Major spoilers below for the latest episode of The Walking Dead, so be sure to watch before reading on.
Though The Walking Dead's Season 10 premiere focused mostly on the protagonists and only brought out its big villain in the final seconds, the second episode was almost entirely dedicated to Alpha and Beta. From the pair's contentious first meeting to their most current developments, "We Are the End of the World" delved much deeper into Alpha and Beta's history together than Robert Kirkman did in the comic book, and the episode even introduced another major Whisperer character. (More on that elsewhere.)
CinemaBlend had the pleasure of speaking with Walking Dead star Samantha Morton about expanding Alpha's story for TV, and we started the conversation off with talk about the two Whisperers' relationship over the years. In her words:
I think what's interesting about it is the fact that it isn't a sexual relationship on screen. Often when friendships onscreen happen to me, they are either women, or men, being friends with each other. I think what's remarkable about this story is that you have this really big dude following this much smaller individual, and exploring the dynamics of why that became that way and what they have to offer each other, and why they become soulmates and not lovers. So that was really fascinating to play, and to look into the motivations of why, and to talk to Angela about what she wanted to explore. And then to Nicole [Mirante-Matthews], about how she wrote it, and Greg, who directed it, about what they had in mind for how they saw the intentions in these scenes. And then for Ryan and myself to, in rehearsal, really, really understand these characters back then, in order to inform what we've already played in the present.
One definitely can't watch classic rom-coms like When Harry Met Sally or Love Actually to get a fix on how Alpha and Beta's relationship should function, and not even friendship-driven tales like Stand By Me or Thelma and Louise hit the mark. Perhaps a libido-free Natural Born Killers is in the right neighborhood, and bet that neighborhood has some strict boundaries marking the territory.
In the episode, pre-Alpha and her daughter Lydia break into a seemingly empty building, but soon found it to be inhabited by pre-Beta. His harshness and stilted speech certainly informed his Whisperer future, though he did allow the two a temporary haven, which provided some moments for bonding to occur. Samantha Morton spoke to how that asexual bonding led to something larger.
It's almost like her gender doesn't really matter, because it's just both of them meeting somebody that blows their minds, and they understand each other. I think that's a true friendship.
Pre-Alpha and Lydia's indiscretions, which included killing pre-Beta's friend, were all for the greater good, at least from the antagonists' perspective, since the episode revealed inciting incident for pre-Beta creating the mask he'd go on to wear as a proper Whisperer. (Check out how that scene basically confirmed a connection to Fear the Walking Dead.)
When I brought up the seemingly effortless comfort level on display when Alpha has Beta maintain her shaved head with a straight razor, Samantha Morton spoke more to the concept of Alpha and Beta's compatibility, as maliciously distinct as it might be. In her words:
I think that we've played that they've been together for a very, very long time and that there's something very, very spiritual about that, and that it is calming, and that they have respect for each other. The ultimate respect. So it just felt very natural. [Laughs.] When you're in Alpha's head, when you're being Alpha, that just feels right.
For what it's worth, if Beta comes up to me with a straight razor, I would be desperately hoping that all he wanted to do was shave my head.
Samantha Morton Talks Alpha's Origins And Motivations
During our talk, when Samantha Morton spoke about the importance of the two main Whisperers meeting for the first time, she also dug into how her character's motivation in the episode's first scene, and in many more to come, was all about keeping Lydia safe. (Something that speaks to the villain's emotional breakdowns in Episode 2.) In Morton's words:
I think that, you know, Alpha's decision Pre-Alpha to shave all her hair off and be this kind of combat woman to protect her child [is important]. We use the phrase 'badass,' but she would do anything to protect her child, even to the detriment of someone else losing their life. She's not about to run and help a woman that's about to be devoured by walkers because that may jeopardize the safety of her daughter. And that's a really, really tough thing to do for Alpha, but she has to do it to protect her daughter. She's not about to be some hero in regards to the other woman. She has to keep up this world in order to protect her baby.
Considering the cold fierceness that Alpha has displayed when others' lives were on the line, it can be easy to forget that she is also a mother still experiencing heartbreak over her daughter's absence. Her dedication to keeping Lydia alive is, at least in some ways, matched by her intense devotion to make The Walking Dead's protagonists suffer.
For all her strengths, Alpha has never been portrayed in the most mentally sound light in The Walking Dead's flashbacks, and always seems willing to bring a bit of misery to others' lives. I asked Samantha Morton if Alpha was someone who was waiting for just such an apocalyptic situation in order to unleash some demons. Here's how she answered:
Well, it's interesting. I think we kind of explored a little bit of that in Season 9, but obviously some of that was the flashback of Lydia. So all I had to do is kind of discuss with Angela while making this backstory, and a lot of women – certainly the kind of woman that I'm playing at that time – had felt the social stigma of being a wife and the perfect mother and having the right job and looking the right way; the costumes that I wore in Season 9, you know, the dress. But she has been tied to all this kind of stuff, like we have to remember when the apocalypse happened and where, and how far we've come as women. But there was a lot of oppression of women at that time. I think for Pre-Alpha, there was somebody bursting to get out of being this kind of woman of the South. You know, 'speak when you're spoken to' and go to church every Sunday, look after your man, always look good, the house is meant to be clean and tidy, your children look presentable, wear the right things. She was fighting against a lot of that. And that was kind of where I found some of that.
The Walking Dead's outbreak took place likely before that universe ever experienced a Me Too movement that gave rise to awareness of gender equality across the board. Pre-Alpha probably would have also had issues with the Me Too era in general, but that's meant for a totally different conversation.
In any case, Samantha Morton shared that it's very much her upbringing and how she's been treated in the past that feed into Alpha's current state of mind at the apex of the Whisperers' pecking order. When I brought up how my own Southern upbringing often made me privy to stereotypes of that nature, Morton continued:
It's hard, right? It's kind of a universal thing. I've had a conversation, you know, I've had conversations with women of a certain age who literally believe that a woman's place is in the home behind the stove, you know, looking after the family all the time. And that's the world. Then you go to church on Sunday and you goes Bible classes, and then that's how you are a good human being, that that's your role. That you should not work and that you should not be interested in anything other than the family unit and the community. Not everybody's like that, and Alpha struggled before with that.
The slope from "angry wife and mother" to "decapitator of children" isn't so slippery, and it takes a long time for someone to come to such extremes, regardless of how righteous one might have felt about it in the past. As such, Alpha has a lot of complex feelings swirling around inside of her, and fans can bet that Thora Birch's newly named Gamma will play heavily into how Lydia's absence is handled.