7:07pm PT by Josh Wigler
'Walking Dead' Evokes 'Breaking Bad' for Villainous Origin Story
Walter White's specter hangs heavily over AMC, his blue crystal grip so powerful that his works are still resonant on the network years after Breaking Bad bowed its final season.
There's the obvious matter of prequel series Better Call Saul, sure, not to mention the forthcoming Breaking Bad sequel movie in which Aaron Paul will reprise his role as Jesse Pinkman — but beyond those expansions of the proper Breaking Bad universe, there's the less obvious connection between Bryan Cranston's drug-dealing antihero and The Walking Dead, firmly past the midpoint of its ninth season on AMC. Although the black-hatted Heisenberg himself was not name-checked in the latest episode of the zombie drama from showrunner Angela Kang, a key Breaking Bad Easter egg found its way into the Walking Dead universe — and not for the first time.
The episode, "Omega," centers on one of the major new characters introduced in the Walking Dead midseason nine premiere: Lydia (Cassady McClincy), daughter of Whisperer queen Alpha (Samantha Morton). Currently held captive within the confines of the Hilltop, Lydia opens up about what her life has been like since the dawn of the dead, resulting in numerous flashback sequences, more reminiscent of an episode of Lost than anything Walking Dead has ever put forth.
Over the course of the flashbacks, Lydia reveals how her mother transformed from a sweet and doting caretaker into a violent and aggressive survivor in the world of the undead. The sequences contain a clever callback to Breaking Bad for eagle-eyed fans of the critically acclaimed drama — or eagle-eared listeners, more accurately.
The woman who will one day become Alpha sings a lullaby to her daughter, Lydia, in order to keep her calm during escalating apocalyptic conditions. The song: 1939's "Lydia the Tattooed Lady," famously associated with the Marx Brothers, more recently a prominent piece of the Breaking Bad endgame. For those who need an ear-warming refresher:
Sound familiar? It's the ringtone Todd (Jesse Plemons) links to the woman of his dreams, self-serving drug distributor Lydia Rodarte-Quale (Laura Fraser). Toward the end of the Breaking Bad finale, Todd's phone starts ringing as his lifeless body lies nearby. The haunting loop of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady" plays far too long before Walter, nursing a fatal wound of his own, picks up the phone and fields the call from Ms. Rodarte-Quale, during which he proceeds to inform her about her own looming demise.
It's not that Breaking Bad can claim ownership over an 80-year-old song, of course, but the tune is immediately recognizable to those who watched Walter White's rise and fall all the way through to the bitter end — and it's certainly not the first time the Walking Dead franchise has evoked Bad spirits. Some examples:
• In season one's "Guts," Glenn (Steven Yeun) drives a red Dodge Challenger, the same car Walt buys for his son at the height of his arrogance.
• Early in season two, Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) rummages through his missing brother Merle's (Michael Rooker) drug supply, which contains a stash of the blue crystal meth so famously associated with Breaking Bad.
• There's even a theory that Jesse Pinkman was Merle's drug dealer. It stems from a story Daryl tells in season four, about a dealer who used Jesse's very favorite word: "Bitch."
• Looking beyond The Walking Dead proper, Fear the Walking Dead season three once featured the song "Negro y Azul," which was specifically created for a season two Breaking Bad episode of the same name, which launched with a surreal music video as a cold open.
Following "Omega," The Walking Dead can now add another Breaking Bad Easter egg to the list, in the form of the shared use of "Lydia the Tattooed Lady." It couldn't have come at a better time, either, as the episode itself is reminiscent of the Walter White cautionary tale. Breaking Bad charted a meek chemistry teacher's transformation into a ruthless criminal overlord; "Omega" similarly follows a frightened mother who evolves into the stone-cold killer known as Alpha, queen of the Whisperers, survivors who flourish in the apocalypse by wielding the skins of the dead.
Indeed, the stories of Walter and Alpha even have some visual threads in common. By the end of "Omega," the woman who will one day become Alpha sports a deadly pseudonym, a bald head, and signature headgear as an intimidation tactic. The black-hatted, bald-headed Heisenberg would surely be impressed, if he wasn't already dead and gone — though he's never too far behind in AMC's rearview mirror, clearly.
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