Walking Dead recap: What just happened with Alpha’s backstory?

Samantha Morton as Alpha - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Samantha Morton as Alpha - The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 10 - Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC /

A jumble of trauma-laced memories make up Alpha’s backstory on The Walking Dead, but how do we make sense of it all?

Lydia oh Lydia, oh have you met Lydia? Well, yeah. We officially met Lydia (Cassady McClincy) last week in all her lying, sniveling glory. But this week we finally got a bit of her mother Alpha’s backstory, and it was pretty wild.

Alpha, the bald, uncompromising leader of the Whisperers, doesn’t actually have a backstory in the comics. She just sort of appears out of nowhere, and then – boom – she’s an insidious threat to our survivors. So to get some additional information on her character, however minimal, is intriguing.

The backstory is filtered through Lydia’s trauma-laced memories from the beginning of the outbreak. Only five or six years old at the time, Lydia’s perspective is unreliable at best as she’s experienced almost a decade of severe and unrelenting tragedy, violence, and loss between then and now. As she slowly recalls her past to Henry (Matt Lintz), she first remembers her mother as a doting mom, playing checkers with her daughter in the basement of a random building in Baltimore as the world fell apart.

More from AMC

But that’s not the truth. The truth is buried somewhere deep within the deeply scarred mind of a young girl who has been through more than anyone ever should. And her unearthing of the truth provides one big drumroll to the main event: Alpha herself, in the flesh.

At first, Lydia’s memories paint her mother as a meek, potentially abused, housewife. She cowers when her husband Frank (Steve Kazee) becomes stressed about their untenable situation or shouts directives at her. Of course, these behaviors are reminiscent of Carol (Melissa McBride) when we first met her in Season 1, and the show encourages the comparison, even having Henry and Lydia agree that no one would want to cross their respective moms.

But as the episode progresses, we realize that Alpha is nothing like Carol, after all. Carol is a badass, but she’s not Alpha level crazy. While Carol is rarely the instigator of violence, it seems as if Alpha almost relishes the opportunity to engage in conflict.

As Henry and Daryl (Norman Reedus) begin to sympathize with this young girl and begin to earn some of her trust, her head begins to clear, and old memories shuffle back into place. Her revelations are heavily expedited due to timing on a TV show, but the bones of her experience ring true to mental health professionals. Trauma can indeed fragment timelines and general memories, and Stockholm Syndrome – a condition that causes victims of trauma to develop bonds to their captors – is very real. The link between memory and trauma is something that various television shows have recently been mining for content in series such as Sharp Objects, Westworld, and Russian Doll, and in Lydia’s case it’s utilized to fill gaps in both her and her mother’s history while illustrating the dysfunction inherent in their relationship.

Cassady McClincy as Lydia – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
Cassady McClincy as Lydia – The Walking Dead _ Season 9, Episode 9 – Photo Credit: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC /

The memories quickly morph and twist Alpha from a sweetly maternal woman to a person who won’t hesitate to suffocate a fellow survivor out of rage and desperation. Lydia’s head spins as the fiction her mother had fed her for years starts to fall away and the truth replaces it.

Turns out that Lydia’s father had been the protective one all along. He was the one with the Lydia tattoo on his inner arm, and her mother was the one who shaved off her hair and paced angrily while waiting for news. And one night when things started to turn in their little basement community, Alpha killed Lydia’s father just because she could. Because he was weak. Or at least that’s the story she fed to her daughter.

Then, Alpha continued to abuse Lydia both physically and mentally as they lived in the wilds of this new and brutal world, excusing her behavior as what it takes to survive. Oddly enough, in the comics the abuse storyline is played out a bit differently. While captive in the comics, Lydia reveals that her mother allows physical and sexual abuse as a matter of course in the life of the Whisperers, even condoning the repeated rape of her own daughter. There’s no mention of Alpha abusing Lydia herself, but, of course, Alpha sets the rules of her tribe, so she’s certainly complicit in everything that happens to her daughter.

The show smartly decided to swap the sexual abuse storyline for one that places the abusive actions squarely on Alpha’s shoulders not only in the present moment, but also prior to the apocalypse, illustrating that she’s always been able to access violence as a control tactic.

As the episode nears conclusion, it’s clear that Lydia might be a good candidate for rehabilitation – that she’s better off at Hilltop than she was with her mother – when Alpha herself shows up.

Alpha gets the last word again in this episode, demanding that her daughter be returned to her. But given what Daryl and Henry have learned, it’s unlikely that they’ll hand her over easily. Is it worth it to fight over a girl they’ve just met? Until next week…

Next. The Walking Dead Recap: Woman Inherits the Earth. dark

Random Thoughts Before I Go:

  • Elsewhere in the episode, the new group of survivors goes out to find Luke (Dan Fogler). It’s really sweet, but only noteworthy here because it’s building up to something bigger. Oh, and I love how they call the walkers “sickos”.
  • Speaking of Carol – where is Carol?!?!
  • The “Lydia oh Lydia” song that Lydia’s dad sings to her was also famously used in fellow AMC series Breaking Bad to denote the presence of another villainous Lydia. (BrBa SPOILER ALERT for the link.)
  • Even though the scenes between Daryl and Henry were earnest and well-intentioned, their simplistic discussions of abuse seemed lifted out of an after-school special from the early 90’s.
  • Speaking of Henry, Matt Lintz is doing a great job, but it’s becoming more and more maddening that creative team behind The Walking Dead killed off Carl because this is supposed to be his story, and I can’t help but swap out Chandler Riggs in my mind for Henry during literally every single scene that involves Lydia. We miss you, Carl!

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.