The Walking Dead, Season 9 Episodes 11-12 Review: Leaderships Compared

Alpha and Lydia

In the past three episodes there is a constant fluctuation in the depiction of Alpha as mother. We keep wondering: does she care about Lydia? Alpha is shown as a psychopath who feels no empathy towards others. The most significant sign of this, even more than the killings, is the scene in episode 11 where she orders a Whisperer mother to abandon her crying baby when walkers are approaching. While viewers urgently wish for someone to rescue the baby, she smiles. This scene is meaningful because we are told that Alpha is so cruel that she is untouched by that motherly instinct of protection towards children. Yet, there she is, asking for her daughter. A daughter, we have come to know, she beats and manipulates. Why does she want Lydia back? What is she going to do to her?

We do not get a clear answer straight away. Her interactions with Lydia keep shifting from caring to threatening. As soon as Lydia is released, she earns a hug and a slap. This fluctuating behaviour goes on in episode 12, where the confusing mother-daughter relationships is explored further. At times, Alpha seems genuinely caring, and then she suddenly gets aggressive. This makes her feel completely unpredictable.

We do get an answer at the end of episode 12, in the chilling dialogue between Alpha and Beta. Alpha tells the story of when, years back, she watched her little daughter almost dying, saved her just in time, and then beat her: the explanation? Doing everything it takes to keep the loved ones safe. In her own way, she does care, and that is what makes her even scarier. This is Alpha’s mission. It is mentioned several times that Alpha is responsible for keeping her community safe. However, her relationship with her daughter, even if ‘twisted’, is her main drive. We see this quite frequently in popular culture. We often come across female characters capable of doing anything for the sake of their children, even if  as a result, they end up hurting their children. Think, for example, of Madison in Fear the Walking Dead,  or Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones. In other words, female leaders tend to prioritize their children over the community.

Carol

But Alpha is not the only ‘tough’ mother out there in this season. The parallels between Alpha and Carol, in particular, are very evident, even if the two have not meet yet. In episode 11, the narrative of the hostage crisis at the Hilltop is mixed with a series of flashbacks of Carol and the Kingdom. The flashback is rich with symbols of civilisation: the fair, the constitution, the movie, and the joy for Jerry’s new baby. Carol is really protective towards Ezekiel – as well as Henry. The flashbacks address one question: is it worth taking risks in the name of civilisation, for the future of the new generation? This question is even more meaningful right after the Whisperers readily abandon the baby saying that ‘we are animals’.

Daryl

In episode 11, Daryl takes charge of the situation at the Hilltop, during the first confrontation with the Whisperers and the hostage crisis. It is the first time that we really see Daryl acting as a leader. In the first part of the season, Daryl was posted at the Sanctuary to lead the Saviors, but he role did not seem to suit him all that well. Daryl tends to act quite impulsively because of his strong sense of moral injustice. Now, the decision he has to make is difficult because he has developed a guardian relationship with Henry and Lydia, and is reluctant to give Lydia to her mother because he feels strongly about child abuse. However, this time, during the hostage crisis he decides make a compromise and ‘live with it’. He is now acting for the whole community. He is in charge the whole time during the successful exchange of prisoners at the Hilltop. Is he emerging as the new leader?

Whisperers

In episode 12, there are long dialogues on leadership. In particular, a parallel is drawn between Michonne’s and Alpha’s leadership. We learn that both the communities of Alexandria and the Whisperers have rules. The Whisperers, in a way, are a democracy, in the sense that anyone has the right to challenge Alpha and take her role. However, we see what happens when someone challenges Alpha’s leadership. Alpha’s killing of two of her own people in front of a shocked crowd shows that she rules through terror. She justifies the killings in the name of security. ‘You keep the pack safe, it’s good to remind them’. This scene is similar to Negan’s gruesome public punishments at the Sanctuary. In both cases, the killings are public statements of power. They are witnessed by silent crowds, and these include ‘innocent eyes’ – in this case, a shocked Henry.

Michonne

Back at Alexandria, a similar discussion is taking place. Michonne’s leadership is challenged. Though Alexandria has a chart and is a democracy, Michonne is the de facto leader because she can veto the council with the excuse of security concerns. Unlike Alpha, at the end of the episode, Michonne decides in favour of democracy, even if that represents a potential a security challenge. Just as for Alpha’s, Michonne’s decision is linked to her role of mother. Judith makes Michonne realize how she had changed after Rick’s loss: as a leader she had neglected the dream of civilisation and promise of democracy, and as a mother she neglected Judith. A first step in favour or reconciliation between communities.

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

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