The Walking Dead
“We Are the End of the World”
October 13, 2019
7 YEARS AGO
Back when the apocalypse was still pretty fresh, a woman in a minivan crashed her vehicle … somewhere … it doesn’t much matter, and the blaring horn attracted a herd — a herd that Alpha and a young Lydia were shambling along with, undetected. However, when the herd pulls Minivan Lady from her vehicle and proceed to devour her in front of Alpha and Young Lydia, Young Lydia has a bit of a freakout and begins screaming, drawing unwanted attention onto herself and her mother.
The pair run into a nearby building where they encounter a lumbering man in a balaclava, rocking a machete. Alpha is all, “HEY MAN, WE’RE COOL. AND IF YOU’RE NOT COOL WITH US BEING HERE, YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO KILL US BOTH.” Which doesn’t seem like the best way to suggest that you’re cool? Telling someone they’ll have to kill their 10-year-old daughter? But because Hulk here, he is a sociopath, too, and he’s like, “Yeah, we’re cool. You can stay tonight, but don’t leave the hallway.”
So, obviously, they’re going to leave the hallway at some point.
But first, Young Lydia asks for a bath because being covered head to toe in gore is stinky and disgusting. As her mother washes her hair, Young Lydia asks Alpha if the man is a “monster,” and Alpha replies that they are all monsters now because she’s just a very good mother.
Later, Alpha sings to herself while she looks through the supplies in the building, prompting the man to tell her to CUT. IT. OUT. He asks Alpha her name, but she declares that the dead don’t have names, and neither should they: those strong enough to still be alive in all this should know each other on a “primal” level. The dead fear nothing, they only want to eat, and as such, they are free. And that means freedom from dumb names our parents gave us without consulting us beforehand.
The big guy, he explains that he ended up in this place after he was run out of his camp a few weeks ago, before adding, like a goddamned lunatic, that the only sound that he likes is that of the dead, and he never wants it to end.
Alpha puts Young Lydia to bed in one of the padded cells — because OBVIOUSLY, we’re in an insane asylum — and tries to give Young Lydia her stuffed rabbit, only to have Young Lydia push it away: she doesn’t want it — she isn’t a baby anymore. She wants to be like Alpha; she doesn’t want to be scared anymore. Alpha, delighted to hear this, tells her daughter that if Young Lydia can’t be strong, she’ll be forced to leave her behind. And when Young Lydia tells her “momma” that she loves her, Alpha hisses at her to stop calling her that.
Later, Alpha kills some walkers in the hospital and is joined by the big masked dude. He then helps her as she disembowels the bodies to be used for her costuming purposes. He remarks that she’s not like other people …
When she compliments him after he tears open a rib cage with his bare hands, calling him “Big Man” in the process, he notes that he thought they weren’t supposed to have names. She agrees, and changes it to “Mr. B,” which makes her “A.”
Mr. B’s Bistro in New Orleans considers filing a lawsuit.
He asks her about moving with the dead, and she explains that it’s more than just moving with them, they have to feel what the dead feel: nothing. However, when she reaches to lift his mask, he recoils and orders her to leave in the morning.
Later that night, Young Lydia sneaks out of her room, finds her mother’s stash of guts, smears some of it onto herself and, repeating to herself, “we’re all monsters now,” heads towards a door that is clearly holding back a mess of walkers. A+++ PARENTING, ALPHA.
Meanwhile, her mother goes out looking for her but finds instead a room with a shit-ton of graffiti screaming “I AM THE END OF THE WORLD” and a photo of her new masked friend with another guy in a smiley-face t-shirt, both of their faces scratched out, full psychopath-style. That’s where B finds her and is furious. But then, to make things worse, a zombie enters the room — a zombie wearing a smiley-face t-shirt — and Alpha kills it, only further enraging B. So enraged, in fact, that he very nearly kills her until Young Lydia enters and screams at him that Alpha was trying to save him.
Young Lydia tells her mother that she was strong, like her, and Alpha, she agrees before insisting that her daughter NEVER LEAVE HER AGAIN.
Meanwhile, B mourns Smiley Face, but Alpha assures him that if he comes with her, he’ll never be alone again — they are the end of the world while lifting his mask and seeing his face for the first time. When B argues that he can’t leave Smiley Face, Alpha insists he doesn’t have to and hands him her knife which he proceeds to us to slice off his friend’s face.
And that’s how Beta got his mask.
Aww? I guess? BUT NO.
So, the Whisperers, they wintered someplace else, presumably Florida? And Beta thinks it’s time to return to harass our heroes, lest they stop fearing them. Alpha is all, “oh, we’ll go back soon enough,” before ordering him to take “the sisters” with him to find more walkers for their herd.
Beta, “The Sisters” and some others go out and collect walkers from a parking garage. However, on their return, one of the sisters starts weirding out, staring at the sky and noting that the sun “feels different.” Her sister warns her that Beta is going to notice and think she’s not committed to the cause AND MAYBE SHE SHOULD HAVE JUST LEFT HER BEHIND WHEN SHE HAD THE CHANCE.
And Sister #1, she tries to pull it together, but on the way back to camp, she starts remembering her baby. BECAUSE it turns out Sister #1 is the mother of that baby they left in the cornfield that one time.
Anyway, she begins sobbing and some walkers are like, “Oh, wait, what’s that? Food?” And Sister #2 and Beta and the other Whisperers are forced to save her broken-in-the-head ass.
Back at camp, Beta orders another Whisperer to kill Sister #1, who begins screaming that HER BABY IS BETTER OFF WITH THOSE NICE PEOPLE WHO TAKE REGULAR BATHS. But before the Whisperer can finish her off, Alpha stops him.
Privately, Beta warns Alpha that Sister #1 is broken and useless, but Alpha argues that he doesn’t know what it’s like to leave behind a child so maybe he needs to shut it. With that, she orders that Sister #1 be brought to her in the “deeper place.”
In what I think is a cave, Alpha orders Sister #1 to kneel before her and remove her mask. Alpha then takes Sister #1’s head in her hands, causing Sister #1 to let out a blood-curdling scream — but Alpha only hugs her and pardons her.
When Sister #1 emerges from the cave, another Whisperer approaches her to agree that Hilltop seemed AWESOME, and maybe they should go back, only to receive the stink eye from the others.
Beta, he takes Alpha aside to bitch at her some more that Sister #1 unsettles the pack and the others are talking about how awesome the communities seem. Alpha assures him that they’ll soon enough see them for themselves the fantasies that the communities are, but Beta is impatient. WHEN? WHEN CAN THEY GO AND KILL ALL THE NICE-SMELLING PEOPLE? But Alpha puts him off with another vague, “soon.”
That night, Sister #1 tells Sister #2 that after being alone with Alpha, her head finally feels clear, she’s happy she made the sacrifice of her baby, the way Alpha sacrificed her own daughter and Sister #2 points out that Alpha didn’t shed a tear when she killed her own daughter. Sister #1, she wonders if Sister #2 meant it when she said she wished she’d left her behind. She doesn’t get an answer.
The next day, the Whisperers are out gathering more zombies when the dragon satellite booms overhead, causing some minor chaos amongst the walkers. At some point, Sister #1 notices a walker wearing a baby carrier, and she FLIPS THE FUCK OUT, remembering that Alpha was the one who ordered she abandon her baby. She tears off her mask, finds Alpha in the crowd, and, screaming, jumps on Alpha’s back. As the walkers close in on Alpha and Sister #1, Sister #2 pulls her sister off of Alpha’s back and into a mass of walkers who devour her.
Back at camp, Alpha asks Sister #2 if she regrets what she did, and Sister #2 is like, “NOPE!” So Alpha is like, “Well then, your prize is a name: GAMMA! Everyone, this is GAMMA!” and then everyone is all “Gamma! Gamma! Gamma! Gamma!” while Beta has his fee-fees hurt that he’s no longer the only one with a special name from Mommy.
The next day, Beta follows Alpha into the woods where he discovers that she’s built a shrine to Lydia, including that stuffed bunny.
“LYDIA ISN’T DEAD. YOU DIDN’T KILL HER.”
Alpha has a freakout, destroying the shrine — such as it is — before begging Beta to keep her secret. He’s all, “cool cool cool, will do,” before informing her that the communities have breached their border. She’s like “O RLY, WELL I GUESS IT’S TIME TO PAY THEM A VISIT.”
Then they chant their koans: “We walk in darkness; we are free; we bathe in blood; we are free; we love nothing; we are free; we fear nothing; we are free; we need no words; we are free; we embrace death; we are free; this is the end of the world; now is the end of the world …”
And that’s when Alpha emerges from the woods to spy Carol staring down at her.
I’ve been turning over this episode in my head for about a week now for a few reasons. First, I find the Whisperers to be the most disturbing villains on this show yet, in part because they are so antithetical to everything I care about and believe in — which is why they are a fabulous foil to our heroes, they reject everything that the heroes embrace: civilization, democracy, love, humanity, life itself.
But, of course, it’s not that simple — because while Alpha (and Beta) are vicious psychopaths, there is still a seed of human emotion within both of them, no matter how much they struggle to destroy it. Alpha can’t help but feel some shred of affection for her daughter, and the fact that Beta continues to wear his friend’s face as his own mask and his friend’s shirt suggests that he still loves that friend, in his own way. Of course, they harbor these secret feelings while simultaneously demanding that their followers repress their own, and this is a tension that can not last forever. (Along those lines, what happens when Alpha’s followers discover that Lydia is still alive contrary to the myth that they all believe about Alpha murdering her herself? It explains why Alpha is so reluctant to cross paths with the communities again, but it can’t possibly end well for her once they do.)
But second, I go back to Beta’s mask and T-shirt. Sooooo because I’ve been obsessed with the new Watchmen series, I couldn’t help but wonder if Beta’s smiley face and his insistence on wearing a mask wasn’t a wink at the newest show based on a graphic novel which was set to premiere a week later.
However, I debunked that thought myself when I found that Beta was wearing that smiley-face shirt last season:
So, while it might be a nod to the original The Watchmen graphic novel, it probably has nothing to do with the new Damon Lindelof series. (But it would have been cool if it had been).
All that said, this issue of masking is hugely important. A person wears a mask for one of two reasons (sometimes both simultaneously): 1. they want to obscure or eliminate their own identity and 2. they want people to believe they are the person who’s face they are wearing, or to take on that person’s (or animal’s or monster’s or whatever’s) power or spirit.
So, Beta goes from merely wanting to hide his own identity (COMIC SPOILER: In the comic, after Beta is killed, Aaron unmasks him and reveals that he was a famous basketball player before the apocalypse) to literally putting on the face (and clothing) of his dead best friend, thereby “becoming” the best friend in a sense. Both acts suggest that he wants to shed his pre-apocalypse identity, out of shame or anger or just the need to be born again into this new world, and become entirely someone else, someone dead.
And while all of the Whisperers do this to some degree — their wearing of the dead is not merely a survival tactic, it’s a whole philosophy, one that sheds their pre-apocalypse life and name and identity for nothingness — it’s only Beta who never removes his mask, it’s only Beta who fully embraces this new identity as his only identity. It’s interesting and mysterious and hints at psychological depths to his character that I genuinely appreciate.
ANYWAY. JUST SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT BEFORE I GO RECAP AN ENTIRE NEW SERIES ABOUT PEOPLE RUNNING AROUND IN MASKS. NOT SURE WHY I’M YELLING AT YOU, JUST FEELING KINDA STRESSED ABOUT THE WHOLE THING I GUESS.
The Walking Dead airs on AMC on Sundays at 8/9 p.m.