The beginning of “Swear” echoes the ending of “Go Getters,” in which Jesus and Carl exchanged a long look in the back of the Savior truck they’d separately boarded, in a faceoff between the old and new world order. This time, Cyndie (Sydney Park) is the pragmatic but pacifist adult trying to play by the old rules, while Rachel (Mimi Kirkland) is the child young enough to have adapted without question to brutal post-apocalyptic survivalism. As in the last episode, the child’s point of view seems to be in the ascendancy. Cyndie’s status as an adult and the granddaughter of one of her group’s leaders would have made her an undisputed authority figure in the pre-walker world, but when Cyndie and Rachel find Tara (Alanna Masterson) on the beach, Cyndie’s humane impulse to spare Tara’s life just barely prevails over Rachel’s grim insistence on shooting the stranger on sight, as instructed.
The sun-flooded, ocean-breezy vacation-brochure look of their Oceanside beach colony is a startling, if welcome, break from the dark or disheveled settings where most of the series plays out. That, coupled with the oddity of the colony’s consisting entirely of women and girls, since the Saviors killed off all their men and boys, gives “Swear” a dream-within-a-nightmare feel. In fact, for a little while it seems as if it might all be in the passed-out Tara’s mind: a utopian fantasy about a group of heavily armed, attractive women in a beautiful spot with an endless supply of fresh seafood.
Oceanside turns out to be more dystopia than utopia, though, as Tara discovers when Cyndie again rescues her, this time from the ambush Cyndie’s grandmother arranged for their guest. Yet Tara retains enough empathy for Oceanside, or maybe just for Cyndie, to honor her promise not to tell anyone about them when she gets back to Alexandria. Her lie to Rosita is an unusual challenge to the group loyalty that usually motivates the Alexandrians’ decisions, yet her apparent betrayal may actually make the group stronger once the fight against the Saviors commences. If the Alexandrians can leverage Tara’s bond with Cyndie to gain a savvy and well-armed set of allies, they’ll be much better off than they would be if they simply captured their weapons and made enemies of the people themselves. Assuming, that is, that the Oceanside group hasn’t sidelined or even killed Cyndie for her insubordination by the time the Alexandrians go looking for allies.
The episode is a reminder that not everyone reverts to his or her worst self under stress.
Heath might also come out okay. Things looked bleak when Tara last saw him, but the tire tracks in the mud leading away from the bridge leave hope that he escaped that onslaught of walkers. You might think the fan fury after Glenn’s episode with the dumpster would have taught the showrunners not to torment us again by leaving a likeable character for dead and then granting him a miraculous hail-Mary pass, even if Heath is nowhere near as popular as Glenn. Still, if he turns out to have extricated himself from that seemingly hopeless situation, they’d better not leave it up to our imaginations to figure out how he did it unless they want to risk another mutiny.
In addition to its implicit critique of the ethos Rick’s group has always lived by, which Heath spells out as “You choose you. You take what you can. You take out who you have to and you keep going,” “Swear” includes another summary of the morality of the situation when Cyndie says to Tara: “Nobody’s evil. They just decide to forget who they are.” Tara counters that some people really are evil, and that’s the end of the discussion. Typical of The Walking Dead, as well as the graphic novels it’s based on, their exchange is hardly a deep dive into ethics or human psychology, but it economically outlines two ways of looking at the “inhumanity” that’s a basic aspect of human nature, and that so often dominates in times of peril.
However, as this episode also reminds us, not everyone reverts to his or her worst self under stress. The fact that both Tara and Cyndie are brave enough to help each other even when it means rebelling against their own groups’ most basic rules is a hopeful sign, indicating that not only the individuals in Rick’s group but the concept of human decency may just survive the zombie apocalypse depicted on The Walking Dead after all.
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