This week’s episode of The Walking Dead wasn’t the most eventful, but it gave us more information about latest threat, the Whisperers, before the Hilltop colony finally came face-to-face with their ruthless leader, Alpha. Let’s jump straight into it. Warning: spoilers follow!
1. Interrogation Techniques
As suspected last episode, no one was buying Lydia’s various stories about her group—except Henry. The smitten boy continued to try and connect with the new girl at the beginning of this episode, Daryl keeping an open ear on their conversations. All the while, Lydia was picking up key information, noting how few guards there must be at Hilltop, and even getting Henry to tell her about the Kingdom. Has he learned nothing from Carol over the past six years?!
With Daryl cutting Henry’s unwitting security risk short early on, we see different interrogation approaches throughout the episode. This ultimately allows us more insight into the characters at play, with the episode centering primarily around Lydia, Daryl, and Henry. Daryl continues his rough-handed approach, but not without compassion, bringing her medicine for earache. Seeing scars on her arms and listening to her stories, he recognizes her as a victim of child abuse and tries to connect with her on a more direct, sympathetic level, drawing upon his own history and seeing through her lies with a level of understanding.
Henry, on the other hand, is soft and naive, but willing to always see the best in people. He’s angry at Daryl for using him, scolding him for not asking for help. He recalls overhearing Carol tell Ezekiel about her hair: keeping it short so Ed couldn’t grab it easily, only recently feeling comfortable enough to grow it long again. Henry’s been sheltered behind walls all of his life—and it shows—but he’s aware people need to feel safe. He later breaks Lydia out of her cell, showing her the community they’ve built, seemingly taking Carl’s place in the comics (thankfully through worm eating rather than eye-licking). This kindness and rose-tinted view on rebuilding life may be what Lydia needed to lower her own defenses—and the hammer she briefly considered cracking Henry’s skull with. The three ultimately bond through their own experiences and reactions to trauma, each able to understand why someone’s might be on guard and their own views on how to help them.
The episode is peppered with flashbacks to Lydia’s experiences at the beginning of the walker outbreak. Events and details change each time Lydia recalls the incident. Her father is sometimes clean-shaven, sometimes bearded; a tattoo of her name switches between her mother and father’s arms; they also alternate singing Lydia the Tattooed Lady to her whilst comforting her; her father dies from a walker bite to being killed at the hands of her own mother. Her memories are unreliable and inconsistent, at first hinting towards her being untrustworthy, but ultimately revealing that she has been manipulated and abused to perceive events—and the new world order—in a particular way. Combined with the scars visible on her arms, it’s clear that Lydia has suffered emotionally, mentally, and physically at the hands of her mother, whilst her mother seems to believe she has her daughter’s best interests at heart.
These flashback scenes were skillfully handled and captivating to watch, spotting small changes in the details each time as Lydia peeled back the layers of her memories until the grim truth was revealed. It’s an impactful way to explore the effects of PTSD on a young mind, and played fantastically by Cassady McClincy.
This ultimately leads to Lydia telling the truth—or the version she knows to be true. Her mother has manipulated her into believing that those who are soft can’t survive, that walls never last, and that refusal to bend to fit the new world will result in downfall. It’s easy to see why she has become so jaded, and there’s an element of wonder and realization as she looks around at what Hilltop have created and even hears a baby’s cry, signalling literal new life.
Lydia finally opens up. She admits to needing help, accepting medicine, food, and water she’d previously rejected. She also reveals key information about the Whisperers, such as where their current camp is and that her mother is the leader of the group. Claiming that the Whisperers prefers to avoid contact with other big groups, she believes any outsiders they’ve met—including Luke and Alden—will already be dead, and the Whisperers will likely have already moved on without her. It must be a heart-breaking realization for a teenager to come to, but Lydia has underestimated her own mother…Continued below
4. Sneaking Out
We’re reunited with the newest group to arrive at Hilltop in this episode. Concerned about Luke’s disappearance, Kelly, Connie, Magna, and Yumiko agree to sneak out of camp and search for him again—in the dead of night. To them, sticking together and looking out for each other is worth more than safety behind walls. It’s a lovely sentiment, but ultimately a baffling decision this far into the apocalypse. Searching for clues and people is surely much easier in the daylight. It’s not until they are outside of the safety of the camp that Yumiko—one of the driving forces behind this midnight expedition—realizes the dangerous mistake they’ve made. She and Magna turn back, leaving determined Connie and Kelly to continue their search. The next morning, we see Magna apologize to Tara for sneaking out as Hilltop guards march Connie and Kelly back to the community.
This whole outing felt a bit odd and misplaced to me, and I can only suspect it was necessary to set wheels in motion. First, it quickly and clearly shows Tara as a more lenient leader than those we’ve previously seen over the years, willing to let people venture out and make mistakes, but also clever enough to keep an eye on what’s going on and keep her people safe. Secondly, they lead the way for the Whisperers to the Hilltop. Finally, Connie is cut off from the rest of the group, having been trailing behind on the walk back to camp. Instead of running for the doors, she hides amongst crops which stand just behind the intruders. A plant for the next episode, perhaps?
5. “I am Alpha”
We’ve often seen the undead shuffle toward parameter fences, but it was quite jarring to see a small group of people in walker skins storm confidently towards the Hilltop’s walls as the episode neared its end. Even more jarring was the woman who pushed her way amongst them until reaching the front, standing firmly at the helm. At last, Alpha reveals herself in her final form. Having watched her transform from a meek woman at the beginning of the episode into the manic leader of a group—wearing the flesh of the dead—she’s quite a terrifying foe. And it appears Lydia was wrong. Alpha is not prepared to forget her daughter and move on without her.
The insight into Alpha’s life at the beginning of the outbreak made the reveal all the more impactful. Lydia’s flashbacks reveal that her mother is willing to embrace the madness and primal living that inevitably comes with the end of days at the very beginning of the apocalypse, from shaving her head to coldly murdering those she deems as weak. Alpha is a fitting alias for her, and Samantha Morton is a welcome addition to the cast who will no doubt fully own the role. And as someone who appears to thrive under chaos, it only leads us to question what Alpha might be willing to do to those she deems as soft years into the apocalypse.
It’s another strong entry into this latest season of The Walking Dead. Whilst it hasn’t quite returned to the heights of storytelling and tension that ruled the screen in the days gone by—and some characters are still capable of making questionable decisions—this episode proved the show has returned to compelling character work and making use of storytelling devices to introduce new characters and threats.