“Some people ain’t meant to be parents,” Daryl opined in Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead. And once we’d heard Lydia’s stories about her mother — and these were just the chilling tip of the iceberg — there could be no doubt that the she-beast who called herself Alpha was one of those people. How bad was she? Read on — and, while you’re at it, call your mama!
ONCE UPON A TIME… | As the flashback-filled “Omega” began, Lydia recalled for Henry (as Daryl eavesdropped) Day 23 of the apocalypse, which found the then-6ish-year-old holed up with her folks and some other survivors in a moldy basement. Dad Frank, she described as being vaguely menacing — a lot like Carol’s abusive first husband, Ed (may he rest in pieces!). Mom she recalled being sweet at the time, funny (she always called “checkmate” while playing checkers) and reassuring enough to sing her daughter “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” when she was scared. And the way that the kids mentioned in passing that their mothers weren’t folks that one messed with suggested that we would get a helluva confrontation between Alpha and Carol down the line.
Later, Henry attempted to flirt with Lydia by offering her one of the eggs that he’d been served for breakfast. Pass, she said. “Hunger’s a gift.” (Jenny Craig, your new slogan has arrived!) When she asked why he was being nice to her, he remembered that when he’d been found along with his father and brother (Benjamin shout-out!), they’d been so messed up that they’d needed a lot of people being nice to them to make things OK again. “You think I’m messed up?” asked the walker-skin-wearer without a trace of irony. Uh, yeah, Henry implied as he questioned how hunger was a gift. Cribbing from dialogue of his that she’d never heard, she replied, “If I have to explain it, you wouldn’t understand.” Anyway, it was never going to be OK again; her dad had said so.
LOOSE LIPS | In another flashback, we saw how desperate Lydia’s father became. So desperate that he would’ve risked her life to flee from the basement with her, had Mom not stopped him. “Bitch,” he grumbled before starting to cut off the beard that his wife had always liked. “The world’s over. I’m doing what I want now.” Back in present-day, Lydia soon had Henry spilling so much intel about the Kingdom that he was sure to get a Dumbest Character Ever nomination. Thankfully, Daryl quickly intervened, sprung his ward from lockup and reminded him, “You got family at the Kingdom, nimrod!” OK, he didn’t actually say “nimrod,” but he should’ve. Being an idiot, Henry was mostly upset to learn that his babysitter (and others) had been listening to his conversations with Lydia.
Meanwhile, out searching for Alden and Luke, Tara, Magna, Yumiko, Kelly, Connie and Kal happened on some old-school walkers feasting on the missing persons’ horses — which had been cut open and skinned by the new-school variety. Should the Hilltoppers split up and cover more ground? No, said Tara. Well aware that Lydia had told enough lies to sprout a foot-long nose, the Hilltop’s de-facto leader suggested that instead, they head back and come up with an actual plan. Which sounded to me like a pretty decent plan. Upon learning what the group had discovered, Daryl again took a shot at questioning Lydia. If her mom had Alden and Luke, what would she do — kill ’em? She’d “do what she had to,” the girl answered. Honestly, kid, a simple yes would’ve sufficed.
BIRTH OF A MONSTER | Flashing back to that fateful basement once again, Lydia recalled how one of the other survivors down there became panicked — panicked in the noisy sort of way that threatened to attract walkers and get them all killed. So her mother had violently pinned him, hissing, “You are weak and pathetic, and there is no room for you here, so shut your mouth… Do you hear me?” Only he didn’t really hear her since that was about the moment that she snapped his neck. Now, it appeared, Frank was the nurturing parent — scared of his wife and singing “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” to their daughter. Back in the present, Daryl told Lydia that it didn’t have to be that way. Only it appeared that it did: When he neared her cell with a ladle of water, she attacked him, in the process revealing terrible scars on her arm.
Elsewhere at the Hilltop, though Yumiko was eager to go back out and look for Luke — oh, and Alden; him, too — Magna didn’t want to risk pissing off Tara. Magna had nearly blown it for them all back in Alexandria, she quite rightly noted, and she wasn’t eager to take a chance with the good thing that they now had going at the Hilltop. Well, if it were up to Luke, Kelly pointed out, he’d continue the search. He’d be hellbent on getting and keeping them together. And it wouldn’t be hard to sneak out — she’d seen some kids do it, so obviously, anyone could. In the end, Magna was outvoted — they’d go after Luke once the sun set.
PAPA DON’T SCREECH | That evening, Daryl visited Lydia again — this time with a switch from a birch tree. Frank, he said, sounded like the kinda dad who’d make up any excuse just to wail on his kid. Except for the singing part. “Those dads, they like it when you’re scared.” And that, he added, was the only part of her story that he’d believed thus far. So who gave her those scars? “My mom,” Lydia said. And where was she? “Be glad you don’t know.” Clearly, Daryl hadn’t watched enough Law & Order before the apocalypse! Frustrated, he couldn’t fathom why she was protecting her mother when she was safer right where she was. “This place isn’t real,” Lydia said as she’d clearly been taught to. And if her mom was hard, so what? “When you stay soft,” Lydia said, again like a brainwashing victim, “people die.”
During a subsequent flashback — and if you’re confused reading this, don’t worry; I was a little bit, too, when watching, but it’ll make sense soon — Mom had her head shaved, and Frank had his beard back. Yet it was only a little while after Mom had killed the guy who’d panicked (and then she’d had longer hair, and Dad had been clean-shaven). In the night, Lydia got up to look at the stiff, and when it reanimated, her father was killed trying to save her. He “was soft,” she told Daryl, “and now he’s dead.” What else could he have done, Daryl asked, but protect her? “If you can’t bend, you break,” Lydia said, obviously reading from the Book of Alpha. “He broke.” She then went so far as to suggest that Daryl didn’t belong someplace like the Hilltop. “You’re hard,” she said. “They’re soft.”
SAFE PLAY | As soon as Daryl left Lydia, Henry was all over him with questions, ranging from “What’s gonna happen to her?” to “Did someone used to beat you up?” Given stony silence as the answer to the latter question, Henry told his guardian that he’d once heard Ezekiel ask Carol why she kept her hair so short. Ed used to grab it when she ran away from him, she’d said. So one day, she’d cut it all off. “It took her this long to feel safe again,” Henry added. So maybe Daryl could show Lydia that she has nothing to be scared of. “You can do that,” the teen pleaded. “Only you.” Uh-uh, Daryl replied. “Not just me.” Clearly, a plot was being hatched. A kindhearted one but a plot nonetheless.
That night, Yumiko, Magna, Connie and Kelly seemed to scarcely have begun their search for Luke — oh, and Alden — before they found Whisperer tracks and an antsy Yumiko admitted that she couldn’t stop thinking about Coalport. They’d had to leave their posts, Magna argued. That, or die. Well, Yumiko still didn’t want to die, so after a walker attacked out of nowhere, she suggested that they go back. At that, Kelly broke down. Luke’s family, she cried. And when she’d gotten separated from them in Coalport, he’d been the one who found her. “I can’t leave him out here,” she sobbed. “I can’t.” So, as an unnoticed Whisperer watched from nearby, Connie agreed to stay with her sister while their friends returned to the Hilltop.
BUGGING OUT | Back on the cell block, Henry told Lydia that Daryl didn’t know he was there. Henry had said he’d talk to her the next day but couldn’t wait. Because… ? “I like you,” he told Lydia. “I think you’re a good person.” He even let her out of her cell to show her around the Hilltop in secret — a move that would’ve clinched his win as Dumbest Character Ever, had we not soon learned that Daryl was watching them as a part of his plan to win over the girl. And no one could say that Henry didn’t go the extra mile to earn Lydia’s trust; he even ate a worm, which apparently was one of the Whisperers’ preferred snacks. (Do I have to mention at this point that the “date” included no kissing?)
As Lydia soaked in her lavish surroundings, she at first appeared to be contemplating bludgeoning Henry with a hammer. She was at a crossroads, though. “Places like this aren’t supposed to exist,” she said as if unsure whether she could believe her eyes. And when a baby’s cry told her that this utopia was real, that was it — the dam broke. She sped through a series of torturous flashbacks that revealed that her mother, not her father, had always been the hard one, then asked Henry to lock her back up. Would he… stay with her, though? Of course he would. He laid down on the other side of her cell bars and held her hand through the night.
TALK IS DEEP | The following morning, when Daryl came down to Lydia’s cell, he actually gave her the ladle to drink from. His plan having been a success, she was ready to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but. For starters, her mom wouldn’t be coming for her. When someone gets lost from their group, they just move on “like they never existed.” So she’d been trying to learn about the Hilltop and Kingdom to give Mom a reason to take her back. “You’re her daughter,” said an incredulous Henry. “Does that not matter?” Yeah, uh, no. Also, if Mom had Luke and Alden, there’d be no reason she’d keep them alive. Does she have a camp? Yes, Lydia said. About a mile east of a guard bridge. But they wouldn’t stay long. They never did.
After Lydia answered Daryl’s questions, Henry asked if the stuff about her family had been true. She’d thought so. Except… “It was a lie, but the lie wasn’t mine. My mom told it to me over and over for years. But deep down, I knew… I knew what she was. I knew what she did.” Which was what, exactly? When Mom’s first victim had reanimated, she’d begun breaking boards off the windows to leave with her family. When Frank had balked at the notion of taking Lydia out there, she’d taken advantage of the chaos to step on Lydia’s stuffed bunny and murder him. (OK, the murder was the point, but the stuffed-bunny-stepping really just showed what a monster she was, even then.)
MAMMA MIA | When Daryl and Henry left Lydia, the former promised to talk to Tara about letting her stay (or at least that was the implication). “I’m glad,” Henry told his protector, that “you and my mom are friends.” (We all are, kid.) Nearby, Yumiko was apologizing to Tara for sneaking out just as the Hilltop’s guards were bringing back Kelly and Connie and… holy crap, what was that s—? A power-walking group of Whisperers was headed right for them, sending Connie running into a cornfield to hide. Among the masked villains was one Whisperer without a walker skin covering her face: Lydia’s mom! “I am Alpha,” she announced as they reached the gate. “And we only want one thing from you: my daughter.” Dunno ’bout you, but I got chills, they’re multiplyin’. What did you think of Alpha and Lydia’s backstory? Hit the comments.