shift and release the snarling walkers underneath. In the ensuing struggle, a walker pins down Tara as Heath looks on before running away behind a hanging tarp.
Back at this new community, Tara sits handcuffed to a radiator as three women discuss their next steps in another room. A hanging picture above her head features a layout of what the community used to look like, with the caption “Oceanside Cabin Motor Court, Virginia.” The voices are debating with each other, saying “We just need to hear her out” and “We made that decision a long time ago,” before the three women emerge. Natania is Cindy’s grandmother the community’s matriarch of sorts; Beatrice is the woman Tara cold-cocked with the rifle; and the third face belongs to a woman named Kathy.
NEXT: Thanksgiving in the time of zombies
Their exchange reveals a bit about how the community operates: The residents rely mostly on the natural cover of the woods, but they have bells and louder air horns strewn throughout the area to distract any stray walkers who may be drawn to noise. The women ask Tara where she came from, but she makes up some story about living in Atlanta before the breakout and being on the move ever since, noting how she and a “friend” have been together for the past year or so. The women are clearly skeptical, especially when Tara says she worked on a “larder” boat. She mixes in some truth and says she got separated from her friend when they were attacked on a bridge and subsequently fell into the water, which carried her down to the beach.
Tara wants to go back and look for her friend, but Natania isn’t quite sure they’ll let her go. As she explains, their community’s survival is partly ensured by their secrecy. No one has found them yet, and they have a policy to shoot any strangers they encounter on sight. But because Tara spared Beatrice’s life in the skirmish, she’s willing to talk things through. Later, after Tara has rested, Kathy fetches her and walks her to another cabin in handcuffs where the same women, plus Cyndie, are setting a dinner table.
Natania, Kathy, Beatrice, and Cyndie are preparing stew, saying fish is their main source of food because of the community’s beachside locale. Tara thanks Cyndie for saving her life, and Cyndie notes that although it’s not their community’s way (to save a life), her mother would’ve approved. She’s been trying to teach these ideals to Rachel, the little girl who pointed a gun at Tara and nearly speared her on the beach; she reluctantly admits she’s “a really good shot.”
As they all sit down to eat, they note Tara’s ravenous hunger and try to use their abundance of food to try and convince her to live with them. It’s a plausible solution to their fears of letting a stranger leave the community knowing its location. They even offer a place for Tara’s friend once they find him, which sparks the cryptic explanation for why Tara hasn’t seen any men around. The short answer is they had a “skirmish” with another group (which you can already guess is probably the Saviors) that left all the men and a few others dead, including Cyndie’s brother and mother. After that, they left their home and found this new community among the trees, but the remaining trauma led to their harsh but (in their minds) necessary view of strangers.
Natania then presses Tara for where she really comes from, noting a larder is a room used to store meat and not a boat she says she worked on. She fesses up and says she comes from a community where there’s a girlfriend waiting for her (sad), explaining how her people killed all these others at a satellite station who felt they needed to bully and torment others (even sadder). Tara then proposes their two communities work together, but Natania is initially opposed to any mingling. In the end, she agrees to send an escort with Tara to look for her friend and check out Alexandria to see if it’s as safe as she says. Cyndie wants to go, but her grandmother refuses.
NEXT: An agreement turns sour
The next day, Tara departs for Alexandria with Beatrice and Kathy, while Natania mentions Cyndie is off skulking in a cabin (obviously not). On her way out, Rachel spits at Tara’s feet, but she throws her off by mentioning Rachel’s name and flipping her the bird. The group is passing underneath a bell hanging from a tree branch when Tara apologizes to Beatrice for knocking her down and asks Kathy how much longer they have until the bridge. Her questions turn out to be ploys to judge when she should escape. She finds her moment when she sees a walker entangled in branches and offers to go strike it down. Instead, she bolts and the women respond with bullets and give chase.
In her scurry, Tara rolls down a drop in the land and hides there as Kathy passes by. Seeing Beatrice, Tara climbs out and tackles her. They wrestle as each tries to get ahold of their knives and stab the other, but when Tara finally gains her footing, Beatrice is holding her rifle.
Tara asks why they can’t just let her go, and Beatrice reveals the full story behind the community. She confirms the Saviors were the other group they encountered and notes the satellite station Tara spoke of was one of the Saviors’ many outposts. She then warns Tara it’s already too late for her people before explaining that during their group’s encounter with the Saviors, all men and boys over the age of 10 were lined up and executed. When they tried to fight back, some of the women (including Cyndie’s mother) were killed. The community was supposed to keep working for the Saviors, but they fled in the middle of the night and found the Oceanside cabins. Beatrice prepares to fire, saying she can’t risk Tara somehow exposing their location to the Saviors… But Cyndie explodes from the trees, knocks her down, and shouts for Tara to run.
Cyndie eventually catches up to Tara and wants her to promise never to reveal their community to anyone, including her own people. She recalls all the evil Tara says her people have done, but argues they didn’t have to do what they did. “Nobody’s evil,” she says. “They just decide to forget who they are.” Tara says “Some people are evil,” which is the reason she needs to return home. But she does swear to keep the secret, so Cyndie gives her a spear and a backpack of food and water.
Cyndie leads Tara back to the bridge and promises to stay with her until she’s safely across. In a different world — or if Tara knew about Denise’s fate — these women could’ve become a romantic item, but instead Tara settles for some light, flirty banter and a fist bump before walking onto the bridge. They sneak up on a walker, but when another jumps out from a parked car, Cyndie’s screams lure the rest of the herd from behind a dangling tarp. Now jumping from car to car, Cyndie lays down cover fire while Tara slashes her way to safety. On the other side, she sees the remains of her earlier battle and flashes back to see Heath didn’t actually leave her behind. Like Cyndie, he tried covering Tara with gunfire, but shouted for her to leave him. Walkers pushed her over the side of the bridge into the waters below, leaving Heath’s fate unclear.
In the present, Tara looks back and sees Kathy and Beatrice have come to retrieve Cindy. As she continues over the bridge, she sees Heath’s glasses lying on the pavement, tire marks in the dirt, and a white card with the letters “PPP” written on it in marker that she hopes are from his own escape. She slowly makes her way back to Alexandria, hiking through a glistening field, scavenging for supplies in a rotting boat, and grabbing some orange sunglasses and a gift for Denise (a nurse bobblehead) in an abandoned shop. In her pack, she also finds more wrapped fish and a seashell bracelet to commemorate her time at Oceanside — but when the gates open at Alexandria, Eugene’s weeping face reveals the harsh reality of her reality.
Rosita keeps her company as Tara crouches on the floor of the hospital, clutching the bobblehead and contemplating Denise’s death. Despite her grief, she’s not baited by Rosita’s pleas about whether or not she found a new, safer colony — she keeps her promise to Cyndie.
These events seemed like a drawn-out way of getting Tara back into the fold and explaining why she’s been gone for so long. Much like Carl’s scenes with Enid and most of Sasha and Maggie’s head-to-head with Gregory last week, it feels like we’re just biding our time until we can get back to the most significant story line at hand — while being dazzled by Jesus’ parkour skills along the way, of course. (Seriously, I’d be happy with a spinoff featuring Jesus fighting walkers as a wandering ronin.)
Perhaps the introduction of the Oceanside colony is setting up something bigger down the line, but with only a few more episodes to go until the winter break, hopefully it’ll happen it fast. Otherwise, it could leave the impression of wasted space.