We didn’t see much of the villainous Whisperers in the The Walking Dead Season 10 premiere, save for a quick appearance at the end. The second episode takes the opposite approach and is (almost) entirely Whisperer focused.
We already got some backstory for Alpha (Samantha Morton) last season. At the time, I worried that it might have demystified the character too much, neutering her as someone we were supposed to fear. The new round of flashbacks addresses this in some ways by showing us just how messed-up the woman really was right from the start of the zombie apocalypse, and how she formed a cult around herself. However, it also tries to humanize her in some ways, and I think that’s a mistake.
7 Years Ago
On their own and struggling to survive, Alpha (she doesn’t have that name yet, but I’ve got nothing else to call her) and her young daughter Lydia have already figured out how to cover themselves with zombie guts and walk among the dead. At this point, they haven’t necessarily perfected the trick – especially not Lydia, who screams at the sight of Walkers tearing another random woman to pieces. The attention she draws forces Alpha and the girl to take refuge inside a hospital, but the building isn’t quite unoccupied. A burly psycho wearing a ski mask and carrying a machete attempts to scare them off. Alpha refuses to be intimidated and convinces him to let them stay one night. He grudgingly agrees.
In case it’s not obvious (and it really is), this is the man who will become Beta (Ryan Hurst). He never takes off the mask, and says that he finds the sound of the dead soothing. These of course should be major red flags, but Alpha isn’t put off by his demeanor or behavior, not even when it becomes clear that the hospital was a mental institution and he’s a former inmate. His worldview meshes pretty well with the philosophy she’s developing about how the key to surviving in this new world is not to fight the dead, but to become more like them.
When Alpha is attacked by some Walkers in a corridor, Beta saves her. She immediately sets to work disemboweling a zombie and collecting its guts. He finds this fascinating. Although he doesn’t want to tell her his name, she dubs him “B” and herself of course “A.”
After being chastised by her mother for her cowardice, Lydia says that she wants to be more like Alpha, to shut off all emotion and eliminate her fear. Late at night, she smears herself with some of the guts Alpha had collected and goes trawling the hospital to find zombies to walk with.
Once Alpha realizes that her daughter is missing, she begins a search that takes her into Beta’s special sanctuary. She sees old photographs on the wall with the faces scratched out. One shows a guy wearing the “Have a Happy Day” t-shirt we’ve seen Beta wear in the future. Beta is pissed that she’s in his space. A Walker enters the room and she instinctively reacts by killing it, only to realize afterward that the zombie is wearing the t-shirt from the photo. Beta is distraught. This guy must have been his friend. His anger builds until Lydia returns and screeches at him that her mother was just trying to protect him.
Alpha lifts Beta’s mask, but viewers don’t get to see underneath. She hands him a knife and encourages him to cut off his friend’s skin. The best way to honor him will be to wear his face. That’s only logical, right?
The Present Day
On their way back to their summer territory, the Whisperers build a herd of Walkers to move with them. Beta leads a pair of sisters who have a talent for finding the dead, but one of the girls starts acting very flaky and almost gives herself away as still being alive. We soon realize that she’s the woman who gave up her baby to the Hilltop. (She doesn’t have a name, but I’ll call her “Mommy.”) The loss of her child is driving her a little screwy. Her sister (Thora Birch), who’s a hardcore true believer in Alpha’s cause, gets fed up with Mommy’s weak will and says that she wishes she’d left her behind.
When they return to the Whisperer camp, Mommy completely loses her shit and bawls her eyes out. Beta considers her a danger to their pack and wants to put her down, but Alpha spares the girl. She brings Mommy to a special, private location called the “Deeper Place” and actually caresses Mommy’s head, offering her some sympathy. Mommy says that she’s grateful for Alpha’s mercy and promises to behave better. Beta questions whether Alpha is getting weak. Showing compassion is completely uncharacteristic for her.
While moving through a field, the satellite explosion in the sky disrupts the herd, making the zombies harder to control. Mommy snaps when she sees a Walker wearing a Baby Bjorn. She tears off her mask, goes batshit crazy, and lunges at Alpha, drawing zombies toward the commotion. The sister reacts quickly to save… not her sibling, but Alpha. She pulls Mommy off and tosses her into the middle of a groups of zombies to be eaten alive.
Once the danger is over, Alpha rewards the sister for her sacrifice by holding a very quiet ceremony in front of the other Whisperers and dubbing the girl “Gamma.”
Still concerned about Alpha’s ability to lead, Beta follows her to the Deeper Place and discovers that she’s been keeping mementoes of her daughter, including a stuffed rabbit that Lydia used to play with as a child. He quickly pieces together that Lydia is still alive, not dead like Alpha told everyone, and that Alpha wants her to come back to her. He’s disgusted by her weakness.
In tears, Alpha throws a tantrum and smashes all of Lydia’s things in the Deeper Place. She insists that her daughter is dead to her and convinces Beta to keep the secret for the benefit of the pack. When Beta informs her that smoke was reported on the wrong side of the border with the Alexandrians, Alpha pulls herself together and says that it’s time to teach the enemy a lesson.
The episode ends as the last one did, with Alpha stepping out of the woods and looking up to see Carol standing atop a cliff in Whisperer territory, in violation of their peace treaty. Alpha seethes with anger.
As much as I usually appreciate character development, there are times when too much of it can be a bad thing. That may be the case here. A villain like Alpha is best left mysterious, her motivations almost unfathomable to both the heroes and to viewers.
I actually don’t have a problem with the flashback backstory of how Alpha met Beta. That answers some questions without giving too much away, and doesn’t negate the threat Alpha poses in the future. It may even enhance our sense of how intimidating she is. On the other hand, watching current-day Alpha have an emotional breakdown over her daughter feels like a big misstep. I don’t want to see her show weakness right now. Alpha is scariest when she’s as dead inside as the zombies around her. I’m sure the show’s writers likely plan to pay this off later with a reunion between the two characters, but I’m just not certain that’s the best direction to take this storyline. Frankly, I think Lydia should have died last season.