By Dalton Ross
October 13, 2019 at 10:04 PM EDT
Fall TV
  • TV Show

SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “We Are the End of the World” episode of The Walking Dead.

I don’t know if we should call it a “meet-cute” necessarily, but we did see how Whisperer leaders Alpha and Beta first met each other on Sunday’s “We Are the End of the World” episode of The Walking Dead. The show flashbacked seven years to show what happened when the pair first laid eyes on each other. We learned that Beta rocked a ski mask and seemed content to be done with society. That is, until a bald psychopath walked into his medical facility (and his heart?), killed off what appeared to be a zombified buddy of Beta’s, and then came up with the disgusting plan to start wearing sliced off zombie faces as masks. Good times!

Meanwhile, back in the present. Alpha was saved when one sister essentially killed the other to protect her, causing the leader to bestow upon her the rank and title of Gamma — and causing Beta to grumble about the promotion… at least as much as any Whisperer is allowed to grumble.

What does it all mean? For that, we went to showrunner Angela Kang for answers. (Also read our episode Q&As with Ryan Hurst, who plays Beta, and Thora Birch, who plays Gamma.)

Jace Downs/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What made you want to tell Beta’s backstory here as we learn how he and Alpha met?
ANGELA KANG: As we got into talking about what’s been going on with the Whisperers, we felt that part of what the story should be for the season is, it’s not just our heroes and their reaction to the Whisperers. It really felt like we were trying to do and show something that feels more like the apocalyptic equivalent of a cold war. It’s like what’s happening on the other side of the aisle as well. And in order to tell that story, it felt like it was of use to tell a story about how these two leaders have bonded. Because they are such an enigma in a way. There’s so much that’s strange about the Whisperers, but one of the things that I think is useful to try to understand is that there are real human beings that are part of this group.

They are not just these nameless, faceless monsters walking around in zombie masks. There were real human beings that have gotten sucked into this sort of cult of personality that Alpha has, and Beta was her first disciple. So we wanted to just pull back the curtain on that a little bit. It’s like she has this way of connecting with people who are lost souls and seeing how they can be of use to her. And she is a good leader, not just because she’s brutal and willing to be brutal, or because she has Beta as her strong man. There is something about her that’s so compelling to people who need somebody to hang onto desperately.

So it felt like by telling a story about the past and the present, we see both the start of that and where that’s come to in the present day. We just thought that was an interesting way to tell the story. And also, Beta is just so fun. We love the idea that even when she met him, he was already worried about what does that mean? So here’s a guy who was tailor-made to become a Whisperer.

Well, a big part of that story is the walker that Alpha kills whose face and t-shirt Beta now wears. Who is that person, Angela?
In our backstory, we were saying that this place is some sort of rehab facility or like a medical place. And we think that this person was — I can’t give away every sort of thing that we think about him because there’s a backstory to Beta — but somebody that really helped keep Beta stable and was helping him stay on track, perhaps like a sponsor or somebody just close in that sort of way, like an emotionally close bond. Somebody that, the loss of this person at the beginning of the apocalypse would cause him to just be in his own head, feel trapped until Alpha unleashed the apocalypse version of Beta that we know and love and hate.

And she replaces that other person that he was, as someone for Beta to follow?
Yeah, I think so. And yet he carries this person’s face and his shirt. So Beta hangs on to things. That’s what we know about him.

Well, I’m a little jealous because Alpha got to see Beta’s face in the episode when she takes his mask off, but we as viewers do not. Will we ever see Beta’s face on this show?
We will. Yes, we will. And it will be Walking Dead weird.

Another big part of the episode is meeting Thora Birch’s character, Gamma. She has this moment where Gamma has to choose between Alpha and her sister when the sister attacks Alpha, and she clearly chooses Alpha. The question I have is, why? Is it because she’s completely bought into this way of life philosophically that Alpha’s trying to espouse, or is this just a matter of survival instinct kicking in, and if I want to survive I’m going to have to literally pick the Alpha?
I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s such a split-second decision but it’s one of those split-second decisions that tells you so much about the person’s mindset. It’s one of those things that’s like, what do you do in the moment when you don’t even have a chance to decide and there’s some sort of lizard part of your brain that takes over? It speaks a lot to the power of Alpha over people. We’ve been talking about it a lot as a kind of a cult. There are cult-like aspects, and that frames [Samantha Morton’s] way of seeing the character in a way that I think is really interesting. Because there is this way of when that leader becomes everything, and everybody feels like without this leader I am lost. I don’t know how to survive.

She is the one that protects us all. She’s the one that gives us structure and meaning in a world that doesn’t make any f—ing sense anymore. This woman who has this sister, but they have this strange relationship and she fears that her sister is not strong enough. In that moment, she makes the choice that she thinks is the choice that’s going to help her survive. And it says a lot about her emotional state, and the consequences of this action end up being really important for the season. Thora is just a really exceptional actress, we’re so lucky to have her. She gives a really fascinating and nuanced performance through the season of this character who’s really quite complex and very different from Alpha and Beta. She occupies her own space in the story.

Well, what’s going on with Alpha? Because we see at one point she goes against her own rules and spares Gamma’s sister. Then we see that creepy wooden-like shrine sort of situation. Clearly she seems to be struggling with losing Lydia to civilization. So how is that impacting her decision-making, and will that continue to impact it moving forward?
One of the things that I always thought was interesting in the comic book is that Alpha does have this care for Lydia even though, I mean, she’s a horrible mother. There’s not even an origin point. She’s not a good mother to Lydia. And yet, for somebody who professes to try to live as the animals do, survival of the fittest, stamp out these kinds of vestiges of humanity — because we live in the world of the dead, there’s such a hypocrisy at the core of that. And it’s a thing that she struggles against, and that is one of the compelling things about her character in the book. So we have our own take on it in the season, but certainly that mother–daughter bond and her mental and emotional state around it, and what Beta sees as a weakness — that must be hidden. All of that plays into the conflict that is growing within the Whisperers, as well as between them and our people.

How concerned is Beta getting about his leader here?
There are a lot of things that happen in that second episode that are giving him pause in ways that he never wanted to have pause about. And that’s also part of why we wanted to tell the story of how that trust was won. And then there’s an inverse story in the present about how the absolute trust that was gained is starting to falter, and where he’s seeing, “Okay, she lied about Lydia, she’s obviously hanging on to her in a way that we are not supposed to do. She’s supposed to be attacking these communities and what have we been doing? We’re just wondering around. Wait, there’s another person with a name and there’s a Gamma now? What the f— is that?”

So there are these little things that are starting to gnaw at him. It just makes him wonder a little bit. And Alpha feels that there are ways in which Beta is judging her actions, and that causes her to have a little bit of pause about him too. When leaders feel like they’re being judged, they often react accordingly. So it’s all part of the very interesting psychology of the Whisperers that we’ve been having fun just playing with, and guessing at what kinds of things they might be thinking and doing based on what is so beautifully done in the comics.

Also read our episode Q&As with Ryan Hurst, who plays Beta, and Thora Birch, who plays Gamma. And for more Walking Dead scoop, follow Dalton on Twitter @DaltonRoss.

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