Tara and Denise make it official on “The Walking Dead”

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Fair warning: If you haven’t seen last night’s episode, “Not Tomorrow Yet” (6.12), go watch it right now and then report back for duty. Because we have much to discuss.

Remember when all hell broke loose in Alexandria? Sam and Jessie died; Deanna died; a lot of people died. Glenn didn’t die. Denise appeared to be hanging on when we last saw her. 

The mid-season premiere, “No Way Out” (6.9), reunited us with Denise and Wolf guy, still crouched down awaiting a moment to cut loose through town. He’s been holding her captive—at perhaps the worst time to be held captive by someone who’s people just tried to kill all your people. Denise is in this position because Morgan didn’t want to kill him. Now he’s possibly going to use her as a shield to get out of this. Sure, Denise has done a fine job of braving this new medical responsibility as town doc, but now she must use every tool in her belt—before this wolf blows the whole house down.

If there is a currency left in this world, it would look a lot like love—which is crazy, if you think about why. Go all the way back to Season 1 for a second, when Rick got up the nerve to shoot and kill his best friend Shane for having an affair with his wife. Love really, really seemed to be on the way out. Carol killed her abusive husband. Her little girl was turned into a zombie. Love was not reason enough to prevent death. 

But six seasons later, Denise survives, and the Wolf doesn’t. Carl gets shot in the eye and lives. Glenn survives under a dumpster. Maybe before it was just too inconceivable to carry out Deanna’s dreams of making Alexandria sustainable. But now Maggie’s out there planting crops and Carol’s harvesting acorns and the townspeople who used to scuff about are filled with energy now.

So, six seasons later, is love reason enough to prevent death now that so many people have refilled their lives with real, sustaining love?

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By “The Next World” (6.10), the town’s bloody sidewalks have been washed clean and Denise managed to survive Mr. Wolf. She likely had some kind of reunion with Tara, but there was no time to celebrate or make a big fuss about being alive—because death is always knocking. Denise asks Daryl if he can bring her back a soda pop from his run. He’s like, “Wait…pop?” And she explains she’s from Ohio, so, yeah—it’s pop, dude. She heard Tara talking in her sleep. More showing, less telling, TWD! Apparently, Tara was mumbling something about soda pop. 

That brings us to Denise’s bright idea: Pop would make for a really nice going-away present since Tara is about to embark on a two-week mission with Heath. (If you tuned in, you know that all that pop ended up in the lake with that truck full of sorghum, and that the gang brought on a new good-guy, Jesus.)

Flash forward to last night’s episode, as the group plots an attack on the “Saviors”—a terrorist cell that slaughtered a teenage boy back at the Hilltop where Jesus’ community lives. Rick tells the group about the plan while Tara and Denise sit closely in an embrace. The gang (including Tara) is about to storm the place, get Jesus’ Hilltop people back, and score all the Saviors’ food and supplies. It turns out they’re holed up in what appears to be some kind of satellite station. 

Denise is staying behind to handle the infirmary and keep safe in Alexandria. Then Denise and Tara are cleaning up from dinner. It’s a scene out of anyone’s kitchen at night—when you can tell someone you love is feeling a certain type of way. Denise asks Tara if she’s worried, implying the worry here is over Rick’s plan to kill all the Saviors. Tara looks concerned, making sure each dish is dry as a bone with that rag. 

“I love you,” Tara tells Denise. She says she has to get that out before she goes, because she doesn’t know if she’ll have another chance. OMG. “I’ll say it when you come back,” Denise says softly back to Tara. But that’s not good enough for Tara. She asks if Denise wants to come with her and Heath on their two-weeker. Denise declines, “I want to…” But she can sense Tara isn’t satisfied with how they’re about to leave things. “…I’ll say it when I get back,” she says again. THEN, they kiss. How we deserved this moment, let me count the ways.

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Really, it’s a nice dose of reality to see Denise and Tara talking through what is obviously a dangerous predicament. We can only see Maggie and Glenn rub their foreheads together and say “I love you” so many times (but please keep doing that, Gleggie. Don’t stop.) 

At some point, as a fan of the show, you just become acquainted with a familiar moment I like to call “the set-up.” Rumors will constantly create worry that heavy-hitters like Daryl, Glenn, Carol or Michonne will be next to go. The way I see it: If you’re giving Denise and Tara more screentime, that’s great for us, but it just means they’re now part of the set-up. Our worst fear is that, of course, Tara finally gets to say an “I love you” to Denisebut will she truly be given future chances? Will Denise be able to say it back, damn it? Some of our favorite lesbian and bisexual characters die all the time on TV, but The Walking Dead hasn’t taken them yet. (Though, Fear the Lez-ombie could make for a flirty little spin-off…)

To really seal the seriousness of Denise and Tara, we see Tara midway through last night’s episode discussing her “I love you” conversation with Jesus and Gabriel. The three of them are the “lookout” car hiding in the woods. She says she covered up the fact that she’s done a raid like this before, and liked it. “You love her, so you know what you’re fighting for,” Jesus tells Tara. Leave it to Jesus to sum up my theories about love and murder on this show. He’s right, though. Tara’s fighting for love. She’s fighting for the chance to get back to Alexandria to hear her girlfriend say “I love you, too.” Her girlfriend, you guys.

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Scenes from next week show a dire situation for Tara. A pack of female Saviors left inside will take the upper hand and hold a few of them captive. It would be hard to imagine they won’t retaliate for the deadly raid of their people. 

Could this be fatal for Tara? Join me on Twitter @the_hoff to talk out all things #DeniseandTara

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