“I do not die easily.” Alpha’s bold declaration during season 10’s Whisperers-heavy second episode will come as a bit of a blow for anyone hoping that the sadistic, shaven-headed leader of the skin-masked gang can be disposed of quickly.
After last week’s reunion with our heroes, the spotlight now falls on The Walking Dead’s current crop of baddies. Flitting between the present-day and a seven-year flashback to Alpha and Beta’s first meeting, we’re provided with a longer glimpse inside the Whisperers’ cult. As you can expect, it’s populated with more disturbing masks than a Slipknot fan convention, but we do get to meet some new faces and see two unfortunate souls get torn to shreds by walkers. Delightful!
The episode kicks off back in the early days of the zombie apocalypse as we meet a woman regaining consciousness after crashing her car. Clearly lacking battle skills or basic survival instincts, she swiftly meets her end as the main course of the episode’s first gory human-feast. And who’s that amongst the walkers, developing their creepy way of blending in with the undead inhabitants of the fall of civilisation? Why, it’s Alpha and a young Lydia!
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The mother-and-daughter duo’s cover is rumbled by a petrified Lydia herself, who quite understandably loses her shit when she sees the dying driver’s nose being devoured by a zombie. The pair are forced into a nearby building where they encounter a knife-wielding balaclava-clad man who, it transpires, will soon become the duster coat-wearing Beta (sans duster at this point). After an initial display of distrust, Beta and his future boss begin to hit it off and, after reasoning that “the dead don’t have names and we shouldn’t either,” Alpha christens him as ‘B’ to her ‘A’. Now doesn’t that sound familiar?
Next, Alpha’s tough love approach to parenting returns as she demands Lydia confront the dog-eat-dog (or walker-eat-human) world out there, while also denying her any paternal comfort whatsoever by banning her own daughter from calling her Momma. Poor Lydia: she just can’t win — or can she? Apparently the route to her mother’s heart can be found by smearing blood’n’guts over oneself and confronting a walker, but this ill-advised plan of action only forces Alpha to step in and prevent a whole new kind of bloodbath.
Unfortunately, the walker she kills turns out to be Beta’s zombified son (shades of The Governor, right?), who he’s been trying to keep alive-ish. Ever the terrifyingly soft-spoken source of comfort, Alpha delivers her ultimate pitch to her soon-to-be-number two to “walk with me in the darkness” at “the end of the world”. Instructed to skin his son’s walker face to fashion into a mask (and, y’know, keep alive his memory), it’s clear that this grim interaction is what serves as The Whisperers’ origin story.
Back in the present-day, we ride — sorry, stagger — along with The Whisperers before becoming acquainted with “The Sisters”: one of whom, it turns out, was the woman who left her baby at the mercy of the walkers at Hilltop (before Connie stepped in to save it) during season nine’s tense ‘Bounty’. As the group rounds up a pack of walkers to add to their army of the undead, the woman (who appears to be named Frances) nearly bungles the entire operation and is reprimanded by Alpha back at camp for doing so.
The leader spares her — for now — by “showing her grace,” as the woman’s sister puts it. But the following day the trauma of being commanded to abandon her baby at Hilltop by Alpha is overpowering, and, as the USSR satellite seen in the season premiere grabs the attention of walkers and Whisperers alike, she leaps screaming at her leader. Walkers are drawn to the commotion before, horrifyingly, the woman’s sister opts to save Alpha by throwing her sibling into the hands of the hungry horde. The sisterly traitor is later honoured by Alpha in an eerie night-time ceremony where she is anointed ‘Gamma’ and therefore placed third-in-command — the things people do for power, eh?
The next day, Alpha rage-fully destroys a shrine she’d built to Lydia after being discovered by Beta. The pair then move on to more important matters: confronting “the enemy”, AKA our bunch of heroes. In order to gee themselves up for the task they recite an unsettling “We are free!” chant (which includes the catchy lines “We embrace all death… this is the end of the world / Now is the end of the world“). Next, they rally their troops to investigate the crash site — but not before the narratives of episodes one and two are synchronised as Alpha and Carol’s tense stare-off resumes. You certainly don’t have to whisper this: it’s going to take an awful lot to bring Alpha and her Whisperers down.
The Walking Dead airs on FX every Monday at 9pm.