The Walking Dead's Angela Kang Discusses Alpha, Beta, and What to Expect Next Week
This week, we got our closest look so far at what it's like to be a member of the Whisperers and it wasn't pretty.
By Chris Morse
Fresh off a particularly brutal episode, The Walking Dead continues to shamble through its ninth season as the series pulls back the curtain more and more on its latest group of villains. Love them or hate them, you have to admit that AMC is pulling no punches with these episodes. This article will contain some spoilers for the latest episode of the show, so turn back now if you haven't caught up yet.
Sunday's episode brought us into the camp of the Whisperers for the first time and it's hard to deny it wasn't a memorable experience. Among other revelations, we not only learned just how many people are in this group, but also how brutal they are, especially leaders its leaders, Alpha and Beta.
From the mind games of Samantha Morton's Alpha to the frightening appearance of Ryan Hurst's Beta as he cuts the skin off a walker to make a new mask, the Whisperers' brutal way of life was on display for all to see in this unsettling episode. Fortunately, showrunner Angela Kang was around and helped unwrap the episode in a chat with EW, also teasing a little bit of what lies ahead for this story.
We've already dug deep into the psyche of Alpha, although we learn a little more about her each week as it is, but how about Beta? This was the first time we laid our eyes on the imposing second-in-command and Hurst certainly made a statement with his performance. In the interview, Kang dove into a little bit of what's at play with respect to the relationship between Beta and his leader.
It’s really interesting with these Whisperers, they typically don’t have names, really. They kind of point at each other. They don’t refer to each other by their name. There’s Alpha and there’s Beta, and what I think is really cool about that relationship is it’s such a screwed-up dynamic that they have, but at the same time, Beta really respects Alpha and he’s loyal to her. And that was a conversation that I had with [Walking Dead comic book creator Robert Kirkman], about “What are the important things to preserve about this role?”
And he was like, “You know, it’s actually like a lot of times when you are dealing with these male-female dynamics it becomes like this sexual thing, or there’s like these weird things that go into it.” And he’s like, “It’s just like he legitimately thinks she’s a great leader, and he legitimately believes in her, no matter how screwed up their philosophy in life might be.” They are like a leadership pair made in heaven, or hell or whatever. They belong together. So we will continue to delve into that relationship over time, but it’s been really fun to see those two playing together, because I think Samantha and Ryan just really have an interesting chemistry together as those roles.
That introduction aside, Alpha's big scene from this latest episode showed us a little bit of the political side of this group, which is to say that things won't end well for you if you challenge her leadership. Read below for Kang's thoughts on it and how Morton made her presence felt with her creepy performance.
A big part of the philosophy of the Whisperers is they have this survival-of-the-fittest thing. They take a really animalistic approach to the way that their group works. And so you can challenge the Alpha, as animals sometimes do when there’s an Alpha animal of attack. And so I love what the writer, LaToya Morgan, came up with in this sequence because it’s not just like, “Okay, here’s this one challenger and I’m going to take him on.” Instead, she does this whole manipulation. She knows the two of them are in it together. She knows it’s more dramatic if she goes after the instigator, and then makes the dude cry so that he seems so weak. She emasculates him before she kills him.
It’s such a crazy thing she does, and I think Samantha does an amazing job playing those beats. They’re called the Whisperers because they whisper, and so this was really the first episode where we had all these people doing these performances in whispers. And she’s doing this incredibly theatrical thing with her voice so low, and it makes it really eerie in a strange way. And just the way that she gets real close to him before she stabs him and all that. But yeah, it’s definitely like, “Behold all my people. I am the Alpha and here is the reminder,” like, “Hey, boy, don’t mess with me.” So it was really fun to see that all play out.
As if we needed a reminder of what kind of screwed-up relationship there is between Lydia and her mother, we were given an even more troubling story from their past in which Alpha nearly let her daughter die as she suffocated before finally stepping in and saving her. According to Kang, what this story is trying to convey is that this monster has always been there, even before the apocalypse.
We wanted to delve into this relationship between Alpha and Lydia, and we just thought about what kind of a parent brings their kid into a situation like this? Even abusive parents can love their children, or think they do, and justify all kinds of things. With a lot of our villains, we show the ways in which the apocalypse broke them and they had to make the hard choices, and maybe they made one too many hard choices and they wound up where they were. For Alpha, we’ve been taking more the approach of, these things were always in her, and it’s just like she was already kind of a monster before the apocalypse as far as her child was concerned. And it’s now she just gets to command a lot of people and do it on a much grander scale.
When the writer pitched this story, I was like, “Oh, this is so fascinating,” because I think when I started reading it I was like, “Oh, this is going to be story where the twist is.” You think it’s this moment of love, and instead it’s so dark. And I thought that that was interesting for this character. But the fact that she thinks this was the loving way to handle the situation, and she thinks that this is how you make people fit for the world — because for somebody to take on the extreme philosophy, she has to have an extreme point of view about the world.
This episode also featured some interesting material between Negan and Michonne, who is struggling with her leadership role and clashing with the rest of the Alexandria council along the way. Ultimately, she changes her mind on an issue she originally stood firmly on and Kang attributes that in part to her talk with Negan, who got under her skin by praising her decisions.
Michonne is so smart, and she really cared so passionately about this project to basically write the charter for the new world, but in her mind she is, as the head of security, doing what it takes to keep everybody safe. And — as with sometimes the way that nations in the real world do — you make decisions brought on by security concerns, and then it can be a slippery slope pretty quickly. And when Negan — who’s been the sworn enemy, this person that all season she’s had these combative conversations with — when he’s praising her a little bit and needling at her about this situation that she had, that gets under her skin.
To be faced with this person that she still just disdains, coming at it from his point of view, it’s uncomfortable for her. And then when Judith confronts her with some truth as well. Michonne is like, “Well, if Negan gets out, all of that death and destruction is going to happen again.” Judith is like, “Well he did get out, and that didn’t happen.” Michonne is a very reasonable person ultimately, and it just makes her look at it from a different point of view. And I think she makes a choice in the episode and this is what we’re playing, which is that ultimately she doesn’t believe in having a dictatorship or an authoritarian government, and for all intents and purposes, that’s kind of what it’s become, but that’s not who she feels she is.
And it’s not what Rick or Carl or herself or anybody wanted for Alexandria, and so it forces her to make a choice. And it’s even a choice where she’s not sure if it’s the right choice, but she knows that for the sake of the higher principles of what this place is, she has to let go a little bit, and I think that that’s been this journey that we’ve been showing for her for a long time over the course of the season.
Regarding Negan, Kang commented how they have much more time on the show to explore these characters compared to the comic, which is allowing them to look closer at his possibility of redemption and the interesting twists that could lie ahead for his character.
That’s part of what we’ll be exploring going forward. This storyline came out of, it’s partly based on what happens in the comic, but we’ve just so much more time in the show, and we just thought it interesting to deal with: Well, what does happen to Negan? Can people redeem themselves after doing horrible things? We’re playing a prison story with him. Here’s a prisoner, and if given the chance to reform, does he take it or does he not? Is it clean? Is it complicated? With Negan, a lot of things are complicated. So it’s certainly something that we found really interesting to play, and Jeffrey [Dean Morgan], who’s such a great actor, he was certainly really interested in stretching in the role, and he’s done such amazing work this entire season. But there will be more stuff coming up that gets to the heart of this very question that you’re asking.
Finally, what's in store for the next episode? Based on Kang's comments, it looks like this escape won't go unnoticed and we can expect the Whisperers to strike back in some way. With only four more episodes to go this season, you can be sure this conflict is going to heat up very soon.
There’s just so much cool stuff in next week’s episode. It’s really just some great, great action because you can’t take anything from Alpha without there being a response. So I’ll say that we’ll follow that group that’s trying to make their way back to safety, and we’ll get to know more about Beta and the way he deals with problems. Everybody did a great job with the episode, so I hope fans like it as much I do.
The Walking Dead continues its ninth season Sunday nights on AMC.
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