This The Walking Dead review contains spoilers.
The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 2
Alpha, thus far, has been a character that’s been dripped out in small doses along the course of The Whisperers arc. She’s been present, and she’s been in charge, but very little is known about how she pulled the group together.
All that’s been on screen is how she escaped from her initial survivor group as told by an unreliable narrator in Lydia. The story kept changing until the truth eventually came out, despite Alpha’s best efforts to brainwash her daughter into compliance. But how did Alpha transition into wearing the skin of the dead as camouflage and how did she gather up a group of like-minded survivors remains a mystery, save for one key follower, the group’s muscle Beta.
As befitting their names, Alpha, Beta, and the rest of the Whisperers have a pack structure: Alpha at the top, Beta just below her, and the rest of them as a sort of amorphous mass below the two leaders. It’s possible for a Whisperer to rise above her station, however, to become one of the leaders, to prove her worth by doing something extraordinary that puts the purity of the pack and the Whisperer lifestyle over things like family relations and blood. Not everyone is cut out to live the Whisperer lifestyle, but some people take to it despite themselves.
“We Are the End of the World” is split into two separate stories, all centered around Alpha. One of them is the very beginning of her pack, where she recruits Beta to her side and gets him on board with her survival at any cost lifestyle. The other is an unsettling shift in the power structure of the pack, as Beta finds himself joined by company he doesn’t particularly want in the newly elevated Gamma, who chooses Alpha and the pack over her own sister in a pretty dramatic rise to power.
To have both stories focusing on Alpha is a brilliant use of Samantha Morton, because she’s able to both be steely and vulnerable by turns. She’s both terrifying and achingly fragile, able to let the veil down only around her oldest and dearest confidant, Beta. Ryan Hurst is an excellent goon for Alpha, because what she lacks in physical prowess, he more than makes up for. What he lacks in organizational management, she more than makes up for by being the face and voice of the organization.
They’re couched as Alpha and Beta, but Nicole Mirante-Matthews’s script makes them seem more like a single entity, buoyed by their repetition of their shared mantra after Beta shows up to Alpha’s secret project and reminds her that the pack thinks Lydia is dead at her hand and that her leadership is dependent on her ability to make them believe that. Alpha might say that Lydia is dead to her, but it’s clear that she’s not, and Morton’s ability to rage is put on good display as she wrecks the campsite in a way that is echoed brilliantly by Beta’s own rampage after the death of his long-dead companion at the mental hospital.
There’s a simple brilliance to the way Greg Nicotero matches the scenes together, and in the way he makes sure to connect Alpha and Beta’s slow connection to the rapid rise of Gamma/Mary (Thora Birch, who does a good job of matching Samantha Morton’s steely glare). For all of Alpha’s big talk, the Whisperers as an organization wouldn’t exist without Beta, as he’s the one who gave her the idea to wear the skins of the dead versus just slathering yourself in entrails and wandering around smelling like rotting flesh and the contents of long-dead bowels.
Alpha had to leave Lydia behind to save her pack, but she doesn’t actually leave Lydia behind; she wants her back to the point of planning a pen to keep her captive. Gamma doesn’t just pay lip service to the idea of sacrificing her sister Frances (Juliet Brett), she does so to save Alpha from a grieving mother’s retribution. (Frances is the Whisperer who herself sacrificed her child to save the pack last season, which is a great reveal handled well by Nicotero et al.).
All around her, people are making sacrifices that Alpha doesn’t have to make. She didn’t have to skin and wear her dead best friend. She didn’t have to abandon her child. She didn’t have to put the knife to a family member and put pack over all others. Alpha, for all her strength, is still weak, supported by an increasingly troubled Beta. Gamma, on the other hand, is able to do all the things Alpha says she’s able to do but isn’t, and she puts that on display. Beta, naturally, is troubled by this, and while he isn’t exactly able to express this in person, it comes clear in Ryan Hurst’s performance behind the mask and the growl in his voice. Beta and Alpha are tied together, bonded, cohesive.
Gamma’s elevation puts that at risk, and Gamma’s ability to cut throats and keep moving on is a threat to the both of them. Alpha may see it as getting the daughter replacement she’s always wanted—there’s clearly something there other than approval of her lifestyle—but Beta sees a threat to Alpha and a threat to the stability of the whole pack, which is already on weak footing by the time the fire breaks out and the satellite comes crashing to earth. The rest of the group might be on different footing, but Alpha and Beta are nothing if not a team. As they chant over shots of the pack shuffling towards Alexandria, “We are the end of the world.”
That “we” does not involve Gamma, and despite her actions to protect her leader, she’s not part of the original group, and she’s not the one Beta has loyalty for. Alpha has seen Beta’s true face, and she has taken his pain and mental illness and put it towards something greater than a group scraping to survive. The Whisperers have a philosophy, an ethos, and while it’s all well and good for everyone else to believe it, Alpha clearly doesn’t, and Beta clearly hopes he’s not the next one on the chopping block in Alpha’s quest to keep everyone in line by pretending to be able to leave anyone for dead at any time.
Unlike Alpha, he can’t blend in with the real world (the non-reveal of his true face beneath one mask and Alpha’s reaction suggests that there’s something more than a normal human face beneath the zombie skin mask). All Beta has is Alpha, and he’ll do anything to protect her. Wisely, he doesn’t seem to trust Gamma, nor should he. If she’d knife her own sister and throw her to the walkers, imagine what she’d do to Alpha if she found out the group’s survival was being put at risk to recover Lydia? Alpha sees Gamma as an extension of herself, but Beta is wise enough to see that she’s a threat to Alpha’s very survival.
The Walking Dead hasn’t always done a good job of making villains well-rounded characters, but with the Whisperers, Angela Kang and company is doing a solid job of turning what would otherwise be a group of masked psychopaths into a Shakespearian drama company of back-stabbers and schemers, or at least finding ways to make the villains a little more interesting than Negan without turning them all into leaning, smirking, quipping jokes.