Last week’s Tales of the Walking Dead gave us a quirky time loop tale that was all sorts of fun to watch. I know a lot of you are burnt out on the Walking Dead universe (or were busy watching House of the Dragon‘s first episode), but take it from a veteran/cynical reviewer of the franchise — “Blair/Gina” is definitely worth checking out.
As always, the recap portion of this review will contain plenty of spoilers.
The episode opens with a voiceover of Alpha (aka Dee) asking to let her tell us how she died.
We then see what appears to be a happy couple lying in bed together. When the man (Nolan) suggests that they run away together, the woman (Brooke) shushes him before declaring that she needs to go shopping. She also tells him to get ready for dinner.
After Nolan leaves, Brooke finishes putting on a formal dress and steps outside, where we see that they are on a very large riverboat surrounded by dead/floating bodies. As Brooke looks out over the water, a young Lydia runs up to show her the dress she’s wearing to dinner. Brooke tells her it looks beautiful and promises to take Lydia shopping the next time she goes.
Things immediately become tense when Dee walks up. Although there’s no outright hostility, it’s clear that she and Brooke don’t see eye-to-eye on much — especially the importance of dressing up. It’s also apparent that Lydia idolizes Brooke, which makes her mother jealous.
Before taking Lydia to dinner, Brooke assures Dee that the riverboat’s lights won’t cause them any trouble. In addition to having multiple guards on duty, the area has been trawled for weeks to ensure that no walkers are around.
Brooke walks hand-in-hand with Lydia into a fancy dinner party with everyone dressed to the nines. Dee enters a few moments later and sits down at the bar, where a very drunk man (Mr. Langston) excuses himself and walks away.
The bartender (Billy) asks Dee why she’s not sitting with her daughter, who is laughing and enjoying herself with Brooke and Nolan. When she doesn’t answer, Billy suggests that she should make more of an effort before mocking her plain/haggard appearance.
Dee is justifiably offended, but the bartender doesn’t back down. Instead, he chastises her and others for “looking like drowned possums” while taking advantage of everything Brooke gives them. When Dee explains that she’s only there for Lydia, Billy counters by asking why her daughter is sitting with someone else before going to get more wine for the bar.
After staring through a window at the boat’s deck, Dee goes outside and shuts off the lower run of lights. She then looks out over the water at the walkers lurking between the trees on shore. Brooke comes out and chastises Dee for turning off the lights and being wary of the undead. While Brooke turns them back on, Dee says that she doesn’t trust the new bartender. Brooke counters that Dee doesn’t trust anyone before asking her to help with Lydia’s birthday party.
Dee is hesitant to assist with something she not only considers trivial, but will also cost significant resources. Brooke points out that giving a child some sense of normalcy is healthy. She also expresses concern that Dee’s negative outlook on everything is bad for Lydia’s mental health. Upon hearing this, Dee begins to lean in toward Brooke. She appears to lunge at her, but ends up stabbing a walker that drops from an overhead net. Instead of being grateful for saving her life, Brooke is angry at Dee for pilfering a knife.
The episode then flashes forward to a silhouette of Alpha, who explains that she was mad at Daddy/Frank when she killed him…and that he deserved it.
When we return from the opening credits, Alpha’s voice-over continues, reminding us about the time she was stuck in a basement with Lydia’s father (Frank) when society fell. She’s not sure if she meant to kill him, but she’s glad she did.
Back on the riverboat, Brooke is leading an exercise class when she’s summoned to meet with the group’s leaders about Mr. Langston, who’s gone missing. As they’re talking, Dee walks in to perform her duties as one of the ship’s cleaning crew. When Brooke asks if she saw Langston, Dee responds that he was getting drinks at the bar the previous evening. She also reveals that she heard a loud splash in the middle of the night, although it could have been anything.
Dee then points out that they should talk to Billy since he was the one serving him drinks. They follow her advice and find the bartender, who is helping to clear walker limbs from the ship’s nets. Billy tells Brooke that he cut Langston off and even helped him to his room — a story that’s confirmed by his fellow crewmate (Margot).
After talking it over, the leadership group decides that looking for Langston in the water would be too risky. Instead, they’ll inform everyone else about what occurred and put new protocols in place to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
As they walk away, Dee steps out and gives Billy a withering stare.
Later, while Lydia is helping her mom put out silverware, the girl reveals that Brooke said she needs a new dress. Dee responds dismissively and steals one of the knives for herself, much to Lydia’s chagrin. The girl then tells her mother that she can leave the boat without her. Dee responds by declaring that she is the only one who can keep her alive. When Lydia counters that she has Brooke, Dee tells her daughter to finish the silverware on her own and storms off.
While taking a moment to collect herself, she hears a sound on the aft deck. She heads over and finds Billy, who asks if she’s there to help with the anchor. Dee responds by improbably accusing him of using a mirror to signal someone on shore before dropping it in the water. As he begins to protest, she calls out to the others to get Brooke.
When Brooke arrives, Dee repeats her accusation while also pointing out that Billy was the last person who saw Langston alive. Before Brooke can diffuse the situation, Billy sees that Dee has a knife and jumps overboard, which is basically suicide in a swamp filled with zombies and reptiles.
Dee tries to claim that it wasn’t her fault, but Brooke isn’t buying it. She declares that this sort of behavior is likely why Lydia is scared of her. Dee tries to defend herself, but Brooke cuts her off, demanding that she cover Billy’s shifts until they can find a replacement.
After Brooke storms off, Dee notices Lydia watching them. As the little girl runs away, we hear a voiceover of Alpha explaining that she went mad back in that basement with Frank…and Lydia saw it.
Dee goes to her cabin to plead with Lydia to speak with her. Upon discovering that her daughter isn’t there, Brooke appears and suggests that Lydia needs some space. She also wonders aloud what terrible past events could make a little girl hide from her own mother. Dee responds by demanding to know where her daughter is, going so far as to threaten Brooke’s life if she doesn’t tell her.
Before things can boil over, the pair hear people screaming and run to see what’s causing it. Turns out Dee was 100% right about Billy and then some. The former bartender has returned with a platoon of fellow mercenaries and is holding most of the ship’s occupants at gunpoint on the exercise deck.
Despite how crazy things have gotten, Dee’s focus remains solely on her daughter’s safety. This time when she demands to know where Lydia is, Brooke reveals that the girl is hiding in the ship’s dinghy.
Meanwhile, Billy tells his former shipmates that six of them will need to die so that he and his crew can live on the boat. He was hoping to do this quietly (ala poor Mr. Langston), but must now take a more direct approach after Dee forced his hand. Nolan begs Billy to reconsider, which results in a gun being pointed at his head.
Billy then goes on a rant about how some people on the ship don’t appreciate everything Brooke does to make life good for them. When one of his goons finds Brooke (who was headed for the armory) and brings her to him, Billy insists that she’s treated gently before expressing how much he admires her kindness. Unfortunately, that makes it more difficult for her to make the truly tough decisions — like when it’s time to get rid of people who don’t deserve to be on the boat. He and his crew, on the other hand, are fully capable of handling that unseemly task.
Before Brooke can protest, Billy nonchalantly raises his pistol and executes one of the drably clothed ship members.
Once the screams die down a bit, Brooke begs Billy to reconsider his plan. She also points out that it’s going to be impossible for him and his crew to integrate with the rest of the ship after what they’ve done. Billy responds that it absolutely will be possible (and that Brooke can still be in charge of the ship’s “pep”) before executing another hostage.
Billy then turns his gun again on Nolan, who begs him to kill another member of the ship’s leadership team (Jenna) instead. Jenna responds by saying that Nolan should be the one to go since all he does is coast on Brooke’s coattails.
*Side Note: Definitely #TeamJenna on this one.
As the two begin to bicker for their lives, Billy announces that more important people will die unless Dee and Lydia are found and brought to him. Jenna frantically pledges to help them find the pair, leading to the rest of the passengers agreeing to do the same. Brooke, on the other hand, scolds them all for being so willing to hunt down a little girl.
Just when it appears that Billy is about to lose his temper and start shooting, Dee sneaks up and slashes one of the mercenary’s throats. She then takes the man’s gun and shoots another member of Billy’s crew. As chaos ensues on the ship’s exercise deck, Dee releases the dinghy and jumps into the water after it.
While all this is going on, Alpha explains in another voice-over that she ran toward repentance…but you can’t run forever.
Gunshots are followed by screams as people jump from the boat. Meanwhile, Dee commands her terrified daughter to stay down as they row toward the shore. Upon making landfall, the pair are immediately swarmed by zombies, which Dee takes down with mama bear efficiency.
Meanwhile, poor Lydia is completely overwhelmed with fear, especially when one of the dispatched walkers lands on top of her mom. She becomes even more distraught when one of the boat people swims ashore and is promptly eaten.
Dee cuts open the walker, covering herself in its blood. She then pleads with her daughter to be quiet, but to no avail. As Lydia continues to scream, Dee switches to the Mom Voice and commands Lydia to crawl under the walker with her. After she does, Dee gently rubs walker blood on Lydia’s face, all while encouraging her to pretend she’s somewhere else and promising to keep her safe.
Sometime later, Dee instructs Lydia to keep her eyes closed and leads her away from the carnage. After traveling through the woods for a while, she spots Brooke, who is crying over the destruction of her community.
Realizing that her daughter hasn’t seen the woman yet, Dee pulls out a stuffed rabbit and a pair of earmuffs from Lydia’s backpack. She puts the earmuffs on her daughter, tells her to stay put (facing away from Brooke), and heads toward the woman.
Brooke sits up and faces Dee, who chastises her for promising Lydia the world only to have it taken away. Brooke responds by pointing out that Dee’s attack led to everyone dying. Dee counters that seconds before the walker guts hit the fan, nearly all of them were willing to sacrifice Lydia. In the meantime, she did what a mother is supposed to do and protected her child at all costs.
Dee pulls out the mercenary’s gun from the ship and aims it at Brooke’s head. Before she can shoot, Lydia runs up and pushes her hand away. She then stands in front of Brooke and begs her mother to show mercy. Dee refuses, explaining that Brooke took more from her than she’ll ever know. She then shoves her daughter aside and aims the gun at the woman’s head again.
This time, her hand is stayed by the sound of Lydia tearfully singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” and covering her ears.
Dee walks over and begins to comfort her daughter. She also assures Lydia that she won’t kill Brooke, even putting the gun back in her backpack to prove it.
Once Lydia settles down, Dee puts the earmuffs back on her daughter and tells her to stay put. She returns to Brooke and appears to comfort the woman before explaining that death would be “too forgiving” of a fate for her. She then pulls out a knife and slices a large scar across Brooke’s face, declaring it to be a painful reminder of how she failed her daughter.
With that bit of vengeful nastiness complete, Dee gets Lydia and departs, leaving Brooke bleeding and alone in the woods.
Hell on Wheels
As the pair walk through the woods together, Lydia expresses her desire to return to the boat. When Dee explains that the boat isn’t an option anymore, Lydia opines that their current (and very dire) situation is exactly what her mother wanted — especially the part about Brooke being wrong.
Dee tries to encourage her daughter to be strong, but the girl remains fixated on returning to the life they knew on the boat (along with the birthday party she was about to have). Lydia also attempts to remind Dee how her father said it was safer to be with other people. Dee responds to this by angrily explaining that she must learn to survive on her own since other people only represent chaos. Lydia counters that it’s actually her mother who’s truly chaotic.
Dee is clearly hurt by this, but reminds Lydia that she’s all the girl has before promising never to fail her again.
When Lydia asks where her father is, Dee responds with a chilling non-answer, simply explaining he was weak. She then pleads with her daughter not to be like him before saying that they need to keep walking until they find somewhere safe.
The pair eventually find an RV park. After making sure one of the vehicles is unoccupied, Dee leads her daughter inside and gives her some food. She also finds a toy tea set, which makes her consider trying to give Lydia some sort of celebration for her birthday.
Dee makes this suggestion aloud to her daughter, but doesn’t receive a response. She turns to find that Lydia has gone outside, where she says there are other people. When Dee walks out of the RV, she discovers that the “people” are actually a trio of walkers.
*Side Note: I get that Lydia is still very young here, but there’s no way she was that naive and/or stupid to think that a group of snarling walkers were humans.
Dee commands Lydia to get behind her. The girl stays put at first, but finally starts to back up before attempting to run toward the RV. Dee stops her, explaining that it’s now time for her to learn how to survive. She instructs Lydia on how to kill the walkers, ignoring the girl’s terrified protestations. When Lydia refuses to take the knife from her, Dee pushes a canopy onto the zombies and kills them herself.
Meanwhile, a completely terrified Lydia flees into the forest, forcing Dee to chase after her.
After the commercial break, we’re treated to another silhouetted voice-over from Alpha:
We are all we have.
We do what we think is right.
Even if it hurts the ones we love.
We then rejoin Dee as she desperately searches for Lydia. When she finds her, the girl claims that she heard the trees talking and they want to take her away. She also begs her mother to let her go, which adds an extra layer of macabre weirdness to what she’s saying.
A voice-over of Alpha cuts in to state how easy it is to forget what a young age nine is. Meanwhile, Dee apologizes to her daughter for being selfish. She was so scared of living in this world without Lydia that she never thought about how Lydia would function in this world.
Amidst repeated declarations of her love, Dee also decides that this world is no place for a child. While rocking Lydia back and forth, she quietly pulls a knife from her backpack and begins steeling herself to do the unthinkable. A voice-over of Alpha claims that she would have killed both of them, although the source on that isn’t one you can really trust.
Just as Dee is about to slit her daughter’s throat, she hears whispers coming from the trees. Moments later, the pair are surrounded by a group of Whisperers led by a blonde woman named Hera. As Dee prepares to fight them, Hera takes off her mask and commands her to whisper rather than speak. She then knocks Dee unconscious.
At this point, we return to the silhouette of Alpha, who explains how that day marked the end of Dee and the beginning of her true self. She then steps out of the shadows and thanks Hera for showing her love. When the camera pans down, we see that she’s actually speaking to the skin/scalp that became Alpha’s iconic mask.
Although this episode is about as different from the previous one as you can get, they both share a key aspect that makes them very good.
If you’re a Star Wars fan, then you’ve no doubt grown tired of the discussion around “sUbVeRtInG eXpEcTaTiOnS.” While that’s certainly a good thing to do, it doesn’t mean a whole lot if the story behind that subversion doesn’t make sense and/or isn’t very good. This episode, on the other hand, took the franchise’s core mythology/tone and still managed to craft a story that was both enjoyable and intriguing.
Alpha’s personality and psychosis are things we’ve already explored in depth on The Walking Dead before. Where “Dee” really shined was its decision to validate the main character’s paranoia. That obviously doesn’t excuse anything she’s done (especially her decision to mercy kill Lydia), but it does provide a much stronger basis for it.
Also, I can’t be the only one who thought things were leading toward Dee/Alpha killing a bunch of boat people after justifying her resentment. The episode did a great job making her appear unhinged without betraying everything we already knew about Alpha’s future. It also provided a heck of a good twist — something that’s not easy to do when dealing with well-established characters.
“Dee” also provided a great perspective on why Lydia will eventually betray her mother. Before this episode, Lydia’s rebelliousness could be chalked up to Dee’s horrific abuse along with the crush she developed on Henry. Now, however, we know that Lydia experienced a brief glimpse of how good a (mostly) healthy community could be.
The episode wasn’t without its issues. For starters, the progression of Dee deciding to kill her daughter felt far too compressed. I get that there’s a bunch of history we didn’t see, but even this traumatic series of events didn’t feel like enough to push her to that point.
The ending was fairly effective, but still felt too abrupt. Perhaps we’ll get another Tales of the Walking Dead episode that portrays Dee’s transformation into Alpha along with her betrayal of Hera. In the context of this story, however, it felt like a very out-of-place (although admittedly chilling) bookend.
Also, I still don’t get how a kid who’s been on the road with Dee/Alpha this long (and seen everything she’s seen) could mistake a group of walkers for potential friends. If Lydia was supposed to be in shock, then that didn’t come across very well.
Those complaints aside, Tales of the Walking Dead‘s third episode once again provided even us cynical franchise fans with a uniquely entertaining story. Hats off to Samantha Mortin (Alpha/Dee) and Scarlett Blum (Young Lydia) for taking a great script and making it even better.
Let’s hope the team behind next week’s episode can do the same.
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