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The question of Beta’s origin was posed last season on Fear the Walking Dead when Daniel Salazar (Rubén Blades) spilled a box of vinyl on the street. One album cover featured a man with a passable likeness to actor Ryan Hurst, the man behind Beta on The Walking Dead. Thus it was wondered whether the brutal righthand man of Whisperer pack leader Alpha was some kind of country singer before shedding his name and purpose to walk with the dead.

This week on The Walking Dead, we learn the truth is far from that.

Seven years before Alpha and Carol’s stare-down at the end of the season 10 premiere, the woman we would come to know as Alpha was out walking with her young daughter and the dead, when Lydia screams. She had been wearing earmuffs to block out the sound of the dead to keep herself calm, but when they are accidentally knocked off, the sights and sounds of a woman being torn apart — we’re talking a nose and jaw removable — come flooding in. Lydia and Alpha are forced to flee into the building that was once some sort of mental hospital called Second Lives. (Perhaps a little too on the nose for someone shedding one life and starting a fresh one.)

There, they encounter a man we come to know as Beta. He looks like a ’90s serial killer between the ski mask covering his face and the long blade he wields. Impressed by Alpha’s “f— with me at your own risk” vibes, he allows them to stay in the building for one night, but they can’t stray far from the main hallway and Alpha can’t even hum to herself (even though she continues to do so). Unlike Lydia, the sound of the dead is the only song he wishes would never end.

That night, after Alpha puts Lydia to bed, she goes to put down a few stray walkers in the hallways but is quickly overwhelmed. Beta comes in to save her and the two, recognizing each other’s joy in the kill, slaughter the rest. He realizes Alpha isn’t like any other person he’s ever met after watching her rip open a walker to collect its guts, which she will use later to mask her scent from the dead. This is where Alpha bestows their names: She first calls him “Big Man” when he rips open a walker’s ribcage. When he doesn’t like that, she calls him Mr. B, and then just B. She explains the dead don’t have names so neither should they. So, if he’s B, she will call herself A. Alpha tries to remove his mask, but he freaks out and commands they both leave in the morning and never return.

Alpha, however, falls asleep and doesn’t hear Lydia get up in the night. Wanting to be strong like her mother, she covers herself in walker guts and goes to confront her fears, to prove to herself and to her mother that she’s strong. When Alpha wakes up and realizes Lydia is gone, she rushes into Beta’s part of the hospital and sees he has painted the message “I am the end of the world” all over the walls and scratched out the faces of people in photographs. To make matters worse, when he does find her, Alpha kills a walker in a smiley face t-shirt, someone who clearly meant a lot to Beta in life.

Beta goes to kill Alpha, but Lydia makes it to them in time and yells that her mom is trying to save him. In his grief and loneliness, Beta accepts Alpha’s invitation to walk with her in the darkness. Though, he doesn’t want to leave “him,” the walker she killed. So, she says he doesn’t have to. He then cuts off the walker’s face and wears it as his new mask. These flashbacks cut back and forth between the present time to see where Alpha’s pack was when the satellite fell to earth. We see present Beta is also wearing the same smiley face shirt worn by the walker. (Beta, a new gay icon?)

The episode, “We Are the End of the World,” isn’t all about Beta’s origin. Motherhood and a different kind of nature vs. nurture are more prevalent ideas, but early Beta offers deeper insights into present-day Alpha.

Alpha is all about reverting back to not a primal state, but a dead state. The dead are empty vessels. They don’t fear because they have no emotion. They just have the need to feed. So, they, too, must follow suit, Alpha reasons, if they all hope to survive. But there are more primal emotions and instincts that prevail despite these efforts. In a flashback, Alpha kills Beta’s walker against his will. Yet, in the present, Alpha wasn’t able to kill Lydia, and it’s this secret that will likely lead to her own downfall.

Before the satellite, the woman who will soon be anointed Gamma (played by Thora Birch) and her sister, Frances, are tasked with assisting Beta in gathering more walkers/guardians for the pack. Frances is the woman Alpha forced to give up her baby when they made a display outside of Hilltop. She cries as the memories of her son come back, which, as young Lydia once did to her mother, draws the attention of the walkers. Beta is forced to kill two of the dead to save her.

He hauls her back to the pack and commands a Whisperer to kill Frances, but Alpha stops them. She tells Beta to bring Frances to “The Deeper Place,” some sort of cave or hollowed-out tree where, instead of killing her, Alpha embraces her as she weeps for her discarded child. Frances returns to the pack with recharged loyalty to Alpha, much to Beta’s chagrin. There’s already talk amongst the pack of leaving to join Hilltop, and Frances’ “uncommitted” actions only fuel this talk. Frances, however, is killed when Alpha leads the pack back to their territory. She sees a walker wearing an empty baby carrier and has a memory of Alpha telling her to bring her child to Hilltop with them, only for Alpha to make her give up the child when the dead arrive. In a rage, Frances attacks Alpha, and her sister, a loyal member of Alpha’s cause, throws Frances to be eaten by the dead.

As a reward, Alpha names her Gamma, third in command. She commends her new appointee for killing her sister because “we’re strongest when we kill our own,” which is something Alpha can’t even do herself. Beta later finds Alpha off in the woods at a site she built for Lydia and realizes Alpha never killed her daughter. He still stands with her, watches as she tears apart the camp in anger, and promises to keep her secret from the pack.

He informs her there was smoke by the border of their domain, and she plans to teach Hilltop a lesson and make the pack watch. She and Beta chant their new dogma to re-cement their commitment to each other: “We are the end of the world.” We finally cut back to the present with Alpha staring down Carol from across the way; two mothers who both lost children, one more literally than the other.

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The Walking Dead

AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.

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