The Walking Dead - We Are the End of the World - Review By Lisa Macklem (October 20, 2019, 4:15 pm)
The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead featured an all-Whisperer episode with “We Are the End of the World” written by Nicole Mirante-Matthews and directed – beautifully – by Greg Nicotero. This was Mirante-Matthews first TWD episode, and her other credits include Luke Cage, NCIS, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, and Huff. Having her write for a group we’ve never seen before is a good way to introduce a new writer without expecting them to immediately grasp the nuance of established characters. Her background leans more to melo-drama and procedurals rather than horror, so pairing her with Nicotero as director was also a smart move. The episode fills in the background of how Alpha (Samantha Morton) met Beta (Ryan Hurst) and also gives us some insight into what’s happening right now with the Whisperers. It’s nothing good, but somehow revealing more of the scary monster in the shadows always makes it slightly less frightening. Thora Birch joins the cast as Gamma.
The episode features flashcards – the first of which takes us back 7 years. It’s much earlier in the apocalypse and we focus on a woman (Erica Frene) in her car after an accident. Alpha and a much younger Lydia (Havana Blum) are already getting around by trying to blend in with the walkers. When Lydia sees the woman being turn apart, she loses it. Alpha is also far less calm and ends up fleeing with Lydia into a nearby building – almost losing her to the walkers at the door. Once inside the building, Lydia spots a man – Beta before he was Beta. Morton is really good in this episode, and we get another glimpse into her clear dissent into madness. We also end up a bit more sympathetic to Lydia who doesn’t lose her empathy for others and clearly had a traumatic and horrible childhood – due as much to her mother as to the apocalypse.
In the present, we join the Whisperers going about their business in their camp – all wearing masks except Alpha who is having her head shaved by Beta. Apparently, the pack groom each other - or at least he grooms her. He tells her that it’s time to bring the pack back. She agrees but wants to gather more “guardians.” Beta is worried that fear of them will abate if they aren’t visible. Alpha is sure that the others will fear them because of what they did – they don’t have to be visible. She tells him to take the sisters – Gamma and Frances (Juliet Brett) with him to gather guardians.
Back in the past, Alpha tries to communicate with the Beta and when he threatens her, she tells him that she doesn’t die easily and that he’ll have to kill her daughter too because she won’t leave “this earth without her.” Lydia is a possession – Alpha will never put Lydia’s well-being over simply possessing her. But, Alpha actually looks afraid. Beta tells her she can stay one night and has to stay in the hallway – which she definitely doesn’t do. Lydia begs to be able to wash the blood and guts off herself. Lydia asks if Beta is a monster, and in what is definitely NOT motherly reassurance, Alpha tells her that they’re all monsters now. It resonates with Eugene’s (Josh McDermitt) comment last week about them all carrying the virus, but Alpha is really referring to the fact that they all do monstrous things now – like kill each other or let the walkers eat someone else so that they can get away.
In the present, we see how the Whisperers gather their herd and communicate via hand signals. Frances is clearly struggling and Gamma tells her to focus. Beta is watching and will think that she’s not committed to the cause – and Alpha. In a nice parallel to the past storyline, Gamma tells Frances that she should have left her behind – nice sister. Frances manages to pull it together for a time…
In the past, Alpha baths Lydia – with her clothes on – but is perfectly comfortable leaving herself covered in gore. She looks for food – which Beta seems to have left for visitors – and hums to herself. Beta appears and asks if she’s singing – “if you could call it that” – and if she has a name. She tells him that the dead have no names. Those still alive know each other on a “primal” level. This ties in to the whole “pack” mentality – and even naming themselves after pack hierarchy, of course. She admires the walkers! They fear nothing and live only to feed – they’re free.
Alpha asks Beta how he got there. He tells her that he got into a “tussle” with the dead at his camp. He’s already wearing a mask – a balaclava ski mask. She asks him if the tussle is why he wears it. There’s a pause and he says he like it. He then goes on to say the song of the dead – it’s the only song he doesn’t want to end. Alpha clearly thinks she’s found a kindred spirit, but we later learn that there’s one dead that Beta in particular wants to keep singing. We’re also left to wonder if he meant he wears the mask because he likes it or the song.
In the present, Beta gathers more walkers in a parking garage by actually grunting at them and making noise. Is he simply baiting them or has he learned to “talk” to them? Is he actually the Walker-Whisperer? Later, outside, we see Frances lose focus again. She’s the walker who had to sacrifice her baby. She begins to cry as she remembers this, and Beta has to kill a couple of walkers to save her. He ominously tells her that she will pay – but he doesn’t just kill her. On the one hand, it would likely mean losing the herd that they’ve gathered because they’d likely stop to eat her – she’d be fresh blood after all. Or does he not have the authority to just kill someone? Does he need Alpha’s sanction or does he need the excuse of following her order?
Back at camp, Frances cries and grovels and gives into her grief over losing her baby. Beta stops Gamma from going to her sister, but he’s about to have Frances killed – so clearly, just wanted to make a spectacle of her death – when Alpha calls it all to stop. There’s a nice eye lock between Alpha and Beta – and they go off to their little space. Gamma walks away from her sister.
Beta points out that losing her child broke Frances. Alpha tells him that he’ll never understand having to abandon a child. He accuses her of still thinking of Lydia. Alpha insists that Lydia was dead to her long before she “ended her.” Clearly, she’s lying that she killed her! She tells Beta to bring Frances to her in the deeper place. Does Alpha need to prove that she can save Frances to prove to herself that she can get over Lydia?
In the past, Alpha takes Lydia into a padded room – so this was a mental hospital. It makes you wonder more about Beta’s real past – was he a patient here? Lydia wonders if the room was used to control Beta, but Alpha tells her the walls of this room could never control someone like that – she clearly admires him and already sees him as a potential protector.
As she settles Lydia for the night, Lydia refuses to take the stuffed bunny her mother offers her. Lydia tells her that she isn’t a baby anymore and doesn’t want to be scared anymore. She wants to be like her mother. Alpha is relieved to hear it – but tells Lydia she better mean it because if Lydia can’t cut it, she’ll leave her behind. Lydia begs Alpha not to ever do that and tells her Mama she loves her, and Alpha tells her to stop calling her that. The look on Lydia’s face is perfect. Was she thinking that Alpha was about to lock her in that room and leave her?
The “deeper place” turns out to be some kind of cave – possibly under a tree? Frances goes to Alpha and begs for forgiveness. Alpha tells her to remove her mask and kneel. Both of which she does – she can’t be much older than Lydia. Alpha takes her head in her hands and Frances screams. Beta watches Gamma’s reaction in the camp. But Alpha hasn’t killed Frances, instead she presses her against her and strokes her hair.
Frances returns to camp having received Alpha’s grace. She promises to never stay again. Interestingly, another Whisperer comes up and starts talking about thinking about that other place and lifestyle – they could go back! So are there those among the Whisperers who would gladly jump ship and join up with our communities? Gamma pulls Frances away, and the other woman shuts up and turns away quickly – she’s talking treason after all.
Beta is clearly not happy with what Alpha has done. Before he can say anything, Alpha rounds on him and angrily tells him not to question her. He points out that Frances unsettles the pack – he’s not wrong, clearly. Alpha promises to skin Frances alive herself in front of the whole pack if she strays again. Beta has heard the others talk about the lifestyle they saw. Alpha maintains that it’s not a life, it’s a fantasy. And certainly the Kingdom would have qualified as fantasy. Beta insists that the pack must see it again soon and asks if she is content. He’s seen her wander away from camp at night.
In the past, Alpha is setting up for the night when she discovers walkers have invaded the building. I loved how we see the shadow of one first. She is almost overrun and is saved by Beta. She smiles after seeing him pick up a walker and bash its head in on the wall. She then joins him in killing the others. She tells him that she likes killing with him. He watches as she immediately sets to work gathering walker guts. I loved Hurst’s delivery of “you’re different.”
Alpha tells him that the people she knew before would say the same thing. She never trusted them – or anybody anyway. She’s impressed by his strength and tells him well done Big Man when he rips into a walker. I loved the way this scene was shot. We get distance shots which actually frame the two sitting over the corpses in a small square in the top right of the screen. Alpha goes on to shorten her name for him to Mr B. He reminds her that they don’t have names. She says it isn’t a name, it’s a letter. He asks her if he’s B what does that make her – well, A, of course. He accepts that.
He’s already figured out that she is able to move with the walkers by smelling like them, but she explains that it’s not just about moving – you also have to feel what they are feel – nothing. She tells him there are only two kinds of people left: those that are brave enough to walk with the dead and everybody else. And then she asks him which one he is. She tries to look under his mask – and he tells her to leave at sunrise and not come back. Alpha just goes back to humming.
In the present, Gamma and Frances are curled up together to sleep. Gamma asks what it was like. Frances tells her that she feels right again, and she’s glad she made the sacrifice of her baby. Gamma points out that Alpha sacrificed her daughter – but we know she didn’t. Frances apologizes for risking what they have there, and Gamma tells her not to do it again – ever. Frances asks if she meant it about leaving her behind. Gamma just tells her to go to sleep.
The next day as the Whisperers gather the herd, the herd is distracted by the satellite. Beta is convinced there are too many to control, but Alpha says to stay the course. When Frances she’s a walker with a baby carrier on – we can only imagine her eating her own baby out of it! – she goes crazy, rips off her mask and jumps on her screaming. Beta, Alpha, and Gamma try to go to her rescue, but when push comes to shove, Gamma throws her sister on the ground for the walkers and saves Alpha.
Back at camp, Alpha takes off Gamma’s mask and asks her if she regrets what she did. I liked how Birch completely repositions herself before answering. She stands up straight and tells Alpha that she had to protect the Alpha. Alpha tells her that it’s her destiny – they’re stronger when they kill their own blood. It’s the strongest way to bring order to chaos. She tells her that she sees greatness in her. Gamma offers to repair a tear in Alpha’s mask – but they are interrupted by Beta who tells her to leave them. He asks if she is hurt, and she tells him that she’s never felt so calm. He’s incredulous – it’s was mayhem. Alpha assures him that there is clarity among the chaos. Gamma fears nothing. Beta looks worried that he might be being replaced – at least as favorite?
In the past, Lydia decides to try to prove herself. She covers herself in gore and wanders out into the hallway, muttering that we are all monsters now. This is interspersed with Gamma’s ceremony, anointing her Gamma – it’s done in moonlight – and Beta is not happy.
The next day Gamma is waiting for Beta. He’s been gone for hours, and she asks him if he’s angry with her. He tells her that he feels nothing for her – have they had some kind of relationship? Frances’ baby proves that some of them are having sex after all. She tells him that she is also empty as Alpha wants. She then tells him that she saw Alpha heading to the old camp a while ago.
In the past, Alpha finally realizes that Lydia is gone and goes after her. There’s a nice touch as we see a happy face on the wall as she goes up the stairs – and Beta has been wearing that happy face t-shirt all episode. It’s a beautiful bit of dichotomy. Alpha tracks Lydia’s bloody footprints. What exactly Lydia thinks she’s doing is anybody’s guess – clearing the building? She goes inside a door with walkers clearly behind it. Alpha wanders through what is clearly Beta’s space. She sees a picture of two guys with their faces scratched out. One is wearing that happy face t-shirt – but it’s the other one who has a beard and is taller – Beta. Beta finds her where she shouldn’t be…
And that is paralleled nicely by the present storyline. Beta finds Alpha amidst a shrine that she’s erected for Lydia – She asks him if he’s lost his way, and he asks her if she has. He’s appalled to see that she’s kept Lydia’s stuffed bunny. He realizes that she hasn’t killed Lydia and that she wants her back! Alpha who seems on the verge of tears tells him that he shouldn’t have come there. He wants to know why Alpha lied to him. He tells her that she’s never coming back – no matter how she tries to replace her with someone else – like Frances or Gamma. She’s gone.
In the past, Alpha tells him that she needs to find her daughter. The two are interrupted by a walker wearing the happy face t-shirt. Instinctively, Alpha kills him, and Beta screams no as she does it.
In the present, a tearful Alpha finally confesses that Lydia is her baby, her daughter, and she could not kill her. Beta reaches his hand out to her and she takes it. Alpha insists that they – the pack – can’t know that Lydia is alive. Beta says they won’t. Alpha says that Lydia was dead the moment she was born because she was not like Alpha. Beta watches, clearly concerned, as Alpha goes into a rage and destroys the shrine she’s made.
In the past, we see Beta going crazy destroying his lair while Alpha watches in fear, which she quickly turns into anger when he comes at her with a machete. She tells him that he’s just like her. She knows him better than he knows himself. He’s not broken but he was made for this – this world. It’s Lydia who stops him from killing Alpha by telling him that Alpha is trying to save him. Lydia rushed into Alpha’s embrace, saying she was strong. Alpha tells her that she’s proud of her, before immediately becoming furious with her for leaving. There’s another smiley face on the wall behind them.
Alpha gently approaches Beta who is mourning, leaning over his now really dead friend. She tells him that the world went dark so that they could find a new path. She asks him to walk with her in the darkness and he’ll never be alone again. He tells her, “I am the end of the world.” She corrects him – “WE are the end of the world” – and there we are at the title of the episode. She looks under his mask – but we don’t see what she sees. Neither Alpha nor Lydia have a violent reaction to what she sees, but does that mean anything after everything else that they’ve seen? He doesn’t want to leave his friend, and she tells him that he doesn’t have to – handing him her knife. And thus we see where Beta got his mask.
When Alpha finally becomes calm again in the present. Beta mentions the smoke. Alpha says that they’ve crossed and need to be taught a lesson. They’ll do it while the whole pack watches. Beta gives her back her mask and the two join hands. And it totally reminded me of Riff Raff and Magenta – his sister – in The Rocky Horror Picture Show just before the two fly home at the end of the movie. Here, the two – who could be wearing Riff Raff masks – intone “We walk in darkness. We are free. We bath 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 all deaths. We are free. This is the end of the world. Now is the end of the world. We are the end of the world.” And then we are back with Alpha staring up at Carol.
I thought this was an interestingly structured episode that filled in some necessary backstory and gave us a better sense of who the Whisperers are. There were nice parallels between the past and present and who’s given up what or whom. They’ve made such a big deal about what’s under Beta’s mask now that it’s either got to be spectacular or nothing. There are clearly some weak spots in the Whisperers’ camp – and what part will Gamma play? Is she after Alpha’s position or Beta’s? She seems to have some sort of attraction to both. And was Beta a resident, a visitor, an employee of that hospital? Kudos to Morton and Hurst for great performances, and there was some great cinematography in this episode – from the crane and herd shots to all the framing that was done with light and darkness in the past storyline, creating snapshots of the past. What did you think of the episode? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!