Ryan Hurst shares more clues on Beta's backstory on The Walking Dead
SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you have already watched Sunday’s “We Are the End of the World” episode of The Walking Dead.
We had a lot of blanks filled in on Sunday’s “We Are the End of the World” episode of The Walking Dead, especially with the character of Beta. Thanks to a series of flashbacks, we saw where Beta was originally holed up after the zombie apocalypse. We saw Beta meet Alpha. We saw how and why they became codependent. We saw where Beta got his t-shirt and his zombie mask. The one thing we did not see, however, was Beta’s face.
That reveal will have to wait, but we got some more scoop out of actor Ryan Hurst about why Beta was in a rehab medical facility, who the person is that used to own that t-shirt and face-turned-mask, and how the character is feeling about Alpha’s erratic behavior of late. Hurst also reveals the behind-the-scenes origins of the creepy Whisperer manta, and seems to confirm that Easter egg on Fear the Walking Dead that revealed Beta to be a pre-apocalypse musician (whose album was owned by Daniel Salazar). Read on for more intel! (Also check out our episode Q&As with Thora Birch, who plays Gamma, and showrunner Angela Kang.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like to get to tell some of Beta’s backstory here in these flashbacks?
RYAN HURST: Yeah, it’s been a blast. One of the most fun parts that I’ve had on this show is the secretive nature of where this guy came from. It’s something that I very early on brought to [showrunner Angela Kang], that I had this idea of his backstory and also, how they met, and we collaborated a bunch on making this back story a reality. So, I’m just super happy with the way that it all worked out because Angela and I’ve been talking about this since the beginning of season 9, when I first signed on. I had some different ideas that were sort of contradictory to some other stuff that was established in the comic books, so I think we’re on the right path. There’s still a lot of secrets behind who Beta was that we’ll investigate more and more. But you know, I like to dangle a carrot.
Well, allow me to nibble on that carrot a bit and ask you a few questions, because it looks like Beta’s holed up here in some sort of rehab medical facility place. Why is this where Alpha finds Beta? What should we read into this location?
At the end of the episode we see a picture of him and what we can assume is one of his best friends, but this was the place that he was admitted for either some mental reason or otherwise. And he sort of saw it as a place of solace. When the world went to hell, he went to the only place that he felt safe and he just happened to find it there.
And, of course I’m going to ask you about that person. We see that Alpha killed that walker. We see the face and the t-shirt. Now, Beta’s wearing this person’s face and t-shirt so clearly this is someone of importance. What can you tell me about this guy and his role in Beta’s life?
I was sort of putting together this backstory of this guy, and when I pitched it to Angela, I said that I would really love the emotional currency of him wearing the face of his best friend. From an actor’s perspective, I was like, “Why doesn’t this guy take off his mask?” There’s a lot of answers to that question, but the main one was that I thought it would be so wonderful if he had a best friend that he just couldn’t let go and he was wearing the face of somebody that he knew and loved, and that would bring a bit of pathos to this very sort of dark and mysterious character. That was really important to me.
So, I think that we can take away from it that they were best friends and that his best friend was sort of the last vestiges of his old life of who he was before the apocalypse. And Alpha sort of instills in him this “Look the world is burning, the world is dying. The world now belongs to the walkers, but this is all that you can take with you,” and he decides to follow her lead.
Is Beta the kind of guy that needs someone to follow? Does he need that rock of stability or leadership?
I think it’s a beautiful partnership between the two of them. One of the things that I liked about how the episode played out and that was really important to me was that in the comic book, essentially what you get is a hierarchy. You have a leader and you have a follower. And for the most part that’s what you get in all of season 9, which is this charismatic leader and then somebody following her.
And then, throughout season 10 and especially in this in this episode, you see that there’s much more of a partnership. A very strange, carnal, primal, not sexual but intimate relationship between the two. And I think in very many ways Alpha saves Beta, and in a lot of ways Beta saves Alpha. So it’s a really codependent relationship. I don’t think that he’s just needy of a strong leader. I think they found a big balance with each other.
And that dynamic is sort of challenged a little bit somewhat here with the Gamma situation. What does Beta make of when Alpha bestows a name on this other Whisperer? Now we’ve got Gamma, and he doesn’t seem too psyched about it.
Beta is really the secret holder of all of Alpha’s sort of democracies. We decided to all give up names and to become as close to walkers as we can, but then why are we calling your daughter Lydia? Why does she still have a name and we all call her that? If there are kinks in her armor, Beta knows them, and it’s his job to sort of smooth them over in the face of all of the rest of the Whisperers so that we don’t have a rebellion.
And when she decides to bestow a name to Gamma, I think he sees this as an enormous problem. The fact that he doesn’t kill her sister and the fact that he just throws a name under her, these are all enormous mistakes that he is tracking very, very, very carefully. He’s kind of like a Dutch boy with his finger in the dam, just trying to make sure that this whole thing doesn’t come crashing down. But they spent the last 10 years building this army and they all depend on her word, and she’s becoming really a little bit more unfit. So, it’s his job to kind of protect her from herself.
And so, at the end of this episode, where is he with her? Because you just mentioned a bunch of the things that are clearly concerning him. And then, he sees that weird creepy wooden shrine that she’s set up to Lydia. But then we see them do the mantra at the end. Is he hoping she’s back on track?
With the flashing back, we’re sort of drawing parallels of when Beta was locked up in this place, sort of grasping, holding on to his old life. She came in and saved him and in the present tense, Beta has tracked her down and found that she’s doing the exact same thing. I think by the end of the episode, he’s still very, very concerned about emotionally and psychologically where Alpha stands, but there’s this mantra is something that they’ve said together for a long time.
The little story behind the mantra was, I wrote the mantra as a way of what I would say to myself to sort of get in character after I would get my mask on and be in costume and I would say it. And then I told Angela that and she was like, “Oh my God, we’re using it!” I was like, “Great!” And I think the way that they use it is perfect too.
So what do you prefer, the ski mask or the zombie mask?
The zombie mask. The zombie mask every day. Every day.
You must get hot in that thing, man.
Oh my God. I landed in the hospital once this year from heat exhaustion. I’m in a leather trench coat and two layers under that in Georgia in the summer. It’s no joke, man.
Alpha sees Beta’s face in the episode when she takes his mask off, but we do not. Angela tells me we will see Beta’s face at some point. What are we going to see when we do? What’s under the mask?
A bleary resemblance to Whoopi Goldberg. [Laughs] No, I can’t tell you too much about that. We’ve been dropping Easter eggs here and there, maybe on this show, maybe on another show that’s connected to it, but I’ll sort of keep dangling that carrot and let people wait for the end of this season to see what happens.
What was it like to have Greg Nicotero direct this episode?
I’ll tell you, I’ve worked with the Cohen brothers, I’ve worked with Steven Spielberg, and Greg is my favorite director to work and I’ve told him that. There is nobody else. He creates such a stress free, safe, wonderful creative meritocracy there. Any idea is welcome. He really extends this aura of we’re all in it together and what a great experience this is going to be for everybody. I absolutely adore working with him.