“So this whole time, Lydia’s mom made her think it was her fault her dad died? Why would a mom do that to a kid?” – Henry
“Some people ain’t meant to be parents.” – Daryl
Over the years, “The Walking Dead” has established a pretty clear formula when it comes to the show’s main villains. Both the Governor and Negan started out as ruthless madmen and then evolved into characters with backstories that let us know they weren’t *always* bad, which made for complex villains who probably would’ve spent their lives being halfway decent men had the world not gone to shit. The Governor and Negan, essentially, were turned bad by the state of the world, but new villain Alpha doesn’t quite fit that familiar bill.
Last night’s ‘Omega’ served as a flashback-heavy origin story for Samantha Morton‘s Alpha, the leader of the creepy Whisperers. Smartly, her backstory was told through the memories of her daughter Lydia, who has found herself locked up by the good guys on the grounds of Hilltop. Lydia dished the dirt on her mom to both Henry and Daryl, initially recalling a childhood torn between an abusive father and a protective, loving mother; we see this dynamic in the episode’s early flashback scenes, but soon realize what we’re seeing isn’t quite the truth.
Unbeknownst even to herself, Lydia has been lying to Henry and Daryl, as the true story of her childhood was that her father was the protective and loving one, and her mother was the abusive monster. On top of the physical abuse (disguised as “love”), Lydia had been emotionally manipulated over the years into thinking her mother was the “good guy” and her father was the “bad guy,” but getting a little distance from mom (and some actual, genuine kindness from both Henry and Daryl) made her realize that her mom (her dad’s killer) doesn’t exactly have her best interests in mind. And she never had, not even before the dead walked the earth.
The incredibly well-written ‘Omega’ smartly chooses Henry and Daryl as the two characters who bond with Lydia down in the Hilltop’s makeshift basement prison, rather cleverly weaving their own experiences with domestic abuse into the storyline of Lydia and her abusive mother. Daryl, as we’ve known for a long time now, was abused by his father as a child, and while Henry has found himself loving parents in Carol and Ezekiel, he has a keen understanding of domestic abuse given the stories he has been told by his “second mom.”
Out of all the characters on “The Walking Dead,” Carol’s arc has been perhaps the most compelling over the years. When we first met Carol, she was the wife of a man named Ed, who regularly abused her. Eventually, of course, Carol took back her own power in the post-apocalypse, becoming one of the most fiercely independent and badass warriors we’ve ever seen on the small screen. Like many characters on the show, Carol has also visually evolved quite a bit over the years; her head was practically shaved when we first met her, but she’s now got a full head of hair. And ‘Omega’ brought a powerful context to that evolution, with Henry explaining to Daryl that his (second) mom had cut off all her hair in the first place because Ed used to pull her around by it when he was beating her up. If she cut it off, she felt, he’d no longer be able to do that. But with Ezekiel, a loving husband, by her side, Carol now feels comfortable enough to grow her hair out. Finally, she’s no longer scared.
Both Carol and Daryl are forever scarred by the domestic abuse they’ve managed to triumph over, and ‘Omega’ essentially puts Daryl and Henry in the position of helping Lydia to do the same. Whereas Daryl no doubt sees a whole lot of himself in the abuse-scarred Lydia, Henry sees his mom’s tortured past in Alpha’s daughter. And while Henry’s actions in the episode may seem foolish at first – at one point, he lets Lydia out of her prison cell and takes her on a midnight stroll – they make complete sense within the context they’re wrapped up in. Through his mother’s relationship with Ezekiel, Henry understands the healing powers of kindness and love, and he essentially dedicates himself to being that support system for Lydia.
In one of the episode’s most emotional moments, young Henry tells Daryl, “I’m glad you and my mom are friends.” It’s in this moment that Henry acknowledges the importance of Carol’s relationship with Daryl, recognizing through his own experiences with Lydia that Daryl must have been a very important force in making his mom who she is today. And if Carol and Daryl came out of their past darkness and into the light, maybe all hope is not lost for Lydia.
As for Alpha, she’s clearly choosing to remain in the darkness for the long haul, and her own evolution relayed through ‘Omega’ is quite something. Similar to Carol, but motivated by far different things, we’re shown the moment Lydia’s mom decided to hack off her hair and transform into someone else entirely during the early days of the apocalypse, and her arrival back on the scene as the fully transformed “Alpha” in the episode’s final moments all but ensures that we’ve got one hell of a villain on our hands with her. It doesn’t hurt that Alpha is played by the great Samantha Morton who tends to elevate everything she’s part of. How many TV shows, deep into their ninth season, manage to nab a two time Oscar nominee?!
Diving deep into two interesting new characters, while also expanding upon the storylines of three existing characters – Carol, despite not even appearing in the episode, is an even more rich character because of it – ‘Omega’ is a wonderful example of how good “The Walking Dead” can be when it wants to be. And it’s another reminder that as the series’ new showrunner, Angela Kang’s influence is perhaps just what the show needed to remain TV worth watching.
In just one episode, Alpha is already a must-watch small screen villain.