Warning! Lurking below are spoilers for Season 9 of The Walking Dead, as well as spoilers from the corresponding comic book arc.
Few shows could have pulled off what The Walking Dead did by pulling its main character out (for a series of standalone movies) and jettisoning the story six years into the future. So it went, though, and we're now closer than ever to getting the comic book villains The Whisperers, which were first teased in The Walking Dead's San Diego Comic-Con trailer. For everyone who isn't so well-versed in the source material, let's take a look at what we know about The Whisperers from the comics.
Note, of course, that the Whisperers' original arc doesn't necessarily have any impact on the live-action version. After all, things tend to play out fairly differently on AMC's series than they did when Robert Kirkman first conceived them for the comic series. Now put on your sharpest suit made entirely out of skin, and read on!
Who Are The Whisperers?
While this might be a relatively easy question to answer when it comes to singled-out characters like Negan or Dwight, The Whisperers are a mostly quiet and nomadic threat existing on an entirely different level. As such, the path to Whisperer enlightenment is one pegged with question marks. To put it plainly, they're a villainous and animalistic group with a very particular appearance that speaks to their intentional anonymity.
The Whisperers crafted the ultimate evolution in post-apocalyptic camouflage by making and wearing full-bodied suits and masks from the skin of random walkers. As well, they shed their own identities upon donning the zombified outerwear. It's an extremely disgusting and useful advancement on the "cover yourself in guts" tactic that Rick and Glenn first used back in Season 1.
In fact, it's their ghoulish introduction and physical appearance that technically put the group on the map in terms of enjoyability and originality. Their rotting attire and walker impersonations make them blend in with the general aesthetic, which should quickly instill a sense of paranoia in The Walking Dead's characters. How will they be able to tell a walker from a Whisperer while looking at a herd that's 50 yards away? They won't, usually.
What Do The Whisperers Want?
It may be hard to conceive, but people that choose to live life as walkers don't adhere to traditional norms. For the most part, people joining The Whisperers are sick of society at large, and want to reassert humanity's more primitive behaviors and instincts. They also have little problem with being silent when they aren't groaning like their undead brethren.
When it comes to major overarching objectives, such as Negan's weighted bartering system or Jadis' human trafficking system, The Whisperers aren't the most goal-oriented villains on the page. They don't want to be fucked with by outsiders, first and foremost, and they're extremely protective of two things: their boundaries and their anonymity. (Particularly Beta in that latter respect.)
Not that they're living as innocent hippies whenever the comic's protagonists discover their existence. The Whisperers' leader is as much of an obsessively egotistical tyrant as villainous leaders tend to be -- more on that soon -- and they're not exactly on a moral high ground in any situation. For instance, their sexual worldview asserts that members are responsible for defending themselves against assaults, which victims also buy into. So, that's what we're dealing with.
Who Is The Whisperers' Leader?
Yet another reason why The Whisperers stand out in The Walking Dead universe is Alpha, who serves as the first major female villain leader in the franchise. As implied before, Alpha is a leader who is not afraid to wield her power whenever and however it's necessary. She may not have a laundry list of commandments for others to adhere to, but she certainly has an Old Testament view on punishment.
In many ways, Alpha is the exact opposite of Negan. For one, she chooses to hide her real name, as opposed to forcing others to adopt it as their own. She also cloaks her face, where Negan used to love making people look at his. While Alpha does accept new recruits if they are serious enough, she's not out there forcing people to be in her harem, with the threat of iron-burnings if people try to leave the group.
For the AMC series, the excellent Samatha Morton will be playing Alpha. Morton has delivered some extremely intense performances that could speak to Alpha's threatening manner. Also, Alpha's is one of the few Whisperers whose mask comes off, which leads to other layers being shed. (Enter her daughter Lydia.) To that end, I'm very excited to watch Morton take on Alpha's more grumblingly vulnerable aspects, with Ryan Hurst as her hulking second banana Beta.
How Many Whisperers Are There?
The simple answer: there are a lot of them. Maybe not as many as the massive herds that have come across Rick and the others over the years, but enough to start an actual war. Yes, the "Whisperers War" was a full arc in the comics, though it wasn't nearly as involved as the All Out War.
The more complicated answer: there's no telling. Sure, one might think they know how many Whisperers they are, but it's literally impossible to get an exact headcount, given the vagabond group's tendency to walk amongst the dead. Even when Michonne and Carol and the rest think they've killed all of the Whisperers, can they ever really be sure?
How Do The Whisperers Affect The Storyline?
If the main way to bring the Whisperers' monstrousness out is to break their rules, then it's only natural that those rules quickly get broken by protagonists in the comic book. It's then that the Whisperers' initially mind-blowing introduction turned into something much more menacing. Something that will more than likely cut The Walking Dead's ensemble down by quite a few characters.
We can't yet tell how the TV show's Whisperers will compare to the comic villains, but we may have already seen traces of the group's existence in the show. (Even in some unused footage.) So we're pretty sure the live-action Whisperer conflicts will also heat up in a similar way, as we learn how well they are at directing walker herds from within. It'll also involve lots of heads stock on pikes, and If The Walking Dead plays things out too faithfully, Carol and Ezekiel's romance may be doomed.
But even beyond the deaths and the chaos that the Whisperers cause, the primal group also offered up a unique reflection of the other characters. Without Rick around for the TV version, which I still can't quite believe, it'll be interesting to see how other characters fill in those roles. Even Negan got back into the mix for this, playing an interesting role in the lives of both Alpha and Beta, so Jeffrey Dean Morgan might very well get some time to stand up in the sun this season.