WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, "Omega," as well as the comic book source material.
The Walking Dead finally introduced one of its most-anticipated villains in this week's episode, and she doesn't disappoint. The Whisperer leader Alpha gets her own origin story in “Omega,” and the drama doesn't shy away from using the increased real estate offered by television to explore the character beyond what we may have seen in the comic.
Fans of the long-running comics series by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard know Alpha as a ruthless and powerful villain who introduces herself to the communities by beheading a bunch of people and placing their heads on pikes, essentially as a show of strength. Some of her noteworthy victims include Ezekiel and a pregnant Rosita, and the event immediately establishes Alpha as one of the most deranged and vicious antagonists The Walking Dead had seen since the Governor. Well, that and the fact that she wears human skin, and believes walkers are the next stage in evolution. But beyond her identity as Whisperer leader and Lydia’s mother, we don’t learn much about Alpha’s history in the comics. “Omega” takes the opportunity to fill out her background, and runs a marathon with it.
The episode unfolds partially in flashback, as Lydia attempts to tell her story to Henry and an eavesdropping Daryl. The apocalypse began when she was still young, so the memories are of her family hiding out in a community center with other survivors as the world falls down around them. At first her recollections paint a picture of a terrified mother, and a father who becomes increasingly unhinged as fear begins to take over and supplies run low. However, as the episode progresses, inconsistencies in Lydia’s memories surface until, finally, she recalls that it wasn’t her father who was abusive and slowly going insane; it was her mother. When everything comes flooding back, we see Alpha shave her head in defiance, murder another survivor and allow her husband to die as Lydia watches. As viewers, we’re clearly intended to understand that Alpha was a tinderbox of crazy and the apocalypse was the match.
While Alpha’s relatively mysterious past in the comics serves to highlight her as an inscrutable, and therefore even more frightening, villain, the AMC adaptation smartly observes that if one has Samantha Morton, one uses Samantha Morton. “Omega” gives the Oscar-nominated actor plenty of room to stretch, and chillingly introduces us to Alpha’s madness in slow-motion. If you watch this episode and you aren’t uncomfortable, check to see if the sound is on.
This backstory also capitalizes on the underlying themes of child abuse and parenting that the comics introduce, but don’t get the opportunity to fully explore before everyone starts trying to kill each other. Whether we’ll wade deeper into Lydia and Alpha’s relationship remains to be seen, but given that Michonne is a parallel to Alpha in her own loneliness and single-parenthood after Rick’s death, we’d be surprised if themes of family and motherhood weren’t prominent moving forward. There’s also Beta (Ryan Hurst) to introduce, and Negan presumably still needs a storyline, so regardless of what direction the series takes the Whisperer conflict, it will be rich.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, The Walking Dead stars Norman Reedus, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, Christian Serratos, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Nadia Hilker, Dan Fogler, Angel Theory, Lauren Ridloff, Eleanor Matsuura and Samantha Morton.