SEASON 9; EPISODE 10
Last week we predicted that over the next couple of episodes we would see a shift in focus to the leader(s) of The Whisperers (hardly the most original prophecy, I know). Well, in episode 10 we got exactly that. Introductions to the villains of Walking Dead are always pretty important and as much as the Negan story got a little tiring, his introduction was one that won't be forgotten.
Whilst Alpha doesn't actually show her face in the present until the closing scenes, the episode is fundamentally all about building up her backstory and the mythology of her character. This is someone that we are supposed to be afraid of and whilst there was nowhere near the level of bloodshed and downright terror that accompanies the intro of Negan, it was still a quietly unsettling glimpse of an unhinged and dangerous new foe. She also provides a different kind of threat to him. Negan may have been a murderer but he was at least rational, you get the feeling that may not be the case here.
The gradual reveal of Alpha's history and descent into madness was smartly done and her transformation from the initial flashback to her appearance in the closing moments were incredibly affecting. The Walking Dead rarely uses flashbacks (they deserve a pat on the back for that as it's usually a bit of a lazy narrative device) but here they worked really well and were considerably more effective than just hearing Lydia recount tales of her childhood. Of course, all this was juxtaposed with the softening of Lydia's attitude towards Daryl and Hilltop - as well as her gradual realisation that her mother has been lying to and mistreating her for pretty much her whole life. The scenes where we realise that she has been abused by her mother and where she eats earthworms were particularly startling. Whilst it initially seemed that she was beyond help and would only pose a problem to the inhabitants of Hilltop, by the end of the episode it seemed that she had effectively switched sides. It's a little too early to say that for sure but if she hasn't begun a path of redemption then she's a bloody good liar. Ironically, her change of behaviour and outlook - and newfound attachment to Henry - actually mean that the odds on Hilltop giving her back to her mother are pretty slim. The Walking Dead has always been one to mull over philosophical and moral dilemmas and here we have a situation where the future and safety of one young girl is going to be weighed against the potential threat to the entire community. Expect division and heated debates next week.
Also, it was nice to see Henry step up a bit and his relationship with Lydia (brilliantly played by Cassady McClincy) looks like it could be an interesting B story. Episode Ten also saw Daryl step up to the plate. Since Rick and Maggie departed, there has been a hero shaped hole that needed filling and whilst Daryl has always been a fan favourite he has been relegated to an almost peripheral character at times during the last couple of series. But just as Norman Reedus himself has to shoulder more responsibility now that Andrew Lincoln has left the show, his character has to do the same - and it was nice to spend some time with him and more importantly, hear him talk, for longer than twenty seconds.
And whilst Daryl may be filling the Rick shaped hole in the show, Tara is showing signs of growing into a more senior role too. Last season she wasn't given too much to work with either to be frank, usually just reeling out a couple of one liners and chewing gum every other episode but the writers look like they might be developing her a little more, which is a good thing - as she's a likeable character.
In other news, Magna and her gang set out to find Luke (without Tara's permission) but come back empty handed and frustrated. Sure, it was a slightly less interesting story thread when compared to everything else that went on - but at least they didn't get picked off by The Whisperers (as seemed likely at one point). However, they did lead them back to Hilltop, so that sucked.
Finally a comment on the tone of the show, which was notably more dark and sinister this week. Although we didn't really get any 'action', the tension was carefully cranked up and it looks as if the casting of Samantha Morton as Alpha could be something of a masterstroke too.