This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 10
The masks of the Whisperers have been one of the better aspects of the latest in a long line of despotic, menacing groups threatening the relative peace of the survivors of Alexandria, Hilltop, and the mostly-forgotten Oceanside. From a production standpoint, it’s probably nice to make use of background actor latex masks to hide the usual array of stunt men who play most of the action scenes on a television show. It cuts down on the need for individual extras, and allows the same group of people to be used, over and over, with only a change of clothes necessary.
For more prominent figures, like Alpha and Beta, it allows for them to look more threatening. Ryan Hurst’s Beta would probably be scary without the mask, but the Alpha mask allows the petite Samantha Morton to become something altogether more dangerous and terrifying. Without it, she’s just a short, bald-headed woman, but with it, eyes burning with intensity behind her leathery faux skin, she’s downright intimidating, despite being a head shorter than everyone else she comes into contact with (save perhaps the equally petite Thora Birch).
It also makes for one of the most effective surprise moments on The Walking Dead in quite sometime, after Daryl fights his way through a group of Whisperers only to come into contact with one he can’t quite kill fast enough, one who is as good with a knife as he is, and one who fights him to a relative stand-still before both of them, gravely wounded, hobble off from the road. Daryl, cut open in several places and with a knife sticking out of his thigh, tries to run for his life.
The Whisperer, also slashed and stabbed in several places, tries to chase him down and put an end to him. He’s too weak to get away, and Alpha, who unmasks herself as the one who fought Daryl to a standstill, is too weak to kill him. Instead, they both lay there, bleeding and breathing heavily, and discuss their mutually-assured upcoming death.
It would be pretty anticlimactic if they both died from injuries and blood loss, so they don’t, but it makes for a solid scene of the two most damaged pre-apocalypse characters having a brief discussion, and it allows for a really good knife fight sequence between the two, and a few great shots of a bloody and battered Alpha trying her best to stalk over to Daryl and kill him, only for her frail, human body to betray her iron will.
For all her talk, Alpha is just as human as anyone else, and no matter how many times she chants her mantra about being the end of the world, if you stab her enough, she’ll eventually join the herd and drop her shotgun. And, like any other human, despite her talk, she still loves her daughter Lydia at the end of the day, even if Lydia isn’t the sort of child to join up with the family business of wearing a human-skin mask and pooping in a trench in the woods. Jim Barnes’ script establishes that the only thing Lydia has ever wanted is to be herself, her human self, and she’s never had that option until Daryl and company gave it to her. She’s choosing herself over her own blood.
The final scene with Alpha and Lydia works effectively, because Alpha is damaged enough to drop the facade and let her daughter know what she’s wanted from her all along: to take over the pack when she is gone. It’s a vulnerability that Alpha rarely shows, and the affection she retains for Lydia is obvious through it all. Bronwen Hughes doesn’t drag the moment out too long, but it lingers long enough to be effective. The knife fight between Alpha and Daryl is well-shot, chaotic enough with walkers and other Whisperers to effectively disguise Alpha’s presence without muddying up the solid choreography.
The great shots of Alpha rising to her feet in extreme Dutch angle and the spinning overhead pan back from the crumbling ceiling of the gas station skyward both punch fairly hard and are equally effective, particularly when counterbalanced by the skin-crawling sequences of Beta, like a monster out of a horror move, stalking through Alexandria with his giant Bowie knife to slip into homes and kill the inhabitants. The attack that so worries Gabriel and the others isn’t from without, but from within, and Ryan Hurst does a brilliant job of simply lurking in the background of scenes like a true Michael Myers type.
This, of course, takes everyone by surprise, most of all Gabriel and the away team, who are pulled into not an ambush, but a time-wasting walk through the woods while Beta slices and dices his way to Gamma’s prison cell in an attempt to bring her back to Alpha. Alexandria has walls, but it’s clearly not effectively defended enough to stop one dedicated lunatic (and that, historically, has been the easiest way for the city to be attacked, by single actors who sneak in at night or in crowds of people). Alpha’s overall plan, to sow discord and mistrust within the community, to take away the safety of the walls, seems to be working out very well, if the tension between Gabriel and Rosita is any indication.
Say what you will about the merits of joining the Whisperers, the one thing they don’t have to worry about is the threat of walkers attacking them. Sure, they don’t get to shower or eat with silverware, but they’re also not getting their limbs gnawed on by their deceased friends. There’s a security in discarding humanity in that way which gives the lifestyle some appeal, were it not for the horror movie villain and despotic dictator at the helm of the organization (if nothing else, it seems like an upgrade over the Saviors and being in Negan’s chattel servitude).
Unlike the others, they’ve adapted to the big threat of this world by becoming part of it, rather than trying to keep it out. Being human is great and all, but being human doesn’t exactly keep you safe in this world. Those that are the most human, like Carol, have the most to lose and struggle the hardest with keeping that tenuous grasp on civilization. When you let go of civility and embrace the brutish animal within, that’s true freedom, if Alpha’s brainwashing is to be believed.
Was Lydia sparing her life while turning against her enough to finally sever Alpha’s last lingering thread of humanity, or did is simply sink the hook in just a little bit deeper? If that tether is broken, Alpha just might become the animal she has always pretended to be.