Almost any character on a TV show contains a world of storytelling possibilities. As a means of establishing the character of Alpha, the harsh and violent new antagonist and leader of the Whisperers, “Omega” is bluntly effective. As an episode of The Walking Dead, it’s pretty thin gruel.
Using Lydia’s imprisonment as an opportunity to provide some background into the season’s new villains makes sense, but it’s coming far too early to give us much reason to care. Much as the series spent too much time with the newbies earlier in the season, trying to sell them as key parts of the narrative while sidelining nearly everyone we’re actually invested in, this episode goes overlong with the assumption that we want to go deep into the origin story of Lydia and her mother, the former someone who only appeared last week and has said maybe a dozen words, and the latter a person we haven’t met at all. Especially when our point of contact to hang out with this person we’ve just met is...Henry. Sigh.
If the show is going to ignore just about every character we want to spend time with except Daryl, at least it managed to give us Samantha Morton. The fierce character actor is the best thing this episode has going for it, as she quickly makes Alpha into the kind of malevolent figure that could plausibly be seen as a charismatic leader of people looking for someone to follow. Of course, she follows the dead (“My mom walks cuz the dead do,” Lydia tells Daryl), having created a walker cult of sorts in her method of adapting to the new world. Alpha brings something new to the rogues gallery of Walking Dead villains: Someone not trying to build a new society, because they’re convinced there’s no longer a world that could sustain one. “This place isn’t real,” Lydia says, elucidating the philosophy of her mother’s faith. There’s no Governor or Negan capable of holding back the inevitability of the dead’s dominance. Walls falls. Communities crumble.
The back and forth between Henry and Daryl over Lydia is boilerplate Walking Dead: Give the new person a chance, or assume you can’t trust them and be done with it? Henry, for his part, acts like a moron, which is the Henry we all know and dislike. The only thing that saves him from getting brained with a hammer when he lets Lydia out of her cell (after already spilling the beans about the existence of the Kingdom) is the girl’s chance realization that babies are living in Hilltop. The cries trigger Lydia’s memories of what really happened as a kid; she realizes it was her mother, not her father, who was always the cruel one. If her later confession to Daryl is to be believed, she had just had Alpha’s version of her childhood drilled into her so many times, it had become the truth. She gives up the location of her people’s camp, but at least Daryl’s not stupid—unlike Henry, he’s not yet ready to buy everything Lydia is serving up, heartfelt admissions or no.
Speaking of stupid, let’s hear it for the newbies! After being granted residency in Hilltop, they immediately defy Tara’s order by sneaking out to go after the missing Luke. And what a plan it is: They go under the wall in the middle of the night, walk into the forest, and immediately realize that it’s nighttime and they don’t have a popsicle’s chance in hell of tracking anything. So they go back inside, save for Connie and Kelly, who decide the wise reaction to Kelly breaking down in tears over Luke’s absence is to stay out in the woods alone, where they were just attacked. Magna and Yumiko seem fine with this plan. What is wrong with these people?
That subplot was such a weirdly misguided move on the part of both the newbies and the show, it almost negates that we got to see a good reminder of how they managed to survive all these years: They’re really, really good at killing Walkers. From Magna’s knife throwing to the slingshot barrages offered up by the siblings, the attack at the horse corpses provided a much better opportunity for the series to demonstrate why we should keep them around. Also, it introduced the difficulty of having to now check for weapons every time they come upon walkers, and just how much that throws a wrench into the existing methods of survival.
Did the writers learn about Danai Gurira’s decision to leave the show next season during the midseason hiatus? Honestly, after setting her up as our central character following Rick’s death, it’s odd to spend this time not only focused on Lydia, but at the expense of the storylines we’ve been concentrating on since the time jump. Sidelining everybody this week didn’t do much to sustain the momentum, even if it was interesting to flash back to the initial outbreak, something we haven’t done in a long time. And after having the menace of the Whisperers create such a strong new sense of unease, it was a little off-putting to see a crew of them simply stroll up to the gates, with Alpha demanding the release of her daughter. It kind of takes the mystery out of their existence, though it was at least unexpected. Presumably, Luke and Alden are still alive, bargaining chips for Alpha to pull out during the negotiation, even if Lydia can’t think of a reason her mother would spare them. Let’s hope next week gets back to moving things forward, instead of treading the brackish water of Lydia’s memories.
- One small beat that really landed: child Lydia in the flashbacks tracing the outline of the tattoo on her parent’s arm. That’s such a subtle but affecting touch.
- It’s really irritating to have not just one, but two teenagers thinking they can psychoanalyze Daryl after several minutes of conversation. Henry barely knows him, and Lydia doesn’t at all. Stop having them talk like characters on thirtysomething.
- “I just ate a worm.”
- Another week, another complete lack of development on the “what happened between the communities?” front the show kept teasing in the first half of the season.
- So much for handing Lydia what I had hoped was Chekhov’s hammer.