A major storyline in this week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “Ghosts,” concerns Carol and the hallucinations she is having because of lack of sleep. I should note, first off, that it is true that sleep deprivation can lead to hallucinations. There’s a lot of science behind it. It’s happened to me on a few occasions, including one very embarrassing incident a few years ago in which I watched a screener for the series premiere of FX’s Atlanta late at night during a week in which I had slept very little. I appeared on a podcast that week with my colleague here, Josh Kurp, and Vanity Fair‘s Joanna Robinson, to discuss my thoughts on the series. I noted during the podcast that I really liked the pilot episode, except that I didn’t care for the either the aliens or the time travel elements in the episode.
A week later, I watched the pilot episode again to write about it, and in watching it a second time, I awkwardly realized that there were no aliens in the pilot, nor any time travel elements. I rewound it a number of times trying to find the aliens before realizing I had hallucinated them, and those hallucinations were so real that I had incorporated them into my podcast review, much to my embarrassment.
That’s the thing about those sleep-deprived hallucinations: Those who experience them have a very difficult time making the distinction between what is real and what is a hallucination. In this week’s episode, The Walking Dead took us through Carol’s sleep-deprived hallucinations. She refuses to go to sleep because she has nightmares about her dead son, Henry, who was killed by The Whisperers. She pops Adderall and refuses suggestions that she get some rest. At one point during the episode, she has an entire conversation with Daryl about hallucinations from sleep deprivation only to realize that the conversation itself is a hallucination, as is the image of a home economics textbook with Carol on the cover along with the various children who she has treated as her own, like Lizzie, Henry, and even her biological daughter, Sophia.
Later in the episode while patrolling a school where several other Alexandrians are sleeping, Carol is caught in a booby trap and attacked by a small horde of walkers. While she’s hanging upside down by her feet, she fights several walkers off, including what she believes is a Whisperer dodging and weaving her knife thrusts. Eventually, Carol shoots the Whisperer before freeing herself from the booby trap and killing the rest of the walkers.
After Carol is stitched up by Siddiq, she finally falls asleep and experiences another nightmare involving Henry. When she finally awakens for real, Carol has a conversation with Michonne and tells her that she did see a Whisperer. “I know,” Michonne says, “but only you did.” Michonne doesn’t believe Carol actually saw a Whisperer. Carol goes outside to talk to Daryl on the porch and insists to him that she did see a Whisperer. Daryl says he believes her, but he doesn’t look convinced. Did a Whisperer actually invade the Alexandrians’ territory and lead a horde of walkers to Carol?
Apparently, yes. In the episode’s final scene, the camera cuts back to the school where Carol put down the walkers. The camera pans through the school and out into the school yard, where we see the Whisperer that Carol shot awaken as a zombie. In other words, Carol did see a Whisperer, despite what Michonne may think. Everything else might have been a hallucination, but seeing that Whisperer was not. Alpha was getting her revenge on Carol for shooting at her earlier in the episode, and the death of that Whisperer may provoke more bloodshed in the weeks to come. AMC
Earlier this year, Avengers: Endgame became the highest-grossing movie of all-time, an incredible achievement that won't be beat until the next time Marvel's finest come together to stop, I dunno, Ruby Thursday. Equally incredible: the two movies that it passed on its way to the top were made by the same guy: his name is James Cameron, the bravest pioneer. He wrote and directed Titanic $2.187 billion, which usurped Jurassic Park as the top-grosser in 1998, before repeating the feat with Avatar $2.789 billion; that record held until Endgame, 10 years later. Oh yeah, and he also made The Terminator, Alias, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and True Lies. Not bad! James Cameron is a walking flex as a filmmaker; I will not touch on his personal life, which is why comments he made to the Hollywood Reporter went viral this week.
LAST BIG SPLURGE
“Building a sub.”
YOU FIND BOB IGER'S IPHONE. WHICH CONTACT DO YOU CALL?
“I can call anybody I want. I don't need Bob Iger's cell phone.”
Most people on the Reporter's list of the 100 most powerful people in Hollywood gave boring answers to the first question, like Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos #2, who splurged on a “Rocket Appartamento espresso machine and grinder,” but not our buddy James Cameron #56. Never with James Cameron. He talks the talk, like so:
“I can tell you one thing about them,” Cameron laughs when [asked about the Avatar sequels]. “They're gonna be bitchin'. You will sh*t yourself with your mouth wide open.”
But he also walks the walk. Is that quote obnoxious? Uh huh. Is he full of bloviating mouth-wide-open sh*t? You bet. Counterpoint: he made Avatar and T2 and Aliens and Titanic, which earned him Best Picture and Best Director, so Cameron: 1; world: 0.
A few more Cameron quotes:
“[ Aquaman exists] between a Greek mythic landscape and a fairy tale landscape. And people just kind of zoom around underwater because... they propel themselves mentally? I guess. I don't know. But it's cool. You buy it on its own terms. But I've spent thousands of hours underwater. I'm very literal about my underwater.”
James Cameron is nothing if not literal about his underwater:
“So you're talking about the Mythbusters episode, right? Where they sort of pop the myth? OK, so let's really play that out: you're Jack, you're in water that's 28 degrees, your brain is starting to get hypothermia. Mythbusters asks you to now go take off your life vest, take hers off, swim underneath this thing, attach it in some way that it won't just wash out two minutes later, which means you're underwater tying this thing on in 28-degree water, and that's going to take you five to ten minutes, so by the time you come back up you're already dead... His best choice was to keep his upper body out of the water and hope to get pulled out by a boat or something before he died. They're fun guys and I loved doing that show with them, but they're full of sh*t.”
Drag the Mythbusters guys, James!
“Would I nail a cellphone to the wall with a nail gun? Absolutely, if it went off in the middle of a take, but...
There's more to that quote, but honestly, it's perfect right there.
Cameron's not done talking yet, though:
“Tell your friend he's getting f*cked in the ass, and if he would stop squirming it wouldn't hurt so much” was the message he once told a Fox producer to deliver to an executive at the studio.
He taught Zoë Saldana how to shoot her bow, as he envisioned it. “It's a two-fingered inverted draw past the head, like a Samurai,” he said, tracing the shape in the air over his left shoulder. “The archery instructor came and said, 'Do you want me to teach them archery or do you want me to teach them this? This would never work.' I said, 'See that bush?' It was a hundred and fifty feet away. I nailed it.” Via
He signs his missives “Jim out.” Via
Those last three excerpts all come from the same New Yorker profile, which is highly entertaining and ridiculous. But that's James Cameron, isn't it? He's an obsessive, an eccentric, a pompous workaholic who demands perfection... but, as Birth.Movie.Death.'s Scott Wampler tweeted, “I've said this before but I suppose it bears repeating: is James Cameron egotistical? Yes. Does that come through in interviews? Most definitely. Is James Cameron's track record legendary and impossible to argue with? 100%.” I can't wait for Avatar 2 and the rest of the ridiculously titled sequels to come out. Not because I'm all that interested in seeing it, but the press tour is going to be incredible.
It was blood sport all round on Sunday and not just that Pittsburgh Steelers win over the L.A. Chargers and the cable topping New York Yankees and Houston Astros game on Fox Sports 1. No, The Walking Dead and Succession both had sacrifices, new messy alliances and some telling ratings.
For the AMC zombie apocalypse series, the second episode of the 10th season pulled back the mask on the bloodless origins of the Whisperers.
The Greg Nicotero directed “We Are the End of the World” was also a new series low for TWD. Slipping 7% from the previous low of last week's Season 10 opener to a 1.3 rating among adults 18-49, TWD was in a rare second place on cable with its viewership of 3.47 million. That total set of linear eyeballs was down 13% from the October 6 “Lines We Cross” episode.
Compared to the then series low of the second episode of Season 9, TWD viewership fell 30% and 35% in the key demo.
Hard truths and low numbers for the show based on Robert Kirkman's now defunct comic, but also mitigated realities. For one thing, starting with the Samantha Moron-led “End of the World,” all episodes of TWD are now available 48 hours before they air on AMC on the subscription AMC Premiere service, which we hear is doing quite nicely. Secondly, in Live + 3 ratings, the Season 10 debut rose 50% in the 18-49 demo and 45% in overall viewers — and that was an episode that was on AMC Premiere a full week before its October 6 linear launch.
Over on HBO, media mogul Logan Roy and his often less than spectacular offspring had a near banner night. With someone in the family set up to take the fall for the scandal in their cruise ship business. Not to give too much away if you haven't seen the Jesse Armstrong penned This Is Not for Tears episode but the Jeremy Strong portrayed Kendell Roy certainly redeems himself after that horrific hip hop malfeasant of a few weeks back.
Though the 660,000 who watched the Succession Season 2 finale on Sunday on its first run on HBO was up 9% from the season premiere of August 11, it was down from both last week and the Season 1 ender of August 5 last year.
That's in linear viewers for the burgeoning prestige series for the premium cabler. However, light a real-world digital match, and the Murdoch-inspired Succession is on fire like Sean Hannity at a Vermont Socialists League meeting.
In that burning context, the Brian Cox-led show snagged 1.1 million viewers when you add up first runs, encores and digital platforms. While just a tad below the 1.2 million multi-platform audience that the all-time series high of Season 2 premiere of the now addictively fueled Succession had, the Season 2 ender was a good bow for the show, for now. HBO don't play the demo game cause they don't have ads, but among adults 18-49 the end of Succession's second season stayed even with its penultimate episode with a 0.2 in the key broadcast demo.
Can I just say, it'll never happen, but man a Walking Dead and Succession crossover would sure leave some blood on the walls, wouldn't it? Though the Roys may scare off the Whisperers and the undead ...
The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang had one of two choices where it concerns the guiding philosophy of The Whisperers: Leave it unexplained and allow viewers interpret it on their own, or provide a meaty backstory that spells it all out. In the comics, Robert Kirkman largely chooses the former: The Whisperers are just a hugely messed up cult, and there’s no real rhyme or reason to why. In this week’s episode, “We Are the End of the World,” Kang chooses the latter approach. The danger in doing so is that Kang needed to conjure up a guiding philosophy for The Whisperers that’s even more twisted than what Kirkman left to our imaginations. My assessment? It’s probably a draw, but mileage may vary depending upon the individual viewer’s imagination.
The backstory, set 7 years in the past, is intercut in this week’s episode with a present storyline that’s designed to show how the backstory informs the present one. Seven years ago, Alpha and Lydia met Beta in an abandoned building while fleeing a zombie horde. Alpha and Beta did not hit it off immediately, but they eventually found that they enjoyed killing zombies together. Alpha also saw in Beta a broken man, someone deeply damaged by the loss of a loved one, the identity of which is unknown friend? Boyfriend? Brother? Son?.
Based on the surrounding imagery, I’m going to assume this is someone Beta met - and grew very close to - in a rehab facility before the apocalypse. In any respect, even after his friend - who I will call Happy - is zombiefied, Beta can’t seem to let him go, choosing to keep him locked up in a room, which is something we’ve seen with both Hershel and The Governor in past seasons. When Alpha sneaks into Beta’s room searching for Lydia, she comes upon Happy-zombie and kills him, much to Beta’s dismay. Beta loses it and starts destroying things.
Alpha, however, calms Beta by essentially introducing him to her guiding philosophy: She believes that we are all monsters, that we are all zombies, and that the only way to survive is to rid ourselves of our emotions and walk with the dead. The best way to prove one’s commitment to the cause, in fact, is to sacrifice someone we love. In this case, Alpha sacrificed Happy for Beta, but because Beta wants to maintain a connection with Happy, he skins off his face and uses it as a mask. Thus, the Whisperer masks are born in the case of Beta, he has another very good reason for wanting to keep his face covered.
Meanwhile, in the present, we see that philosophy put into action with a new character played by Thora Birch, Gamma, and Gamma’s sister because most Whisperers do not have names, we’ll call her GS for “Gamma’s sister.”. GS’s baby is the one that Alpha sacrificed to The Hilltop last season, and GS is still reeling over the loss. When she loses it while roaming with walkers, Beta nearly executes her, but Alpha gives her another chance, because - though she is not supposed to feel emotions - she still has sympathy for GS’s loss of her daughter, even though Alpha is the one that orchestrated it. In fact, Alpha is still hurting herself over the loss of Lydia - she couldn’t bring herself to kill her own daughter last season, and Beta calls her out on it after finding that Alpha essentially has a hidden shrine dedicated to her daughter.
Alpha admits that she’s still hurting - “you’ll never know what it’s like to lose a daughter!” - but makes Beta insists he won’t tell the others. Meanwhile, when GS loses it again after seeing a zombie with a front pack on, a horde converges upon her. Gamma sacrifices her own sister to the zombies to save Alpha, which earns Gamma a name “Gamma”, a rarity among The Whisperers.
This is essentially what we are dealing with. The Whisperers are being brainwashed by Alpha and Beta into believing that “living” is a fantasy, which is why the Alexandrians pose such a threat to them. When the Whisperer pack sees that the Alexandrians lead happy and peaceful lives, it gives them hope. For a Whisperer, hope is the worst possible thing. It is incumbent upon Alpha and Beta, meanwhile, to ensure that the Whisperer pack never allow their emotions to surface, but in Alpha, there are cracks because she still intensely feels the loss of her own daughter, Lydia.
[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 10, Episode 2, “We Are the End of The World.”]
“We Are The End of The World” is split into two distinct parts, one far more successful than the other. First there’s a flashback to seven years ago, where Alpha Samantha Morton and Lydia Cassady McClincy happen upon a certain hulking, masked man-beast. Then in the present, we finally get to know a few other Whisperers and learn that Alpha’s hold on her pack is more tentative than we realized. Those hoping for the season to gain a little more narrative momentum after last week’s pokey premiere will be disappointed, but good news for those who wanted to see that satellite re-enter the atmosphere again!
First let’s address the flashback, because there’s not all that much to talk about. Alpha and Lydia hide out in an abandoned hospital, only to find Beta Ryan Hurst, who grudgingly lets them stay. Alpha immediately senses a kindred spirit, but Beta’s reluctant until Alpha kills the walker Beta was secretly protecting, someone who was close to him in the Before Times. We also get Alpha chastising Lydia to be stronger, in case you missed that from last year, although she’s much more protective of her here.
What’s frustrating is that we learn virtually nothing new about Beta from all this. We don’t learn his relationship to the walker Alpha kills, save for that it’s his face that Beta uses as a walker disguise to this day. Other than that, Alpha converts Beta to her cause so quickly that there’s almost no sense of who he was before he met her. It’s implied that he was simply an empty vessel waiting for someone like Alpha to come along and give him purpose, but that’s an idea that could be conveyed in a few lines, not half an episode. This could be a tease for further revelations, but as a standalone story, there’s just not enough to it.
Man Is the True Monster
Beta gets sidelined in the present-day story, which sees Alpha’s favor falling on two sisters who have a knack for finding new walkers for Alpha’s super-herd. The spacier of the two sisters is revealed to be the woman who Alpha ordered to abandon her baby last season, and her grief has finally caught up to her, leading her to wail to anyone who will listen that she misses her baby and that he’s in a better place i.e. not in the woods wearing human skin. Uncharacteristically, Alpha takes pity on the woman, holding her close and allowing her to fully express her grief. It’s a moment of raw emotion, given even more potency against the backdrop of the deadly-silent Whisperer camp.
Unfortunately for Alpha, her rare moment of grace is turned against her, because the very next time the woman is reminded of the existence of babies she sees a zombie wearing a Baby Bjorn, she freaks out and tackles Alpha right in the middle of the herd. Her sister pulls her off and tosses her to the walkers, earning Alpha’s praise and a promotion to Gamma, while stoking jealousy in Beta. Fortunately, he finds a way to reignite their bond.
“The Walking Dead”
A Shred of Humanity
Beta, realizing Alpha periodically sneaks off into the woods, follows her and discovers her secret. See, Alpha told the Whisperers that she killed Lydia, except she couldn’t bring herself to do so. As Beta quickly pieces together this lie, he also realizes that not only did she not kill Lydia, but she desperately wants her to return. But instead of using this knowledge for leverage or to take control of the Whisperers, Beta offers Alpha his hand, showing the same grace Alpha showed earlier. At that moment, Alpha finally disavows Lydia, smashing the shelter she had built for her and screaming how Lydia was not like her. It’s an interesting turn, proving that Beta isn’t a schemer like so many of the Saviors were; he’s a true believer, and he just needs to remind his messiah of her true path.
Which is all well and good, but let’s take a moment to address what Alpha built for Lydia out in the woods. Beta doesn’t say it outright, but it appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a big, human-sized nest. You know, like Big Bird has on Sesame Street. If you’re feeling generous, you could possibly interpret it as Alpha’s clumsy attempt to replicate the civilization Lydia chose over Alpha through Alpha’s natural selection-obsessed lens, but boy, is it ever goofy, and it’s a big distraction from what’s otherwise a perfectly solid climax.
Now that Alpha and Beta are on the same page again, Beta lets her know that their enemies have once again entered their territory. Alpha agrees that they need to be punished, and closes the episode out by staring down Carol, like the end of last week’s episode. Now that Alpha has made her intention of retribution known, maybe things can start happening next week?
The Remains It’s downright odd that we don’t get to see Beta’s face. Does he have gnarly scars? Was he a celebrity in the “Walking Dead” universe before the outbreak? You can give us a peek under the mask, show. We know it’s Ryan Hurst under there. Between Lydia’s conversion last season and the sister this episode, babies are proving to be the Whisperers’ greatest weakness. Daryl needs to assemble a baby army, stat. How is Alpha planning on attacking our heroes without revealing Lydia to her followers? At least one other Whisperer is like, “Yeah, Hilltop looked dope. We should maybe go back there,” so Alpha already has a loyalty problem. A resolution where Alpha’s followers stage a full-on revolt does not seem out of the question. Alpha: “I like killing with you.” There are worse pickup lines, I suppose. Beta’s deadpan response of, “Well, you’re different,” is pretty hilarious. Ryan Hurst is doing strong work as Beta, even when the stories are weak. She seriously built a big nest. A true legend. Grade: C+
“The Walking Dead” airs new episodes Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.
This week’s episode of The Walking Dead, “We Are the End of the World,” provides viewers with the origin story of Alpha and Beta, who met seven years ago in an abandoned building and bonded over similar world-views more on that in the upcoming recap. Even before Alpha and Beta created The Whisperers, however, Beta’s face is never seen. He’s wearing a ski mask in the flashbacks, and as we learn in this episode, his skin mask is made up of the face of his own dead son. It’s dark stuff.
Interestingly, however, we never see what’s under the mask, although Alpha does. In this episode, after a big monologue, Alpha takes a peek under Beta’s ski masks and offers a knowing grin. What’s that all about?
In the comics, when Beta is finally unmasked, he is revealed to be a famous basketball player from the pre-apocalypse days, much to the surprise of the Alexandrians who unmask him. He will not be revealed to be a basketball player on The Walking Dead TV series, however. He’ll be revealed to be a famous musician.
How do we know this? There wasn’t a lot of reasons to watch the latest season of Fear the Walking Dead, which might charitably be called a lost season. However, there was one very enjoyable Easter Egg in the 14th episode of the season when Daniel, a character played by Ruben Blades, drops a crate full of vinyl albums. While they are splayed out on the ground, one particular album stood out:
That album cover clearly contains a photo of Ryan Hurst, the actor who plays Beta on The Walking Dead, styled as what appears to be a whiskey-drinking country singer akin to Chris Stapleton. Clearly, Beta took the zombie apocalypse - and the death of his son - very hard, abandoned his fame, and leaned really hard into his anonymity.
In any respect, that explains why Alpha gave that mischievous and knowing grin when she lifted Beta’s mask. It was a look that said, “I know who you are, and I completely understand why you have chosen to mask yourself.”