THE WALKING DEAD 7.06 “Swear” is the Worst Episode of the Show
I’m not prone to hyperbole or clickbait titles. The Walking Dead 7.06, “Swear,” is the worst episode of the series so far, and it’s shit like this that has made The Walking Dead‘s ratings the lowest they’ve been since season three – in 2013. “AMC’s mega-hit fell sharply after its seventh season premiere last month, and has declined steadily each week since to mark the steepest ratings fall in the show’s history,” reports EW, who add that last Sunday’s episode – centered around Maggie, Sasha and Jesus at the Hilltop, with a subplot of Carl and Enid venturing towards the neighboring community – “delivered the show’s lowest viewership since season 3.”
The season got off to a strong start, resolving a months-long cliffhanger that had everyone talking – with 7.01, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be,” topping Sunday Night Football, The Big Bang Theory and Empire with 17.03 million viewers. 7.02 (which introduced Carol, Morgan and viewers to the Kingdom) dropped 25% for 12.5 million viewers, with 7.03 (a Dwight-centric episode that featured a captured Daryl experiencing life in the Sanctuary, home of Negan’s Saviors) bringing in 11.7 million, while episode four (in which Negan visited Alexandria to further subjugate the group and collect his payment) fell further to 11.4 million. Episode five dropped even further to 11 million, and while it’s too early to report the numbers for the just-aired 7.06, you can count on them being even lower than last week’s.
There’s no need to panic – unless you’re AMC, maybe – because The Walking Dead is still pulling in numbers that any show would love to be putting up. The steep drop is being widely reported because it’s The Walking Dead, which has consistently outperformed even its biggest competition, and it’s the biggest show on television. We are in a world that is increasingly leaning more and more towards binge-watching and instant access and availability, especially when the obnoxious amount of commercials in your average episode of The Walking Dead make a compelling case for DVR-ing the episode, waiting an hour, and conveniently fast-forwarding through all the intrusive Chevy and Xbox ads.
Audiences may be asking: “Where the hell is Rick Grimes?” It is his show – or it’s supposed to be – and our protagonist has been sidelined in favor of C-list characters who get an entire episode to themselves, while the main character doesn’t get so much as a cameo. So goes “Swear,” which finds Tara and Heath (remember him?) at the tail-end of their two-week scavenging run, which they departed for after last season’s siege on the Saviors’ satellite station outpost. This episode will inevitably be written off as filler – even if a more accurate descriptor is world-building, because the filmmakers wouldn’t introduce a village like Oceanside and then not have them come into play again later, right? – but “skippable” may be the best way to describe this pointless, waste of an episode. Bottle episodes are fine when used within reason, and any longtime Walking Dead viewer will no doubt be familiar with the concept – small scale episodes focused on a smaller group of characters, usually as a means of saving money – and 4.12, “Still,” is frequently cited as being a pretty bad episode. (That one found Daryl and Beth, left alone after the loss of the safe harbor that was the prison, growing closer as they searched a swanky golf club before holing up in a dumpy shack). “Still” at least paid off with a touching and surprising emotional outburst from Daryl, who felt like a failure responsible for the supposed deaths of their closest family and friends.
“Swear,” comparably, has nothing of value to offer, save for the introduction of the intriguing Cindy (Sydney Park) and Tara’s reaction to being filled in on the major developments she missed while on the road (namely that girlfriend Denise is dead, and so is Glenn – who she bonded with immediately following the prison’s fall, seeing as how he saved her life – and Abraham, who Tara and Glenn met on their search for Maggie). GREATM – essentially a clique consisting of Glenn, Rosita, Eugene, Abraham, Tara and Maggie – has lost their “G” and their “A,” information Tara is exposed to off-screen (during a commercial break, naturally). Sure, we don’t need to be told something we already know and saw, but catching up with a downtrodden Tara after she’s been caught up isn’t half as interesting as actually seeing her react to the tragic news that three of her close friends are dead, and they all now work for a savage, sociopathic maniac who totes around a baseball bat. This was the one interesting part of the episode – see what happens when characters we know and like are on screen? – and it’s relegated to a thirty second afterthought at the end of the episode.
In “Swear,” Tara and Heath – who have come up with a handful of nothing after a two-week outing – get separated after the bizarre appearance of some sand-Walkers. Heath gets Jimmy Hoffa’d, whereabouts unknown (maybe he’s exploring a mysterious island or fighting terrorists). Tara, meanwhile, is laid out on the beach like a jellyfish, having toppled off a bridge. She’s discovered by Cindy (Sydney Park) and pint-sized Rachel (Mimi Kirkland), the latter of which strictly adheres to their group’s rule of shooting strangers on sight. The softer Cindy vouches for Tara, leaving her the means to survive. Tara follows her rescuer to an out-of-the-way camp comprised entirely of girls and women, who freak out at the appearance of this intruder. Tara tries to escape, she’s captured, she yammers out some poorly written and even more poorly delivered jokes, Tara is interrogated, I start wondering what I’m doing for breakfast tomorrow morning, Tara slurps down a meal, Tara escapes again like a slippery Harrison Ford in The Fugitive, I angrily fast-forward through another batch of seemingly endless ads, Tara makes it back to the bridge where Heath pulled a vanishing act that would make David Copperfield jealous, Tara eats while holed up in a novelty gift shop (amazingly, no one ravaged that shelf of ugly ass nurse bobbleheads), then Tara strolls into Alexandria decked out in a pair of goofy sunglasses.
We get sixteen episodes a season, and this is not a good use of time. Cindy and the Oceanside village will likely come back into play eventually, especially considering this group lives all hush-hush and out of the way after a disastrous encounter with Negan and the Saviors left all the males dead, but that doesn’t make this episode worthwhile. “Swear” is a 42 minute budgetary concern, best experienced with a finger hovered firmly atop the fast-forward button. Slower episodes filled with world-building and character development aren’t the issue here – the issue is a season that is mostly slogging its way towards the midseason finale (already just two Sundays away), after having barely spent any time with our favorite characters. Develop other characters, develop the wider world, great, but do it without robbing audiences of the characters they tune in to see and have done so for six years. Most of this episode didn’t have to happen, and if it did have to happen, it should have been with characters who are more important to both the audience and the plot. Tara come across a small, untrusting village with a grudge against the Saviors (join the club) – that’s a major development, but it doesn’t make the episode any less of a frustrating waste of time. It’s like doling out an episode of The Brady Bunch where Cousin Oliver and Sam the butcher go on a whacky trip to the supermarket. These characters haven’t been sufficiently developed for us to want to spend 42 minutes with them and just them alone, which is a particular sin in Tara’s case as she’s been with the show since season four.
“Swear” is The Walking Dead at its worst, and this worthless, unproductive episode shouldn’t have made it farther than a discarded, scribbled-down idea on a discarded Post-It note lining the bottom of a trash can in the writers’ room. This is a sidestep best left forgotten – and now has the distinct honor of being my single “watch it once and never again” episode of The Walking Dead. I’m as engaged a fan as you can be when it comes to The Walking Dead – it’s my favorite show – but like intruders to the Oceanside community, “Swear” is best shot on sight. I’d like to see Sydney Park’s Cindy again, and I wouldn’t mind having her brought into the fold as a full time cast member – even if she’ll forever serve as a constant reminder of the second episode of The Walking Dead that I outright loathed. (And I thought that episode set in Grady Memorial Hospital couldn’t be outdone in the “holy shit, this is awful” territory). At least we’ll see Rick “remember him?” Grimes next week.