Warning: Spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead Season 9!
The Walking Dead returned from its Season 9 midway hiatus last Sunday with “Adaptation,” an episode that effectively set the stage for the next phase of the series, notably introducing the show’s new villain, Alpha, leader of the stealthy, ultra-aggressive, walker-skin-wearing Whisperers. However, Samantha Morton, who plays Alpha, doesn’t quite ascribe conventional labels like “villain” and “big bad” to her character.
Indeed, Morton’s Alpha, whose followers utilize the sneaky strategy of using skin masks to walk unnoticed with weaponized herds of the dead, have clearly instigated the initial aggressions against our survivors of Hilltop – and, by proxy, Alexandria and the Kingdom – notably with a major shot across the bow of an ambush in the mid-season finale, in which her people killed Jesus… that is, Tom Payne’s show fan-favorite, Paul “Jesus” Rovia. However, in an interview with EW, Morton espouses the belief that Alpha’s motivations are not quite as cut-and-dry as we may think. As Morton explains:
“To me, I don’t see that I’m playing a villain at all. I’m playing somebody with absolute determination and conviction in her beliefs, and in a way, almost kind of evangelical with it. And I think her opinions and her beliefs about how society should be — to her, they’re no-brainer. It doesn’t make any sense to go back to the way things were. It doesn’t make any sense, you know? The future that we have should be the way she sees it, and so I see her as an incredibly powerful, awe-inspiring woman, with so much courage and strength and love, weirdly. But it’s how she shows that love is not as we would expect anyone to.”
Morton is seemingly taking an empathetic – perhaps method-like – approach to her portrayal of Alpha, a character who debuted in the pages of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book in Issue #132, published on October 1, 2014. Veteran English actress Morton, a two-time Oscar nominee (2004 Best Lead Actress for In America and 2000 Best Supporting Actress for Sweet and Lowdown,) was probably best remembered by genre fans for her role as precog Agatha in 2002’s Minority Report, but seemed to turn a villainous leaf with her role in 2016 Potterverse spinoff franchise launcher Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, playing Mary Lou Barebone, the abusive, hyper-zealous foster mother of Ezra Miller’s embattled Obscurus, Creedence.
Morton implies that Alpha, in a manner akin to Mary Lou, is motivated by a fervent desire to implement an ideology that she unflinchingly believes to be morally correct – by any ruthlessly homicidal means necessary, of course. However, her ambitions are worldly in nature, originally crafted by Kirkman in the comic to represent a cynically savage parallel to the (still present) Rick Grimes and his desire to bring civilization back from the brink. As Morton further states:
“I’m not playing in my mind that she’s a villain. She doesn’t think she’s a villain. Just don’t mess with her. You know? You look at lots of politicians all over the world right now, and war, and how things happen, and how things can escalate, and I think she’s just incredibly strong minded. I haven’t played any scenes whereby it’s about pleasure, and I think that when you look at psychopaths, they get pleasure from their actions, whereas Alpha, it is just what this is about. She is leading an army, and she’s clever, and if somebody crosses her, then it’s different.”
So, there you have it. Alpha: Savage, walker-skin-wearing mama bear. Pertinent to that metaphor, “Adaptation” concluded by teasing Alpha’s arrival at Hilltop, bringing backup, her comic-book-signature sawed-off-shotgun and a generally bellicose demeanor, looking for her proverbial captured cub, Lydia (Cassady McClincy). Things are getting interesting!
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC at 9/8c.