This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
So the walkers talk now, huh? Maybe we should be calling them the talkers.
But seriously: in The Walking Dead season 9 and season 10, there is something far weirder and nefarious afoot than talking zombies, and it’s taken directly from The Walking Dead comics.
The Walking Dead TV show is currently in the thrall of the comic series’ most terrifying group of villains: the Whisperers. The Whisperers resemble the dead because they dress like the dead. Members of the Whisperers wear masks fashioned from the faces of zombies and use the disguise to walk among the herds.
The Whisperers’ mastery of their surroundings and this strange new world make them a group that Alexandria, Hilltop, and Kingdom should absolutely fear. The Walking Dead Season 10 has taught us quite a bit about this strange community, but there is still more to come.
We’ve put together a comprehensive breakdown of the conflict between our heroes and the Whisperers in the Walking Dead comics. We’ll be covering the events that take place roughly between issues #130 and #173. HUGE SPOILERS follow for The Walking Dead comic and the potential future of the show:
The First Encounters
The characters of The Walking Dead comic come across the Whisperers in a suitably spooky fashion. In fact, it’s in a way we’ve already seen on the show through Rosita and Eugene’s misadventure in the first half of season 9. Near the end of “A New Beginning” arc (issues#127-132), two Hilltop guards named Marco and Ken are exploring uncharted areas around the communities (Hilltop/Alexandria/Kingdom/Oceanside) when their horses are spooked by an approaching herd of walkers.
Marco and Ken observe that this herd is reacting quite strangely: they’re whispering. Terrified, Marco and Ken make their way back to the Hilltop, and in the process, hear the dead whispering once again. Only Marco makes it back to Hilltop after Ken was injured in a horse-related accident and is left for dead. Marco tries to tell Maggie (she’s still the leader of the Hilltop in the comics and not off with Georgie’s folks) and the rest of the community about the whispering zombies but no one believes him….until some other survivors come across them as well.
Dante (whose closest show analog is Alden…not to be confused with the show’s Dante) is sent out to rescue Ken. He comes across the Whisperers and is abducted by them. Then Paul “Jesus” Monroe is attacked by the Whisperers while part of a group looking for a missing patrolman. Jesus is able to fight off the Whisperers and takes one of them prisoner.
The captured Whisperer turns out to be a 16-year-old girl named Lydia who cheerfully tells the Hilltoppers all about her crew. Hilltop arranges a trade with the Whisperers: Lydia for Dante. This operated very similarly in the show, with Dante’s closest show cypher Alden being captured alongside Luke. Jesus, of course, is eventually killed by a Whisperer horde in a graveyard.
Very Few Character Names to Remember
So now we know a little about the Whisperers and how they’re introduced into the series. What about the characteristics of individual Whisperers? Who is their Negan or their Governor? Who are some colorful characters involved within the group? Here’s the thing: there aren’t many “characters” within the Whisperers themselves and that’s by design. The Whisperers abandon their names when they join the group so as to fully embrace their bestial nature.
The Whisperers have a leader “named” Alpha, a second-in-command “named” Beta, and then a whole lot of generic Whisperers and so on.
Alpha is a reserved, yet strong and intimidating woman. She has a badass bald head and is played by Samantha Morton in the show. Alpha is very much in charge and her dialogue frequently reveals why. She has a clear way of articulating the Whisperer’s M.O. to the point where it almost sounds appealing…even in Morton’s put-on thick Southern drawl. Of course, wearing the skin of the dead is a perfectly rational thing to do when the dead walk the Earth!
Alpha’s second-in-command is the physically imposing Beta, played by Ryan Hurst on the show. Beta is enormous. He’s 7-plus feet of pure muscle. He’s so huge that his death mask doesn’t fully cover his face. He’s also pretty handy with knives (as we saw during his fracas with Daryl). Whisperer society customs dictate that the strongest among them be the leader. Beta is certainly the strongest physically but seems comfortable in his role as Alpha’s bodyguard and confidante. To be leader, he would have to kill Alpha, and he doesn’t want to do that. It’s implied that he may be a famous real world figure as the few people who do see his face appear to recognize him.
Then there’s Lydia. Lydia is the only Whisperer who actually gets a name. That’s because she’s not into this whole Whisperer nonsense. Lydia is Alpha’s daughter but family isn’t supposed to matter in Whisperer society. They’re all beasts and only the strongest survive. If Lydia can’t deal with that, she should leave. And in fact, Alpha at one point asks Rick to do her a solid and bring her back to the Hilltop with him. Lydia is played in the series by Cassady McClincy. In fact, she appears to have an even bigger role in the show with the other characters her age like Carl and Henry, dying to make more narrative room for her.
The Whisperer Gamma (Thora Birch) is purely a show creation and has no obvious comic counterpart.
After the Hilltop returns Lydia and the Whisperers return Dante, everything should be squared away, right? Not so much. You see, Lydia was taken back to Hilltop originally….where Carl Grimes is currently training to be a blacksmith. Obviously, Carl falls in love/teenage lust with Lydia almost immediately because pickings are slim in the apocalypse…even if the girls wear corpse masks. When Lydia is returned to the Whisperers, Carl follows them back to their home, which is essentially just an open, empty field. The Whisperers are very nomadic. The show followed this storyline with Henry deftly stepping in for Carl.
Rick must go and rescue his son’s dumb ass. A group of Whisperers intercepts Rick on the road and brings him back to meet with his son. Alpha uses the opportunity to show Rick a truly enormous herd of walkers that the Whisperers have gathered. Rick can have his son back (and Lydia for that matter) but Alpha makes it clear that that herd will be unleashed on Alexandria if the hostilities continue.
Welp! The hostilities continue. Not from Rick’s people but by the Whisperers. Before she met up with Rick, Alpha infiltrated a massive fair at Alexandria. While there, Alpha somehow managed to kill not one, not two, but TWELVE community members and place their heads on pikes a few miles outside the communities that represents an invisible border between the communities and the Whisperers. Among the dead are Rosita and Ezekiel…
The show had quite a different lineup of heads on spikes. In fact, the only common head belonged to that of Tammy Rose (Brett Butler). The rest of the heads include Enid, Tara, and Henry.
Rick spends a few weeks trying to keep his people from engaging in another war but it soon becomes clear there will have to be another armed conflict. He charges Dwight with building a militia.
Negan, the Whisperer
Technically, there is actually a fourth Whisperer whose name is known. That’s because, for like two glorious days, our old friend Negan becomes a Whisperer. Really! And now we know the show will be incorporating this plotline, thank goodness.
While all this nonsense with the Whisperers is going down (Lydia prisoner exchange, row of severed heads, etc.), Negan is still safely entombed in the prison underneath Alexandria. Then with all the hubbub of an approaching war, someone gets distracted and forgets to lock Negan’s cage. Negan escapes and makes a beeline directly for the Whisperers.
He is met by Beta, who hates him, and Alpha, who is intrigued by his chatty…somewhat “alpha” ways. Negan says he just randomly came across them but is then forced to admit that he was looking for them specifically. He convinces them to let him join their merry little band. This leads to a truly whimsical “montage,” if such a thing exists in comic books, where Negan lives the rustic life as a Whisperer.
Everything is going well with Negan and the Whisperers until Negan commits the cardinal sin: he stops an attempted rape among the Whisperers. Alpha and Beta are furious, as sexual violence is allowed and borderline encouraged in Whisperer culture. They’re all beasts, remember? Alpha approaches Negan alone later that night to discuss her worldview further with him.
Negan responds by slicing her throat open, decapitating her, and bringing her head back to Rick as a peace offering.
The Whisperer War
No fewer than 13 people have literally lost their heads at this point. Clearly, the only option left for both the Whisperers and Rick’s survivors is war.
Truthfully, the Whisperer War isn’t the most effective aspect of the Whisperers story in the comics. For one, we JUST had a war with Negan and the Saviors. Secondly, learning about the Whisperers and their weird society is much more satisfying than when the time for war comes.
There is really only one battle in this war. The Whisperer forces, led by Beta, meet the Militia forces, led by Dwight, in an open field. Thanks to the tactical brilliance of Negan whooping on people with Lucille (who tragically breaks), the Whisperers suffer heavy losses and are forced to retreat. Beta splits his depleted army into two groups, one heads to Alexandria and one heads to Hilltop. The Hilltop group succeeds in burning Hilltop down but is still ultimately defeated.
As for the Alexandria group…
The Grim Aftermath
The Whisperers ultimately lose “The Whisperer War,” (issues #157-162) but not before pulling a real dick move. Beta’s forces are basically depleted and victory is impossible. So he picks up his ball and leaves…and also unleashes a Biblically MASSIVE herd of walkers, which shamble towards Alexandria.
The Whisperer War might have ended quickly, but the herd is something entirely different. The herd is the biggest existential threat that Alexandria has ever dealt with. What’s worse is that Hilltop is incapacitated and the Kingdom is still dealing with a complicated leadership situation.
Alexandria is able to repel the first wave of the herd thanks to Rick’s heroism and Negan(!!!). Then Eugene concocts a brilliant scheme to lure the herd into the ocean.
Ultimately, Alexandria survives but at great cost. Gabriel dies early on in the war. That’s unlikely to happen on the show now that Gabriel has taken on a bigger role. Andrea dies while trying to divert the herd as well. Andrea’s closest comparison on the show? Michonne.
Keep your loved ones close, the Whisperers and the Whisperer War is going to put a lot of characters at risk.