Ryan Hurst goes inside Beta's 'nightmare fuel' fate on The Walking Dead
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "A Certain Doom."
The Whispering is pretty much over. And the big fella who liked to chant about being the end of the world finally met his end.
Beta and his herd of Whisperers and walkers seemed to have our heroes surrounded on Sunday's episode of The Walking Dead, "A Certain Doom" (which was supposed to be the season 10 finale before being delayed by six months due to COVID-19; there will now be six additional season 10 episodes that will air in early 2021). But then a few survivors slipped out of the building. And them Lydia grabbed the backpack of supplies. And then, out of nowhere, "Burning Down the House" by Talking Heads was blaring. And then Beta found himself facing off against the two characters he hated most in the world: Negan and Daryl.
Negan played the bait to lure Beta away from Lydia, and while blinded by his rage at the sight of the man who beheaded his beloved Alpha, Beta never saw Daryl, who announced his arrival by plunging two knives in the big fella's eyes. As flashbacks of his journey with Alpha played in his mind, Beta surrendered himself to the herd.
The end of Beta also meant the end for Ryan Hurst, who played the baddie to creepy perfection. But does it mean that the actor and character are truly gone from The Walking Dead universe? We spoke to Hurst to get the inside scoop on his final episode, and whether it's really a final goodbye from the franchise.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So, Ryan, when and how did you find out about Beta's demise?
RYAN HURST: Angela Kang let me know before we started shooting season 10 that they were going to kill the character. And we bumped around some ideas about how it was going to happen. She told me about Alpha's death and how that was going to play out. And that there was some basic guidelines about how the rest of the story line was going to play out. And then as we went into shooting, Angela and Greg Nicotero were just so accommodating.
All throughout all of my time on Walking Dead, they were just so absolutely gracious with, I would bring them these sort of wackadoo ideas, and they took them and turned them into gold. It was very early on when they were first establishing Beta's backstory and all of that. I'm obviously a big fan of the comic and had read that he was a basketball player and that kind of thing. And then I just had this weird idea of him being a country music singer, and so I just sort of forwarded these things along. Now, as an actor, you always throw out some wackadoo ideas and the creators go, "Thank you very much. We'll take it from here." But she said, "Yeah, let's do it!"
So when his death came around, I had this beautiful idea of Thich Quang Duc, who was one of the the Vietnamese monks who lit themselves on fire in protest of the Vietnam War and just sort of sat there. Being a fan of the show, we've seen so many deaths where there's people screaming and ripped apart. I was just like, as a fan, I wanted to see somebody have a slow, peaceful tearing apart, and it felt very organic to throw that out there. And they said that they loved it. So after he gets stabbed in the face is after that, him just being slowly welcoming, very peacefully welcoming death was very, very sweet.
You're being modest when you talk about your contributions to this character in the world of The Walking Dead. I I know that whole Whisperer mantra was your whole thing that you cooked up and that you developed. And here it is at the end. That's what we hear as Beta is meeting his end.
I'll tell you, it was just so beautiful. The cast and crew and the producers and Angela, and it really is such a beautiful family there. That a lot of the times when you show up on a set, there's a power play this way and that way, and everybody tries to stay in their own lane. But this is, I think one of the beautiful parts that everyone feels on the set of The Walking Dead, is that it's a real meritocracy. It's like, if you have a great idea, don't keep it to yourself. And everybody brings these things to the table, so it really feels like this communal thing that there's no egos involved. That everybody's just going, "We love this show. The fans love this show." It's like, "Here's a great idea. Use it, don't use it."
For the sort of mantra, again, it was one of those things that I just, I was sitting in meditation and this weird mantra came in of, "We are the end of the world." And I'll tell you, while we were shooting that very last sequence… I don't get spooked very easily, but when you have 300 extras who turn and look at you as you're standing there, and you're supposed to lock eyes with each of them and they're all just chanting, "We are the end of the world" — I tell you, they called cut and I was like, "Yo, man, that is fricking scary." Just to have 300 dead faces looking just at you saying, "We are the end of the world." I was like, "All right, this is nightmare fuel. I'm taking this with me, I guess."
And beyond being scary, tell me just about what it was like shooting this whole sequence? Was it emotional for you? Were you amped up?
I wish I could say that it was super-fun or not, but we shot it in little pieces and we had to shoot it over, I think it was like three days for the most part. We had to shoot one little bit, and then the mask sort of malfunctioned. And we had to shoot it again at a different location for some of the closeups. So it was real catawampussed, all sort of put together.
But it was difficult because I'll tell you, underneath this mask I had these prosthetics that had blood spurting out of them underneath the mask. And I'm being led by a second AD at 4 in the morning, who's just saying, "Step, step, don't step on the dead body. Keep moving, keep moving," trying to put me on my mark. So it was real technical, but afterwards, obviously got a big round of applause from everyone. And then Melissa [McBride] and Norman [Reedus] and everybody threw a going-away party for me and for [Samantha Morton] over at Melissa's house, which was so sweet.
What was the last thing you actually filmed? Was it the death scene or something else?
Yeah, it was him pulling the knives out of his eyes. And that was Norman's idea. Because he really tapped into how it was just such an operatic moment. It was just so tragic and beautiful. Norman really pushed for it that after "I stab him in there that he should be the one that pulls them out," and that really sold the moment.
I love the fact that it's Beta, Negan, and Daryl because not only am I thinking about all the weird connections between these characters, but just to have Ryan, Norman, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan — I feel like you're close, you have a similar spiritual soul-brother thing going on. So the fact that it was the three of you together was really cool on multiple levels.
I loved it. Those are two of my best friends, man, I'll tell you. Jeff and I go way back. Both of our first jobs that we ever had, like 20-some-odd years ago, we worked together on a show for CBS, just one little episode. And then we have bumped around for a long time. And then Norman and I had seen each other at Comic Cons for years and years, but then it was one of those things. When Norman and I really finally met a couple of years ago, it was just like, "Oh, we're cut from the same cloth, bro." And we were really, really fast friends and he was like, "You've got to come with me to Japan to do Ride." And we went off and did that, and we've been close ever since. He texted five times this morning, he's one of my great friends.
This episode was originally supposed to air back in April, before COVID came and scrapped that plan. What was it like knowing this was your big episode, but then having to wait an extra six months for people to see it?
I know! Because I wanted to see it too. Because they hadn't finished the episode. So I was like, "Oh." I wanted to see the final put together, so when they put out the teaser, I still hadn't seen the full episode. And I was just like, "Oh, this looks great." And when I finally watched the episode, again, I was very touched by the way that they presented his death. That they did that little montage flashback homage to his emotional journey, which I hadn't seen on the show before. And I was just like, "Oh, they like me. They really like me."
I guess it was a stay of execution for Beta. He got an extra six months due to COVID before they put him out.
Milked it for all it was worth.
Looking back at the entirety of your time on the show, do you have a favorite scene or any special moment that you really think about that you shot for The Walking Dead?
I think it was before I actually shot my very first day, Norman and I, the big fight sequence, the knife sequence before Beta falls down the elevator shaft. We had probably four or five days of just rehearsal. So it was the first day of rehearsal and him and I were on the set with the stunt coordinator. And then Andy [Lincoln] shows up and I was just like, "What?" Andy was there and I guess he… I literally still don't know why he was in town. And he was giving notes, and Norman's just like, "Yo, your character is gone. Get out of here, let me do this by myself." And I was just like, "What's going on?" And then we went out to dinner afterwards and Andy teaches me how to play backgammon, and it was just so surreal. I was just like, "What's going on?" But putting that fight sequence together, it was pretty solid.
I hope you didn't get roped into their backgammon games. Those are high-stakes games those two play.
I know, I know. I was just like, "Yo, I've never played before. I'm not putting any money on the table."
What are you going to miss most about working on this show?
It's just the love. It's one of those things, when you look back at what you're going to miss most about your life, it's always the love. The love that you feel on that set is unprecedented. I've never been on a set that is such a communal love fest. And to be able to spend hot Georgia summers hanging out with your best friends and making something that you really think is great. The love between everybody is absolutely tangible there, and I'll miss that the most.
I don't know how you dealt with that heat. You've got the mask, and you got that overcoat on, that could not have been comfortable.
I got heat exhaustion once. I ended up in the hospital there once. It's no joke. When they do safety meetings before every shoot day, it really is like you're camping in the Alps. Everybody goes, "You go somewhere, take a friend with you." It's no joke, those Georgia summers. When you got a wool jacket on, and a leather coat, and three layers under that, and long hair, a beard, a latex mask, the only thing that they could do to make me any hotter is put me in a sleeping bag. It was painful.
Well, look, Beta's gone but we know that Scott Gimple is working on a new Walking Dead anthology series. He's told me it's going to potentially do some installments with characters that have died, or we've lost along the way, maybe fill in some gaps. What do you think about a Beta backstory here?
I don't know I can either confirm or deny whether I had dinner with him or not, but that's pretty much all that I'm allowed to say. Look, anytime, anything Walking Dead-related, I'd be there in a nanosecond. I have so much fun with that, and Scott is a great friend. Scott and I can nerd out for five hours straight, he's a total cinephile, total comic book head. I love Scott.