7:04pm PT by Josh Wigler
'The Walking Dead': Inside That Shocking Whisperer War Death
[This story contains spoilers for season ten, episode 12 of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Walk With Us."]
The Walking Dead delivered three significant deaths over the course of "Walk With Us," but it saved the most important and shocking one for last: Alpha (Samantha Morton), queen of the Whisperers, betrayed and killed by her new ally (and occasional lover) Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Focusing on the aftermath of the battle at the Hilltop, "Walk With Us" tells a fractured story across multiple perspectives, including one where Negan leads Alpha to a cabin in the woods where he claims to have captured her daughter, Lydia (Cassady McClincy). Alpha gins up the nerve to kill her own daughter as a means of strengthening herself, only to enter the cabin with no trace of Lydia. When she spins around, she's met with a knife to the throat, courtesy of Negan. The end of episode sees Negan taking Alpha's severed head to Carol (Melissa McBride), clearly the person responsible for breaking Negan out of Alexandria in the first place.
"Took you long enough," Carol tells Negan, admiring Alpha's zombified head.
While Alpha's death may come as a massive shock to the Walking Dead TV viewers, it's less of a surprise to those who have read Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's comic book series on which the show is based. Alpha dies even earlier in the comics, after the heads-on-spikes incident but before the true escalation of the Whisperer War — but she very much loses her head at Negan's hands after a heart-to-heart in the wilderness.
"We often remix moments from the comics, but I came into the room to break the season feeling very steadfast that we needed to do the Negan [kills] Alpha storyline," showrunner Angela Kang tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It's such an iconic storyline. But we needed to have our own twist on it, which is why we have Carol. The emotional aspect of that story is so strong, the idea that they were in it together in this very particular way, but Negan takes his own path toward getting there. But yeah, we were always going to do Negan [killing] Alpha."
For Samantha Morton, who first debuted as Alpha in season nine, the death of her character wasn't much of a shock; she knew she was doomed from the moment she signed on for the role.
"They explained everything to me that would happen," says Morton. "When you're playing a character like Alpha, it's about supporting the vision of the arc of the show, rather than the individual need of me as an actor who wanted to play Alpha. It would make you sad as an actor who wants to do more with your character, but you're part of a bigger thing in The Walking Dead. The show is bigger than any one character. It's all about the show. It was an amazing feeling to have."
While Morton views Alpha's death as a pivotal cog in the greater Walking Dead machine, Kang stresses the need to find an emotional arc for the Whisperer queen — an arc she found through the relationship between Alpha and Lydia.
"In the comic, it was what always interested me most about her," says Kang. "Alpha is cold and brutal as a leader, but her one soft spot is her daughter. We knew from the beginning of mapping out her story that we wanted to tell this arc about a woman who has one shred of humanity she's holding onto, her daughter, but it's not a healthy relationship. It's abusive. The way she goes about her relationship with her daughter is so hardcore, but she has to believe in her heart of hearts that she's doing it for her child in her own twisted way. We wanted to tell that arc, where her daughter rejects her and she decides she needs to burn down civilization as a result and make [Lydia] walk with her in a different way."
In playing Alpha's final scenes, Morton had her own very specific interpretation of her character's death: "Alpha doesn't know she's going to die at [Negan's] hands. It's a surprise to her that he's betrayed her the way he has. But she was willing to die anyway. [I believe] her plan was to kill her daughter and herself, like a suicide pact. She wanted Negan to take over the Whisperers — this is what I played, anyway. … She knows when she turns and looks at him that it's game over. But I think she genuinely had feelings for him in a way she hadn't had before."
Alpha's death will have a massive ripple effect through the remainder of season ten. For instance, it leaves the Whisperers without a leader — which means Beta (Ryan Hurst), fresh from killing Thora Birch's Gamma, is incentivized to step up to the plate. Says Kang: "He's the beta because he likes Alpha as the one who leads. He was good at being the big, strong number two. Now he has to figure out what this all means for him. Emotionally, he was codependent with Alpha. That's a big part of the story in the coming episodes."
Then there are the two people chiefly responsible for Alpha's death: Negan, who wielded the knife, and Carol, who pushed the knife into action.
"Negan clearly has a deal with Carol, and we'll explore the nature of that deal and what happens after it," says Kang. "There are some very cool scenes coming up for Negan with our big characters, which I'm really excited for people to see. And now Carol has gotten her revenge — but revenge is complicated. It's obviously going to be something that plays out for her. Did it satisfy that itch, or is there something else at the end of this road?"
Alpha is dead, and it's doubtless a crushing blow to the Whisperers, but the heroes did not emerge without some serious losses as well. In addition to the aforementioned Gamma, who had turned her back on Alpha and the Whisperers, there's also John Finn's Earl, who killed himself after sustaining a zombie bite. Even bigger than the blacksmith's death, the Hilltop at large has all but irreparably fallen, a devastating blow with only four episodes left in season ten.
"This is a huge loss for the Whisperers in this, but also, our people have lost their home," says Kang. "It sets both groups back in a different part of the war. When we were setting this up, we were talking about a cold war. Our people even sometimes use that language: the horde is a nuclear weapon. We wanted to tell a story about mutual destruction. That's where they're at. They both have had huge wins and huge losses. As we get into the episodes to come, we'll see both sides reeling from it, and how they're pulling together. Clearly, they both have axes to grind and things to finish. It's all ramping up toward the end of the season."
As the season ramps toward the end, Alpha will only be an active force in the war effort in name and memory — but Morton looks at the bright side: "All good things must come to an end."
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