SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “Guardians” episode of The Walking Dead.
Note to self: Do not challenge Alpha.
It seems a few Whisperers in the March 3 episode of The Walking Dead were not too keen on their leader’s plan to get her daughter back, so — like any ambitious member of a pack may do — they challenged Alpha (Samantha Morton). It didn’t work out so well for them, as Alpha turned their threat into a show for her (literally) captive audience member Henry… killing them in gruesome fashion along the way.
We spoke with Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang about the disgusting display, as well as the introduction of another major character: Ryan Hurst’s Beta. Kang also shared some insight into everything happening at the Hilltop, including Michonne’s authority, Negan’s evolution, and the moat Eugene thing ever. Read through both pages for the entire interview, and also make sure to check out our Q&A with Hurst.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We finally meet Alpha’s No. 2, Beta, played by Ryan Hurst. First off, can you tell us about casting Ryan in the role and why he was the right guy for Beta?
ANGELA KANG: Obviously, Beta is a fan favorite in the comics and it’s such a weird role, like this guy never takes his mask off. Our excellent casting directors made a list of different people, and Ryan was on that list. And we were like, “Wow, we all love Ryan Hurst. He’s such an interesting guy and also so, so nice.” And I had such a great call and conversation with him about the role, and we were all just excited, and I’m glad that he was able to come and play with us. He even helped put together a costume for it. He’s so creative and it’s been so much fun. Can’t wait for people to see more. He’s such a lovely, lovely person, and just brings so much badassery to the role, so it’s super-cool for us.
Tell us about this character of Beta. What does he make of Alpha, and how does he see his role within the Whisperers?
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.
Let’s talk about the whole challenge, where that guy challenges Alpha’s leadership. Alpha then sets her sights on the lady who talked him into it, slits her throat with a wire, holds up the head in front of everybody, hands it to her man, and then stabs him. How much of this was to show to her troops that she’s still in charge, and was any of it for Henry’s benefit, to show him what she is capable of? Is she putting a little mustard on this whole thing because she has an audience with Henry, or is that just how she rolls on a day-to-day basis?
Oh, I think she’s definitely putting some mustard and ketchup and thousand island dressing and sauerkraut on the whole thing. 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.
What are we to make of that story that she tells Beta about how she essentially let a 3-year-old Lydia asphyxiate on a dry-cleaning bag and almost die? She talks about protecting what you love. I guess that’s the moral of her story, but that sounds pretty twisted.
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.
The whole story between Alpha and Lydia this episode really is leading up to this test Alpha gives her daughter where she throws a knife on the ground and tells her to kill Henry. When she hesitates, Alpha says Beta will kill them both if she doesn’t. So let’s play another round of my favorite game, Walking Dead What If. Let’s say Daryl and Connie don’t come to the rescue: What does Lydia do with that knife? Does she kill Henry to save herself?
I think she doesn’t. I think that she wouldn’t totally have the heart to do it, because Lydia has been living with this Whisperers’ philosophy but she still is not totally jaded by it. I think she would hesitate, and then I think if they hadn’t pulled the thing, if Daryl and Connie hadn’t rushed in with their scheme to save them, I think maybe Alpha would have actually just stabbed him herself. Maybe that’s what would have happened. I don’t think Lydia could have brought herself to do it. (Interview.)
NEXT PAGE: Michonne vs. Negan, and what’s coming up next
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about Michonne in this episode. She has given herself executive veto power over Alexandria — giving the community the illusion of a democracy even if she really is calling all the shots. But then after her talk with Negan, she changes her mind and allows them to make the decision. What is it about that talk with Negan, or maybe even a little bit the talk with Judith after, that gets her to re-evaluate that decision?
ANGELA KANG: 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.
Michonne says Negan is a monster and only came back because he couldn’t hack it out there. Judith says he’s not like that anymore. What’s the truth, Angela?
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.
Okay, we need to talk about Eugene’s chart for Gabriel with all the positive and negative numeric values for staying with Rosita while she is pregnant with Siddiq’s child. Where did this idea come from, and is there an actual chart somewhere lying around?
Oh, yes, there’s is an actual chart that was worked on by the art department in conjunction with writers from the show. And I can’t remember the exact genesis of the idea, but it came out of a writers’ room. And they just thought that that was such a funny idea. And then it’s like the line items that people added to this chart, it’s so funny. And he assigns points to things that are pluses or minuses. It’s like, diapers gets negative points, but getting to spend time with Rosita gets plus points!
And then we have ridiculous details like “Sports,” which, at first, he assigns a negative value because he’s Eugene, and then he crosses it out and he changed it to a positive value on the chart because he was like, “Well, to most people the ability to do sports with your kid is a good thing.” So it’s all these silly details that I think are really fun. Josh McDermitt always does a great job with all the Eugene stuff. And I think he went at so very seriously in the scene, which was really fun.
And can we assume from that final scene as we see Gabriel, Rosita, and Siddiq heading inside together that Gabriel has made peace with the situation?
Yeah, I mean at the very least they’re going to head in and talk about it. In the comics, Rosita’s actually having an affair with Siddiq while she’s with Eugene. So we did a different version of the story for the show, but we’re like, well, wouldn’t it be interesting to just see people who actually all really like each other and are mature adults but in a super-weird apocalypse situation? How do you deal with this? And I think it’s given some good grist between the four of them that are all caught in this situation.
Okay, Daryl and Connie save the day, grab Henry and take off from the Whisperers. What can you tell us about next week’s episode of The Walking Dead
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.
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