Walking Dead's Samantha Morton on Fleshing Out Alpha's Origin Tale

This story contains spoilers about Sunday's "Dee" episode of Tales of the Walking Dead. "That was the end of Dee. And the beginning of me," says Samantha Morton's Alpha when revealing her origins as Dee on the AMC anthology series Tales of the Walking Dead. Set between the events of The Walking Dead's Alpha flashback episodes "Omega" and "We Are the End of the World," the prequel tells the tale of Dee's evolution into the leader of the Whisperers: survivors who speak in hushed whispers and wear skinned walker flesh to walk with the dead. Before Alpha, there was Dee. Before Dee, there was Hera (Anne Beyer) — unmasked as the alpha who welcomed Dee and daughter Lydia (Scarlett Blum) into her pack of Whisperers.

Morton's episode begins one year after Dee suffocates a panicking survivor while holed up with her daughter and Lydia's father, Frank (Steve Kazee), in a Baltimore basement at the onset of the walker apocalypse. Through Lydia's (Cassady McClincy) memories, "Omega" flashed back to Dee before she was Alpha, who recalls, "I went mad in that basement. And Lydia saw." 

Dee and Lydia live on a bayou riverboat community led by Brooke (Lauren Glazier), which descends into chaos when bartender Billy (Nick Basta) and his gang take the boat by force and cull the crew's "weak." Slathered in walker-guts camouflage as they scavenge to survive, Lydia runs away as Dee forcefully tries to impose her nature: "You've got to be strong or you won't survive, baby." 

Mother and daughter are together again when Dee tearfully apologizes for failing to save Lydia. "I've been so scared of this world without you that I never thought about you in this world," mama tells baby. "What kind of life is this? This ain't no place for a child."

Before Dee can commit the mercy killing-suicide, she hears whispers: "We see you. Spare her. Stop her." The whispering group's leader is Hera, who tells Dee, "Don't speak. Whisper." The episode ends with the reveal of Hera's pale blonde-haired head, decapitated and skinned, living on as the fleshy mask worn by the new alpha of the Whisperers: Alpha. 

In this interview with ComicBook, we speak with the woman behind the mask about Dee's evolution into Alpha, the mother-daughter relationship with Lydia, and what's next for Morton in the Walking Dead Universe. 

COMICBOOK.COM: Let's start with the origins of this Alpha origin tale. How far back was it that [showrunner and co-creator] Channing Powell and [co-creator] Scott Gimple came to you with this prequel about Dee? Was it before or after Alpha was killed off The Walking Dead?

SAMANTHA MORTON: After. I can't remember [exactly when]. We've had a pandemic and we've had loads of stuff and my heads all like, woo. Yeah, I can't remember. But I do remember it being quite a while before I went out there that there was interest in exploring this, and would I be interested, and of course, it was a no brainer. It's a complete "yes, yes, yes," and let's look at the episode and what is it, and who's directing it and do we have the same brilliant makeup team? Because all those things are very important to me.

"Dee" reunites you with Channing Powell, who wrote the "Omega" flashback episode on The Walking Dead. How collaborative was this process of further developing this character of Dee together? Was any of the backstory you imagined for Alpha on Walking Dead incorporated into this episode? 

No, I don't think it was. I think Channing has her own vision. And so kind of the things that I had thought about, they're not there, but that isn't a bad thing. I'm not the writer. I'm there to facilitate playing Alpha to the best of my ability, or Dee. But Channing was incredibly cooperative and collaborative and kind and understanding with any questions that I had, and areas that I felt I needed more clarity or seemed on the page, very black and white, but in reality would be more nuanced. But that's all down to [Michael E. Satrazemis] as well, the director, who was incredibly supportive. And Scott, again, were just a very kind collaborative team, so I love it.

The episode ends with the reveal of Hera and this other Whisperers origin story. Have there been talks about fleshing out this mythology and telling more of Alpha's story in Tales season two or a Whisperers spinoff? 

No, not really. I haven't heard anything. So it was really nice at Comic-Con because I hadn't done Comic-Con before, and I arrived, and people were quite chuff to see me-slash-Alpha, and that was really good. And there were quite a few questions like that: 'We'd like this, we'd like to see that.' And I think AMC are very busy making lots of spinoffs at the moment in regards to The Walking Dead. So I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything! 

At San Diego Comic-Con, you noted how you hadn't played Dee before. The flashbacks we saw on Walking Dead were Lydia's, whereas Tales is from Dee's perspective. Can you talk about the process of finding this new character while having her be familiar or recognizable as the Alpha fans knew on Walking Dead? 

Yeah, it was very hard to pace it because I didn't want to make her so different that people are like, "Ah, it's not the same person. That's just silly." And again, it's really reiterating to everybody that they were Lydia's flashbacks, and time and trauma can do strange things to a child's brain. And there are reasons why Lydia's father was killed, and I believed him to be a very bad man. It wasn't just that he was weak, as in he couldn't cope with the apocalypse — there were other elements of his personality that as a mother and as a wife, I was dealing with back in the normal days, if you like, pre-apocalypse.

So yeah, I found that a challenge, but I also found that there were definite hints of Alpha with her power, her paranoia, the way that she would protect Lydia through... She'd jump in front of her bus for Lydia. She'd kill for Lydia, kill herself. But also that she wants it known that anybody who messes with Lydia, messes with her, and she finds this inner strength. And some people, in times of crisis, sink or swim. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. And I think for Dee, even though it's absolutely traumatic, she comes into her own.

I thought it was interesting that Alpha is born the first time Dee is willing to kill Lydia on Tales, and Alpha dies the second time she's willing to kill Lydia on Walking Dead. How would you describe that relationship with her daughter and Lydia's role in her mother's transformation into the Alpha we know? 

I think it's a pretty similar storyline, even though they are years and years apart. So the reason why Dee is potentially going to kill Lydia is because it was going to be a murder-suicide, because she couldn't possibly let her child live in this world anymore. It's too dark, too horrific. There was no place of safety. And also she believes that at that point that Lydia's lost her mind, that Lydia's gone. And in order to survive the apocalypse, you have to have your wits about you. You have to be ready to go. So that was really tragic. 

And I think in The Walking Dead, the reasons why Dee/Alpha is willing to kill Lydia is for the same thing. It's because of ideology. It's because of, "I can't let you live the life that you want to lead." And the way that I talked about it — and it's a bit, I don't mean to be crass — but the way I talked about it at the time was, imagine your child suddenly joined ISIS and went off to fight, or Star Wars, and your child decided to go on the dark side. Alpha's so far gone with her mental health at that point that she thinks by killing Lydia she's saving Lydia. Does that make sense?

Definitely. 

That it's not about killing her to hurt her or to take anything away from her or to take her life away, she believes it's the right thing to do. And again, it would've been a murder-suicide.

As you mentioned, Dee thought Lydia's daddy was "weak." She kills that panicking man in a basement in Baltimore while calling him "weak." Billy has this same "only the strong survive," survival of the fittest mentality with the riverboat crew. It's one Alpha adopts as leader of the Whisperers. What do you think is the most formative moment or belief that molded Dee into Alpha? 

I always imagine that Dee's family were a military family, and that she had a tough upbringing — very, very tough — from her father. And I think that when you've grown up in a military environment, this is quite a tough environment, from camping to hunting, to being able to defend and protect yourself and almost shutting off your emotions sometimes to be practical.

So I think that Dee carries a lot of that with her. And I think that she, obviously, doesn't trust Billy, is nervous that Billy might assault Lydia in some way. You have to remember that these times you don't know who you are living with. She wants to protect Lydia from sexual predators, as well as emotional predators, people that could kill us, so she's very paranoid and protective of Lydia. And I think these are things that are threads that run through to The Walking Dead.

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"Dee" is now streaming on AMC+. New episodes of Tales of the Walking Dead premiere Sundays on AMC and AMC+.

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