The Walking Dead is a show known for its shocking deaths, so much so that it can be hard to keep longtime fans of the show guessing. When you're 10 season in to a show that leans this heavily into sudden and tragic developments, keeping those developments fresh is key. For the show's most recent bloodbath, showrunner Angela Kang and company wanted to make sure their latest shocking death scene landed with every viewer, and it seems they got their wish.
**Spoiler Warning: There are spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 10 Episode 12, "Walk with Us," below.**
The latest episode of the hit series began with the Whisperers absolutely routing our heroes at Hilltop, burning the community and overrunning it with their horde of walkers while the various survivors regrouped at rendezvous points in the woods. It was during this regrouping that the episode's first major death came as Mary, formerly known as Gamma (Thora Birch), was tracked down and killed by the Whisperer known as Beta. Alden managed to put an arrow through Gamma's head so she wouldn't have to become a walker serving the Whisperers, but Beta still escaped. The carnage of the horde also claimed the life of Hilltop's blacksmith, Earl (John Finn), who was bitten during the battle and tried to take his own life rather than turning after getting the community's children to safety.
Then there's the big death, the one with ripple effects we'll be seeing in a big way for the rest of the season. In recent weeks we've seen Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) working to get into the good graces of the Whisperers, and this week we found out why. In a scene meant to make both the characters and the viewer think that Negan was about to lead Alpha (Samantha Morton) to the location of her estranged daughter Lydia, Negan instead turned on the leader of the Whisperers and slit her throat. Alpha, one of the most effective villains of the series and the major antagonist of this season so far, is dead. What's more, the episode also revealed that Negan was acting on Carol's (Melissa McBride) orders, as he delivered Alpha's zombie head to her.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, The Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang explained why now was the right time for such a decisive move on the show.
"So first of all this pairing in the comic of Alpha and Negan, it's one of my favorites parts of the comic and we knew that we wanted to do this story of Negan as the one that ultimately kills Alpha," Kang explained. "And so how do we do that in the show where it still has that surprising element that we had in the books? How can we service all the emotional elements that are there, and Carol's part in it. We really liked the idea of doing this partway through the back half [of the season], not in the finale. It felt like Alpha for her side had this kind of epic emotional story with her daughter. And so we wanted to get to a place with the story where we understood that Alpha was ready to kill her own daughter. And that seemed to make sense. It tracked via the rejecting her once and for all."
As Kang said, Negan is also the one who killed Alpha in the comics, though the circumstances leading up to the death are somewhat different. As a TV series The Walking Dead has a long history of both paying off deaths and developments promised by the comics and subverting them in an effort to keep viewers guessing, and in the end this particular death became a kind of hybrid of both. On the other side of the conflict, Kang also explained why she felt the time was right for Negan to make his move.
"And then from Negan's side, we asked ourselves: What is Negan's red line? And we know that Negan really genuinely seems to care about children," Kang said. "In the books, he was a teacher before the apocalypse began, and we showed him develop this relationship to Lydia. And just the fact that Alpha has this go in and kill everybody, who cares, burn it all down, I'll kill my own child philosophy — that really feels like for Negan that's the red line that he can't cross. There's a lot about Alpha that I think would be appealing to him. He obviously is really drawn to the strong, but we felt that to get the most satisfying version of that, that it had to be complicated for Negan too.
"And so that's how we worked about just constructing all of that. And then we really wanted to demonstrate that conflict in real time. And so it felt like if she's there ready to kill her daughter, it's almost like a test for him, and she fails, and so he has to do it in that moment."
Of course, as with every major death on The Walking Dead, there's going to be tremendous fallout in the wake of Alpha's demise. The war isn't exactly over, the survivors are still regrouping, and Kang promised we'll also learn more in the weeks to come about how exactly Negan and Carol came to work together to end Alpha's life. Plus, Beta's still out there, and he's not going to be especially happy.
The Walking Dead airs Sunday at 9 p.m. EST on AMC.