This review contains spoilers.
‘We Are The End of the World’ is easily one of the strongest ‘character’ episodes in The Walking Dead‘s history. The episode is split into two halves, the past and the present, and focused on Alpha and Beta’s relationship, how The Whisperers came to be and what they have been up to in their ‘absence’. We have already seen Samantha Morton establish her unhinged person in Season 9, and while the origins of her ‘Alpha’ character are fleshed out more here, I feel the focus leaned towards Beta and his origin. I think this was a good thing because he needs to be more than just this heavy weapon at Alpha’s disposal. Usually, when an episode is split into parallel storylines, there is a difference in quality, with one story being much stronger than the other. However, I would argue that the episode is perfectly balanced, with both the past and present aspects working well with each other. I was never wanting to go back to the other story, as everything was so engrossing.
I’d also argue that the sound design in this episode was ridiculously strong. There were multiple scenes in which the music amplified the on-screen tension and really enhanced the visual and story elements of the episode. This is yet another feather in the cap that Angela Kang has brought to the show. Since the change of showrunner, every aspect of the show has improved ten-fold. If the rest of the season is anything like these first two episodes, the show could reach a place where it is as good as it has ever been. And in a sans-Rick Grimes world, I didn’t think that could be possible.
Starting several years before the present, the episode begins with Alpha and young Lydia herding their way through the city in a small pack of walkers. The walkers get distracted by a woman in her car and as they, very graphically, eat her face off, Alpha makes a break for it. Inside a building, they meet a hulking, man-mountain of a man. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that this is Beta. The whole story focuses on Beta and Alpha’s relationship and how The Whisperers mentality and ethos came to be. Their relationship and dynamic is really explored in detail and they really take their time to flesh out these characters. The performances throughout the episode were so strong, coupled with some outstanding writing, it all added to the mix which resulted in this fantastic character-building episode.
The two stand-out moments for me were Alpha and Beta’s ‘date’ (it’s not a date) and the origin of Beta’s mask. Alpha and Beta have this amazing zombie-slaying scene that was so visceral and cathartic it edged on becoming uncomfortable. We also learned about the origin of Beta’s mask. Alpha kills a man wearing a very familiar-looking smiley face t-shirt. Beta is distraught at this man’s death. A brother? A lover? A dear friend? For now, that remains a mystery, but Alpha hands him a knife and tells him there is another way that the two can always be together, by wearing his face. Perfect! Alpha also gets a glimpse of Beta underneath his balaclava, her reaction could be one of recognition (if they follow the comics) or just an emotional release of seeing the face of her new ‘friend’.
The main focus of the ‘present’ storyline was to establish The Whisperers more and get a greater understanding of their inner workings. There was genuine tension between Alpha and Beta, with clear signs of strain on their relationship. This tension was bubbling throughout the episode and it all came to a head when Beta discovered Alpha’s shrine to Lydia. Alpha’s lie, about Lydia being dead, and this longing to be reunited with her risks the very foundations of their pack ethos. Beta cuts through to her and she begins to breakdown and destroy the shrine. This scene was interlaced between cuts of Beta in the hospital going crazy and smashing the place up. The parallels between these two characters and the two storylines were perfect. It was a stunning visual.
This episode also treated us with a new player in The Whisperers camp, well at least to the audience. Thor Birch, remember her? She has been cast as ‘Gamma’ and is the sister of the Whisperer who lost her baby to Hilltop last season. This was a genuine surprise to me as I don’t remember seeing the announcement that she had been cast in The Walking Dead. She is a non-comic book character, so I’ll be interested to see how they use this new third member of the hierarchy. She saved Alpha from death, after her sister attacked her, and has been rewarded for it. Gamma is well and truly deep into the dogma of The Whisperers and will stop at nothing to ensure their survival. Clearly, Beta can see the danger that she poses to Alpha, and despite the episode trying to establish that ‘the pack survival outweighs personal relationships’, his loyalty to Alpha is still a big part of his mindset. I think that having Gamma in this mix really has the possibility to create a lot of great drama and tension within The Whisperers. While the end of the episode shows Alpha moving on from Lydia, this still could be a fake-out, if it is, I fully expect Gamma to be there to take full advantage.
We also got a fascinating story between Gamma and her sister and the throwback to the baby and Season 9. Their journey in the episode and the frantic and fatal conclusion was so well executed. Sticking with Gamma, the ceremony where she is given her new title was chilling. Hearing all of The Whisperers around her quietly chanting was extremely unsettling. Away from Gamma, the praise needs to go towards Samantha Morton and Ryan Hurst. Their performance throughout the episode was first class and the range of emotions and methods on display was extremely satisfying and a joy to watch. The episode ends with the stare-off between Alpha and Carol from last week, albeit from Alphas viewpoint. Expect next week to have serious repercussions!
‘We Are the End of the World’ is a truly remarkable piece of television. It’s a character-driven, tension fueled masterpiece that manages to balance two very strong storylines without sacrificing quality at any point. I feel for those who fell away from the show when it got stuck in the mud because what they are missing out on now is something truly special.
What did you think of this week’s episode? With all the groups now at the same point in the timeline, what will happen next? Let us know in the comments.