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[This story contains spoilers from The Walking Dead comic book series.]
The newest villain in the Walking Dead universe has been named.
Ryan Hurst, best known for his starring role on five seasons of FX’s Sons of Anarchy, has joined the cast of the AMC zombie drama in the recurring role of the villainous Beta, The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. In the comics from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard on which the show is based, Beta serves as the lieutenant of the Whisperers, a group of survivors who thrive in the apocalypse thanks to the use of skin suits worn to blend in with the dead.
Beta is the strong and silent type, a brute force of nature. What he lacks in expressiveness, he makes up for with intense physicality, as well as intense loyalty — especially to Alpha, the group’s leader, played by new series regular Samantha Morton. Actress Cassady McClincy was recently cast to play Lydia, Alpha’s daughter and another key member of the Whisperer crew.
Hurst is certainly no stranger to playing strong and silent types. That is exactly how one would best describe his turn as Opie Winston on Sons of Anarchy, the brooding best friend of series lead Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam). In the past, Walking Dead creator Kirkman has made his fondness for SOA known; one can imagine a certain level of giddiness from Kirkman over casting the erstwhile Opie — one of the most beloved figures in SOA lore — as one of the most recognizable villains in the Walking Dead pantheon.
In the comics, Beta plays an integral role in the Whisperer War, which is set to loom large over the ninth season of The Walking Dead. (Spoilers from the comics, below.)
As a starting point, it’s worth noting that Beta’s mask, made from human flesh, drapes over the top half of his head, allowing for his nose and mouth to remain visible — like a twisted, cannibalistic version of Batman. Much like the Caped Crusader, Beta closely guards his secret identity, refusing to ever let anyone see his true face, let alone speak his true name.
The first person in the comics who encounters Beta is Negan (played on the TV series by Jeffrey Dean Morgan), with the two of them meeting in the dead of night. Beta appears from behind Negan, with two blades in hand, prompting a typically colorful reaction from the former King of the Saviors: “You some kind of rebel? Won’t wear the full skin suit? Just a skin helmet? You just hang out behind the others saying, ‘Pay no attention to me,’ hoping the dead won’t notice your chin?”
Unsurprisingly, Beta isn’t terribly amused with Negan’s words. He’s even less amused once Negan, who has since been broken out of Alexandria and is attempting to infiltrate the Whisperers, reveals the real reason behind his secret mission: to gain Alpha’s trust and murder her as a peace offering to Rick Grimes (played by Andrew Lincoln) and the Alexandria gang.
In killing Alpha, Negan inadvertently leaves Beta in command of the Whisperers, which leads to the all-out Whisperer War. Beta ends up overseeing some other major deaths, including Father Gabriel (played by Seth Gilliam), gutted without mercy. Eventually, the Alexandrian alliance overpowers the Whisperers, sending Beta and other survivors into hiding. Beta later re-emerges and battles it out with Jesus (played by Tom Payne) and Aaron (played by Ross Marquand), losing his life in the process. Jesus and Aaron unmask the dying Beta, who is revealed to be a famous basketball player, someone who had success in television and appeared in car commercials — but Beta dies before his name is ever uttered. Many fans wondered if an athlete would wind up cast on the series in the role of Beta, as a wink and nod to the character’s comic book origin. Instead, the role is in the hands of Hurst, who at the very least has some sports credibility, thanks to his role in the football drama Remember the Titans.
As for how any of the other massive events from Beta’s arc in the comic will play out, it’s anybody’s guess. For one thing, Morton is a series regular as Alpha, indicating the character may have more of a role on the TV series than she does in the comics. For another, Lincoln is on his way out the door — and a version of The Walking Dead in which Rick Grimes is no longer around is a version of The Walking Dead where truly anything is possible.
Sound off with your take on Hurst’s casting in the comments below, and keep checking THR.com/WalkingDead for more coverage.
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Roe V. Wade