The Walking Dead, Season 9, Episode 10 Review: When the Villain is a Mum.

This episode introduces us to Alpha through a chilling portrait. While she has not yet officially met our group, the confusing story of Lydia’s flashback contributes to building up the expectation that we are going to meet a formidable threat. For the first time in The Walking Dead, the big bad villain is a woman, and a mother.

Good parents and bad parents

As Alpha’s story is narrated through Lydia’s anecdotes, the theme of motherhood is prominent. The discussion on child-parent relationships brings Lydia close first to Henry, and then to Daryl.

When Lydia talks to Henry, she describes her mom as a good and strong woman, who would do anything to protect her child. This draws a clear parallel between Alpha and Carol. Carol, we know, is a very strong woman. But this last season has also been stressing more and more her role as Henry’s mother. She is very protective towards him – and Ezekiel. We saw this, in particular, in episode 6, when Carol burnt alive a group of Saviors without a blink. The parallel between Alpha and Carol is emphasised even further by… their hair. We now know why Carol changed hairstyle. It is, at a same time, a way of pointing to a similarity and difference between the two.

When Lydia talks to Dark, the discussion shifts from the good parent, to the abusive parent. We saw Alpha killing with her bare hands, but that’s not enough to tell us that she is the bad guy. She is a villain because she is emotionless. She does not seem to feel any empathy for the people around her. Similarly to the Filthy Woman in Fear, she refers to empathy as weakness. Most of all, Alpha is evil because she is a ‘bad mother’. She manipulates her daughter’s memories, forces her to live a ‘savage’ life, and beats her. And perhaps, she doesn’t even care. Lydia does not expect her mom to come and look for her. Turns out, she is wrong on that one.

Walls and leadership

Is life safer inside or outside walls? This question has been brought up several times in this episode, and it had already been introduced before. The security of walls is likely to be tested soon. In this episode, the theme of walls and security is also a way of showing us Tara’s new leadership qualities. All the sequences outside the walls are tensed. The are some walker-kills scenes indicating danger, and this is an occasion for Tara to declare her decision to keep everyone safe – inside walls. The new group decides to venture outside, only to realize that they should have followed Tara’s leadership.

Walls and civilisation

The question about walls is not just what is safer. There is a sense of morality attached to the idea of living inside walls. Carl and Rick’s vision, which has been much emphasised in this season, is that civilisation is meant to provide more than survival, more than security. ‘Good parents’, like Rick, Michonne, and Carol, keep their children safe behind walls. Even Daryl starts having a taste of a parental relationship through his new role as Henry’s guardian.

When Lydia taunts Daryl in regards to his comfort with life outside walls, we are basically told that there is something dark about Daryl – something more that him being the usual Daryl.

There are more and more symbolic signs that, while the good guys have worked hard to build a civilisation, the Whisperer have been busy doing the opposite – thus they are a threat to it. Not only they live outside walls and embrace the dead: they also eat worms and leave people behind.

Henry and Lydia

Lydia is portrayed as a very vulnerable girl, and Henry finds in her someone to protect. This has been clear since the inception of their dialogue, when she asks why he ‘saved’ her. Lydia is not just depicted as vulnerable because she is a prisoner and is abused by her own mother, but also because she is portrayed as a ‘savage’. Is she going to need to be ‘educated’ to fit in with the ‘civilised’? Sure, Henry shares the yummy worm with her to show empathy, but there is little equality between them at this stage. Henry several times makes statements about her and her mom’s morality: they are ‘messed up’ but ‘good persons’. Surely, while rushing into his paternalistic role of protector, Henry is also depicted as a naive boy in need of a guardian himself. Perhaps there will be some character development episodes awaiting us to see where this goes? We shall see.

Lydia is portrayed as a very vulnerable girl, and Henry finds in her someone to protect. This has been clear since the inception of their dialogue, when she asks why he ‘saved’ her. Lydia is not just depicted as vulnerable because she is a prisoner and is abused by her own mother, but also because she is portrayed as a ‘savage’. Is she going to need to be ‘educated’ to fit in with the ‘civilised’? Sure, Henry shares the yummy worm with her to show empathy, but there is little equality between them at this stage. Henry several times makes statements about her and her mom’s morality: they are ‘messed up’ but ‘good persons’. Surely, while rushing into his paternalistic role of protector, Henry is also depicted as a naive boy in need of a guardian himself. Perhaps there will be some character development episodes awaiting us to see where this goes? We shall see.

This review is part of a research project on the representation of violence in popular culture.

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Monica Carrer, PhD

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