Tales of the Walking Dead features six original life-or-death, high-stakes stories of survival with an all-star cast of both new and familiar characters set against the undead apocalypse. In Episode 3, we meet a new community of survivors that live aboard a boat, including a woman named Dee and her daughter Lydia. A cold realization dawns on viewers as the episode progresses, and we realize this a look into the nascence of Alpha. In this interview with amc.com, we speak with Samantha Morton about Dee’s transition into Alpha, her relationship with her daughter Lydia, and Morton’s lingering questions about Alpha’s idiosyncrasies.
Q: The ‘Save Alpha’ shirts that the crew wore on your last day of filming The Walking Dead really worked! How did you find out about this Tales episode and your return to The Walking Dead Universe?
A: [Laughs] Aw that’s sweet! Well, I had a phone call from Scott Gimple! I think initially when I was first hired for the show, the Alpha storyline was was meant to be about four seasons, but then my storyline ended quite abruptly. I felt really, really sad about that, of course understanding that's how things go, but I did feel really sad. I had the most incredible time playing her and working with everybody. I love everybody on the show. So, when I got the call from Scott, I was elated and I went like, "Oh, wow! Yeah!" Because she's so interesting, you know?
Q: Dee is the only character we know in this new series, so there's familiarity there and excitement around getting to know her even more.
A: Oh I hope so! I hope so, for both the fans and for the people that are new to this world. Because when you look at Tales and all the individual stories, they're all absolutely fascinating. They're almost like films in their own right! I'm personally super excited to see those other Tales as well, because of the actors that are involved and the writing. I'm just really excited.
Q: What was it like donning this very specific American accent again and returning to The Walking Dead family?
A: Well, I've been playing Americans since I was 19 years old. I’ve lived in America for a long time, and I love America so I just feel honored to be able to do my job and play people from all over the place, you know? Plus, I love a challenge. So, I think it's not just about an accent for me. It’s always about a character and this character was a gift. It's a dream role. I think that sometimes people, especially if you've done a lot of films, ask, "Why did you want to join a TV show that was in its ninth season?" And I always say, "Because it was the most incredible role ever written for a woman of my age." It’s so progressive and obviously it comes from the comic, but equally the writing is just next level. As an actor and as a woman, you want to be challenged and you want to be given the same opportunities as a man to develop your craft.
Q: What’s so interesting about this earlier iteration of Alpha/Dee is her meekness and the ‘weakness’ (Alpha’s most hated word!) that she projects… that is, until she doesn’t. Can you talk a bit about how you came to decisions about Dee’s physicality in this specific stage of her life?
A: There were a lot of conversations with Channing [Powell], Mikey [Michael E. Satrazemis], and Scott [Gimple] having to do with the journey that she goes on. You have flashbacks in The Walking Dead to Alpha in the basement with Frank, but they were always her daughter's flashbacks. They were never Alpha's flashbacks. Do you see what I mean? So, this was an opportunity to have Dee's flashbacks – these are the real things that happened. For Dee, she’s always trying to protect her daughter. She's always trying to protect her. She's always trying to make everything better, but equally she's trying to suppress elements of her character as well. She's trying to keep it together for the sake of Lydia ultimately, but things obviously go awry. The world changes and she has to resort to a side of her that is ruthless. She will do anything to protect Lydia, to keep her safe.
Q: Dee is totally rejected by Lydia when they’re talking and laying out silverware. When Lydia says “I have Brooke” you can see Dee’s anger really simmer and she’s also heartbroken. Lydia has obviously been affected by the death of her father and is scared and resentful of Dee. What was it like really getting to explore this early part of Lydia and Alpha’s relationship, because this is a stage between them that we haven't seen a lot of?
A: I thought it was absolutely beautiful, and it was very interesting. Mikey and I worked really, really hard on trying to make sure that there were nuances of vulnerability, yet you've got to remember that Dee has her own PTSD that she's struggling with. Her PTSD doesn’t just have to do with end of the world type stuff. My relationship with Scarlett [Blum] has always been incredible. She and her older sister Havana have both played Lydia, and they are extraordinarily talented. And I think Mikey will agree with me on this one – it was more about how do I make it feel like we are mother and daughter? Creating that kind of intimacy so that you believe it. After people have watched Tales, they might want to go back and rewatch that storyline from Season 9. A lot of things will make sense, like "Ahh, okay." So, this was about laying those foundations, and it was just really important that we got it right. I hope we got it right. It felt like we got it right on the day!
Q: The complexity of the emotions involved – just looking at your face takes you there, absolutely.
A: We were a good team.
Q: By the end of the episode, Dee has decided that this isn’t a world that Lydia should live in. Out of desperation and shame around her failure, she’s about to put an end to both of their lives, but the arrival of The Whisperers changes that. How do you envision those really early days of Dee/Alpha joining them?
A: For me, the end of the story that we're telling here, this chapter, is that I'm definitely going to do a suicide/mercy killing because it's all too messed up. Everything's gone and I can't keep her safe. There's no reason for them both to be alive. We've both of us got to go. There's nothing. There's no hope. But when the Whisperers arrive, she doesn't know that she's starting a new journey.
She’s in such a specific head space there that she’s willing to do this mercy killing of her own child. She sees it as protecting her. She’s doing it because she loves her so much. It's all going to be better because she thinks that Lydia’s lost her mind. Her daughter's gone mad and is hearing things. So, it's a mercy killing, as mad as that sounds. When the Whisperers arrive, we just don't know. All I shot that day was around the idea that I don't know what's going to happen. It was something that was really interesting, and then I was kicked in the face!
Q: Would you come back for another jog down Alpha memory lane?
A: As an actor, so long as the creatives, so long as Channing, Scott, and all the team feel there's something to say and I feel there's something to say and the audience want it, I'll be there in a heartbeat! Like I said, it's the role of a lifetime. It's just so complex and a joy to play, and you just never know what the script is going to give you.
Q: What other parts of her backstory would you want to explore?
A: I think I've always wanted to know how the Whisperers began. What happened? Was it to do with her childhood? I've always had this idea that maybe a lot of Dee/Alpha's childhood, whether it was paganism or born-again Christian, that there was some element of religion, especially because of her connection to nature. That's something that I'd love to talk about and find out more about. Were the Whisperers always that way? Did she bring that into the Whisperers? All of that, I think, is fascinating because obviously we know how she met Beta, but how does that then link with the Whisperers? It's all just really intriguing.
There's a lot there to mine, obviously.
A: Oh my gosh, yeah. And how! There's just so much. When did she decide to be completely bald and why was that? And just the outfit, her belt. I often used to wonder why does she wear a snake on her belt? What is that? Because that meant a huge amount to me, as an actor, to have that belt on at all times. Because that was symbolizing something. It wasn't just, "Oh I found this belt, I'm going to wear it." It means something to her, and I want to know what it means! I'm a fan as well, going "what does it mean? Does it mean anything at all? Am I overthinking it too much?"
New episodes of Tales of the Walking Dead air on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. Full episodes are available to stream on amc.com (with a cable provider login), the AMC apps for mobile and devices, and a week early on AMC+. AMC+ is available at amcplus.com or through the new AMC+ app available on iPhone, iPad, Android, Fire TV, Apple TV, and Roku. AMC+ can also be accessed through a variety of providers, including AppleTV, Prime Video Channels, DirectTV, Dish, Roku Channel, Sling, and Xfinity. Sign up for AMC+ now.