“This is the end of the world. Now is the end of the world. We are the end of the world.”
We’ve spent half a season now and, although we’ve picked up some clues, we don’t really know a whole lot about The Whisperers. We’ve seen bits of Alpha’s life and can understand why she’s a bit weird but ultimately there’s still that disconnect. These guys wear the skins of the walkers and live out in the woods in their makeshift cult – how exactly do you explain that? This episode goes a long way towards making sense of that.
The show has been becoming increasingly more Lost-like for a few years now. This episode, with it’s two narratives running side by side and complementing one another, feels the most like it yet. In the present, Alpha sends Beta out on a mission, taking two sisters with him. On of them is a Whisperer convert, played by Thora Birch, and the other is her sister – the unlucky one who had to leave the baby in the field as bait last season. And it’s soon clear that she’s not over it and perhaps her loyalty is wearing thin. This plot really serves to reinforce how fanatic the Whisperers are in Thora Birch’s new character, christened ‘Gamma’ at the end of the episode. But it also serves to show that maybe Alpha doesn’t have the grip on the community that she thought she did.
Alpha is slipping. We’ve already seen her cry in secret (a behaviour that would a-ok were she not supposed to be leading a roaming gang of emotionless walker-wannabes) and we know about her conflicted feelings for Lydia, who she has told her flock is definitely dead. The show leads you to think the obvious. Beta is sick of her showing weakness. He is jealous of her relationship with Gamma. He’s going to overthrow her. But by the end of the episode, I was thinking that I’ve got it wrong. My thinking now is that Alpha and Beta’s bond is far stronger than I thought. Upon finding out that Lydia is alive and Alpha has confused feelings about it, he sticks by her. My prediction for the future is that Alpha will bite the dust and Beta will attempt to avenge her – and not overthrow her like I first thought. It’s a good sign that I don’t know where it’s going.
And this relationship is established in the flashback – something I’m always a fan of in this show. We see Alpha and Lydia, seven years earlier. They’re walking with the pack, leaving people to be picked apart as long as they stay safe. At first, you think that Alpha is a kickass mother (Carol-esque even) but it becomes apparent through how she treats Lydia that she is a cruel, demeaning mother, doing what she thinks is right to keep them safe but thoroughly messing Lydia up in the process. She blames her for almost getting them killed, she repeatedly tells her how strong she has to be. It’s interesting to compare Lydia’s upbringing with Carl’s. Though Rick was far from a level-headed father, he raised his son in the complete opposite way to Alpha and Lydia. Alpha talks about how they’re all dead, that they have to change and blend in with the walkers. Ricky was all about the living, about the good in people (when he wasn’t biting their throats out at least). It’s a shame Carl isn’t around so we can see this dynamic in more detail, but I look forward to seeing more of Cassady McClincy as Lydia in the future.
In the flashback, they take refuge in an asylum and meet it’s only resident; a hulking man with a mask on. He barely speaks, and when he does it’s barely audible. He’s clearly been through some trauma but over the course of the episode, Alpha grows closer and closer to him. After ditching her husband for being too weak for the new world – in her eyes – Alpha has found a companion who’s much more her speed. And about two feet taller. I’m not saying there’s anything romantic between them, just that they make a good pair. Beta even becomes her first disciple, the first one to wear the mask. (I hope we see his face and I hope it’s suitably weird).
I want to give some praise to Samantha Morton and Ryan Hurst in this episode, because it’s a tricky role to pull off. On one hand, The Whisperers are ridiculous near-religious fanatics. On the other, Alpha is hiding a hell of a lot of emotion that she has to constantly keep hidden. Beta is a man struggling with his allegiances. And they do all of this behind a mask – for the most part at least, for Alpha. (The scene in the tree/cave is masterful). And Hurst is just such a fearsome screen presence. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone on television who was as visually threatening as Beta.
Overall, a great episode, and one I initially had reservations about. I wasn’t sure that The Whisperers could hold their own episode – no matter how good I know Hurst and Morton are. But they pull it off. The flashback is a classic TWD set-up (scary asylum) and it has some really great emotional beats between Alpha and Mr B. I’m also intrigued where they’re going with Gamma. Maybe they’re getting her in position for when Alpha exits the series? Maybe she’s going to turn against Alpha? It’s exciting times, and my knowledge as a comic fan is more or less out of the window now that the comic has ended.
A great episode. But it did leave me thinking – where’s the Negan flashback?