SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for "The Walking Dead" comic, and possibly its AMC adaptation.
Just this week, a new teaser image for "The Walking Dead" showed a severed head on a pike. This prompted anyone who's up to date on the comics to start whispering about The Whisperers, the current antagonists of Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's long-running Image Comics series, where the skin-wearing clan of survivors once slaughtered several members of Rick Grimes' camp in the same fashion as seen in that photo.
If that's the case -- if this indeed an allusion to The Whisperers -- then it's huge news. The most recent season finale already featured the first appearance of Negan, who's being positioned as the main villain for the upcoming seventh season. Does this week's teaser mean there will be not one, but two notable groups of villains for the Alexandrians to contend with? If so, that means a significant consolidation of storylines, as The Whisperers and Negan's Saviors appear several years apart in the comics.
As we've previously noted, we may be making a mountain out of a molehill. The Whisperers are far from the only characters who have decapitated someone in "The Walking Dead," and even if they are slated to appear on the show, perhaps Season 7's merely going to tease at their future appearance rather than showcase them in all their gore-smeared glory.
But maybe not. Maybe the upcoming season will exceed our wildest expectations and feature both The Saviors and The Whisperers, in equal doses. With that possibility in mind (and with just a day-and-change until Season 7's premiere), we figured a primer on what may be the strangest group of villains in "The Walking Dead" universe was in order. We've done our best to avoid spoiling any significant plot points, instead focusing on The Whisperers' societal norms and philosophies. So let's put on a skin mask, and enter the woods.
They Disguise Themselves as Walkers
Most major characters on "The Walking Dead" have smeared themselves in zombie guts at some point, usually as a way to covertly move through the undeads' ranks. The Whisperers take it to a whole other level; in addition to covering themselves in gore, they strip walkers' hides a la Buffalo Bill to make head-to-toe skin suits. It's a painstaking process that involves cutting, filleting and lots of stitching. This allows them to walk freely among the undead, traveling with them, easily hiding among them, and freaking out their enemies at choice moment by giving the impression that they're low-toned "talking" zombies. Hence, their name.
They Prefer to Live Like Animals
But The Whisperers don't dress up as zombies solely for strategic purposes. They actually want to live like the undead -- as much as they can, anyway. They want to cooperate with them. As explained by several Whisperers, they believe walkers to be similar to animals in the wild, unburdened by the restrictions of normal society. While that's a strange and often frightening outlook to have (especially in a post-apocalyptic world), it's also somewhat admirable. For all their eventual carnage, The Whisperers believe in living in the moment. They believe in only taking what you need from the land and never denying one's truest, most primal instincts. They sleep outside in the woods, roam the land, and only eat what they kill. In that sense, they're akin to primordial hunter-gatherers. And yet at the same time, that leads to some very problematic, not admirable views when it comes to their more human desires.
They Have Extremely Troubling Opinions On Sex
Because they view themselves as wild animals, The Whisperers have also adopted the sexual practices of many wild animals. If someone wants to copulate with another person, they're permitted to take what they want by force, with no interference from anyone else. In other words, rape isn't seen as a punishable offense in their culture, and it happens quite a bit. Most troubling of all, they don't even call it rape, or view it as even remotely wrong.
They Don't Believe In Showing Emotion
Of course, the main problem with all this is that, at the end of the day, The Whisperers are still human beings. As a result, they still have the more complex traits of the homo sapien race: jealousy, love, vulnerability, etc., and yet, they're not permitted to show their full emotional range. That makes for a strange dichotomy; a group of people who, on one hand, have no problem giving in to their most base impulses, but on the other hand, suppress their most honest emotions. If someone feels sadness over a death, they're encouraged by others not to show any pain. If someone feels like they've been sexually abused, they're not even allowed to refer to it as abuse. The pretend to have no emotion, and as someone with the DNA of a human being, that's next to impossible. Naturally, many of The Whisperers have moments where the human being inside them overtakes the animal.
They Have a Simplistic Hierarchy
Like most other groups in "The Walking Dead," The Whisperers do have a leader. Simply referred to as "Alpha," this person (sorry, animal) must embody the Whisperer philosophy even more so than anyone else in their tribe. They must show maximum savagery, cunning, intelligence, and emotional detachment, even towards their own family. If someone else is able to overthrow them, then they have a chance to become the new Alpha. The second-in-command is referred to as Beta. Whether or not we'll see either an Alpha or a Beta on this season of "The Walking Dead" remains to be seen, but if we do, it'll be a sign that Rick and company might have even bigger concerns than Negan on their horizon.
Airing Sundays at 9 pm ET/PT on AMC, "The Walking Dead" stars Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Chandler Riggs as Carl Grimes, Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon, Melissa McBride as Carol Peleteir, Steven Yeun as Glenn Rhee, Lauren Cohan as Maggie Green, Danai Gurira as Michonne and more.