Samantha Morton on that huge Alpha Walking Dead shocker
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s episode The Walking Dead titled “Walk With Us.”
The Whisperers leader Alpha prided herself on not making emotional decisions. But it was a series of bonds that eventually did her in on Sunday’s “Walk With Us” episode of The Walking Dead. Believing that Negan had captured her daughter Lydia and left her in a cabin, Alpha planned to go in and finally kill her offspring. But when she opened the door, Lydia was not there, and when she turned around, it was her new Whisperer boyfriend Negan that delivered the fatal blow, slicing her neck, cutting off her head, and delivering it to Carol.
In the end, Alpha’s TV death mirrored her end in the original comic book — even if some of the details on what led to it differed a bit. Thanks to some fine and freaky work by actress Samantha Morton, Alpha became one of the most charismatic and exciting villains the show has ever seen. We spoke to Morton to get her take on Alpha’s fate, find out when she knew about it, and get intel on her final days on set. She also explained why she hated playing a severed zombie head, and what it’s like to finally get to grow her hair out again. Read on for all the scoop, and also make sure to read our episode Q&A with showrunner Angela Kang, who talks about the deaths of Alpha, Gamma, and Earl.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, first off, tell me how and when you found out about Alpha's untimely demise. Was this something you knew before season 10 started filming as you guys mapped up an outline?
SAMANTHA MORTON: I knew when I got the part — basically, when Angela and I were talking about Alpha and the possibility of me playing her and all that kind of stuff. She was really, really honest and said, "Listen, this is what's going to happen." I think that the overwhelming feeling on the show is that you are part of the story that continues. The show is bigger than any one individual, it is all about The Walking Dead, so to play a villain such as Alpha, you know that something's got to give. So, I always knew.
What do you think about the way she went out, and what were those conversations like in terms of her final end?
I think for me what was really amazing was that I made some really great connections early on with the team. Therefore, when you know what's going to happen, and they communicate really well with you about the story arc, and where you're going, you can just enjoy the ride then. You've got a little sneaky smile in your heart because you know what's going to happen. It's like having an amazing secret, but I suppose in a way in the comics that's how she goes out. It's kind of there anyway, and they don't always do what's in the comics, I know, but this one, you need something to happen to her. She's just absolutely shocking.
I was wondering how familiar you were with the comic book. Did you go and read it and look at it yourself, or did someone just give you the update on what happened there?
Initially when I was in the very, very early stages of developing the character, I thought it was incredibly important to have a sense of her from the comics. I really needed that background, her DNA, if you like, because obviously that's what's inspiring the writers. But then, at some point, you just have to drop that, and you have to trust the writers.
It's a little bit like when years ago I did an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and I played Jane Eyre and at some point you've got to go, "Right, we're doing the screenplay now." Otherwise, your brain gets overloaded with, what is the truth of this? And ultimately we're making a TV show, so yeah, it was a bit of both.
What was Alpha's ultimate downfall? Was it her conflicted feelings for Lydia that did her in, was it the attraction to Negan, a little bit of both? What do you make of it?
I think her downfall was her mental health issues. She's had whatever happened to her in the apocalypse, and the choices that she made to survive, and for Lydia's protection. In a way, the way that I played it was almost like, imagine your child goes and joins ISIS. The way that Alpha feels about how human beings are choosing to live post-apocalypse is so alien to her, like we messed that up the first time, and it didn't work. We need to get back to nature.
You have to remember that the Whisperers were minding their own business, they were just living in the woods minding their own business. They didn't start the trouble, they didn't kill anyone first. They're quite tough and cult like, and they're quite ruthless, but they were just minding their business. I think Alpha's downfall ultimately was her daughter, and her protection for her daughter, and the secondary madness that came into her brain because of that.
She definitely thought that she had a new leader in Negan when she realized that Lydia wasn't going to become another Alpha, and she was thinking about in her mind some suicide pact, that Negan would take over because she can't trust Beta in that way, that he couldn't become the leader. She's always known that about him. He doesn't have it in him to be a leader, but Negan could be a leader of the Whisperers. But then it doesn't happen that way, and she only finds out in that last moment when she turns and the room's empty.
It's okay, she gets it because she's not afraid of death. I mean, seriously, not afraid of death. The sad thing for Alpha in that moment is that she didn't get to see her daughter. If we're going to feel sorry for Alpha at all, it’s because she didn't get to say goodbye in the way that she wanted to.
The final scene where we see Negan drops your head on the ground, the zombified head of Alpha. Did they do a cast of your head or did you get zombified?
It was a bit of both. I did a lot of zombie stuff, and there was greenscreen, and stuff like that too. So, a bit of both. It was awful, I hated it.
Why did you hate it?
They scare me. The zombies scare me so much. They're so real, man. I'm there, I'm having my lunch, and some poor person is dressed as a zombie, and it's real. It's like that scene in American Wolf in London, and he's sitting in his hospital bed, and his mate comes in, he's been attacked, and he's eating his toast, and everything. It's that same feeling inside. I just can't even look at them. As Alpha, when I get into character, I'm fine. But when I'm just Sam, and I'm there having my lunch, I'm like, "Oh!" So, when Alpha died and I'm having to go back to work, and I'm doing zombie stuff, I can't cope. I'm like, "Oh! I don't like it!"
What were your last days on set like?
They were kind of happy and sad at the same time. Really happy because I think we hit a home run. We just achieved such amazing stuff. Jeffrey Dean Morgan — the work we did together blew my mind. Melissa and I, some of the work that we had to do in the series and everybody — Cassidy, and Ryan, and Norman — and I just love everybody so much. Even actors I didn't get to do anything with, you just become family. I just was like, "Oh, I'm going to miss you all so much." It was the best job ever.
You and Jeffrey Dean Morgan had great scenes together throughout. What was it like combining your energies on screen?
I think that we have a huge amount of respect for each other as actors. I think he's absolutely incredible. He saw a film I did years ago, so I knew that he liked my work. You just have that huge professional respect for one another, so that just gets you excited as well, by the fact that the storylines are great, that we're so excited about what we're doing, we love our job.
I felt blessed really because everybody on the show is all about, how can I make this easier for someone else? My fight scenes with Norman, he's always like, "Are you okay? Do you need anything?" And he genuinely, everybody on the show, in front of the camera and behind the camera — because it is tough, and we're doing really tough stuff, and it's hard, and it's not easy playing someone who's so nasty. Everybody just looks out for each other. My last day was both really amazing because I was like, "Yay, I did it!" And bad, I felt, "Oh, that's it."
What was the last thing you shot?
It was some pickup shots. Honestly, I burst into tears because they made these t-shirts that said Save Alpha. The whole crew were wearing these Save Alpha t-shirts that they made. I was like, "Oh, I'm going to miss you guys." They're used to that on the show, I'm not. They're used to it because they're always having people come and go. But I fell in love with both living and working in Senoia, and I loved Atlanta. I've been working in America since I was 19, and it's a dream come true for me to be in your country, and play an American character. It's like a childhood dream come true whenever I get to do it, so that's where I was at.
You had so many memorable scenes throughout your run. Do you have a favorite scene or episode during your tenure on the show?
I do. I think my favorite scene was when I first walk up to a Hilltop, and I literally say, "I am Alpha." I loved that day. I had a great day. That's the one that comes into my head right now. I loved filming the flashback episode, episode 2, because I got to work with Greg Nicotero for a whole episode, a lot of it, because it was a lot of Alpha stuff, episode 2.
Tell me about filming the freaky masked naked scene between Alpha and Negan we saw a few weeks ago.
I didn't want to get bitten by any bugs, so I was just like bug sprayed, and all of that, and it's just so lovely to create. I don't know. I've done a lot of stuff like that anyway, in my career, a lot of those kinds of things. I don't know, it was just fine. I don't watch what I do, so maybe in the future I will look back and go, "That was a bit weird." But when you're in it, you're just getting on with it.
You say you've done a lot of that in your career, but not with the zombie mask on your face. That's what makes it so weird.
It's not a zombie mask, she's just a Whisperer. It's like being a medic, and sorry about saying this at the moment with everything that's going on, but it's like being a medic and having a mask on. That's part of her armor, that's part of her, who she is. It wasn't kinky, it was just her. She's a Whisperer.
Speaking of her look, now that you're done playing Alpha, what's it like being able to grow your hair out again?
Oh, it's wonderful! It's really wonderful. It's a bit mad at the moment though, it's absolutely mad. I'm going to have a warm head because it was freezing at Christmas, and winter. It was just freezing. And then you get sunburned, and you spend a lot of money on sun cream because you're just keeping that shiny thing very protected.
What are you going to miss most about working on The Walking Dead?
I'm going to miss everybody. The first thing, I'm just going to miss everybody. I'm going to miss being part of something that has such help from the fan because normally when you do something, a show or film, you get people that appreciate that, and that's great, and I really, really respond to that. But when you're in The Walking Dead, you're part of a community. Maybe I'll have the badge forever now because I've been in the show, but that's what I'll miss, being part of that family.
AMC's zombie thriller, based on the classic comic book serial created by Robert Kirkman.