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‘The Walking Dead’ Character Spotlight: Getting to Know Ryan Hurst’s Beta

CR: Skybound/Image and Walker Stalker Con/Heather Millsap

**Spoilers from the comic series and potential spoilers from Season 9 and beyond**

Last week I shared my thoughts on Samantha Morton’s portrayal of Alpha, and how I firmly believe that her character will usher in a new wave of fans; however, I am not under the illusion that all of the show’s problems will be solved with a much improved second half of a season.  Yes, as the viewership trends show, having a reputable, consistent villain helps ratings, but a successful season needs more. To expand upon such principle, the character is important, but the actor’s ability to bring that character to life and make him/her believable is crucial to the relationship the writers strive to create with an audience.  Cue Ryan Hurst and his portrayal of Alpha’s right hand man Beta.

                                         IMDb

Hurst’s track record for successful onscreen characters is outstanding.  Personally, Remember the Titans is one of my all-time favorite movies, and his portrayal of Gerry Bertier brings something special to the on-screen dynamic he shares with his co-stars.  The plot and dialogue of the film is fantastic, but Hurst brings it to life and makes it believable.  Most fans praise his portrayal of Opie in Sons of Anarchy, and although the show is not one I’ve seen in its entirety, the positive response has been largely overwhelming for the character.  In today’s TWD scene, there is a great divide between its supporters and its critics, but two often shared opinions hold true with this writer: Beta is fantastically terrifying, and Ryan Hurst is perfect guy to make that happen.

               AMC The Walking Dead

Before I get started, I will preface with the notion that the following information is pulled from Robert Kirkman’s comics, and if there is one thing most fans of the books know, it’s that the television adaptation has strayed far from its literary roots. Therefore, this is the last warning before potential spoilers are given. With such said, let’s get to know the character of Beta and possibly predict what is in store for our communities this season and in the future.

Beta first appeared in the May 2016 Issue #154, which belongs in the “Call to Arms” Volume.  As the second-ranking member of the Whisperers group, Beta is Alpha’s confidant and, for lack of a better word, friend, which doesn’t mean the same thing you may think to the uncivilized group.   Physically, Beta is very athletic and stands nearly seven feet tall.  In fact, he played in the NBA before the apocalypse and had somewhat of a celebrity status.  As a member of the Whisperers, his past self is far gone, and he is now viewed as a cruel and violent soldier.  He has no problem killing his fellow Whisperers should they choose to defy Alpha’s orders or put the group in danger.  The Whisperers claim to have a democratic society where the strongest survive, but said thought is a bit exaggerated considering Beta’s role within the group. Due to the fear Beta strikes in his fellow Whisperers, a challenge made for Alpha’s spot is rarely brought forth or considered.  His unwavering support also causes others to blindly follow her agenda.

                AMC The Walking Dead

If Beta is so strong-willed and violent, why does he take orders from Alpha? Eh, it’s a little complicated.  Although Beta may not show a lot of emotion on page or on screen, he does have a soft spot for her, which borders on infatuation and attraction.  Weird.  Speaking of weird, Beta prefers to keep his mask on at all times, which leads many to believe he forgot his past self.  As if staying sane during a zombie apocalypse would be an easy task, one cannot fault Beta for fitting in with a group; however, he appears to prefer this dirty, deranged new way of life over his past, luxurious life. Being that the Whisperers worship the dead to some capacity, Beta also lives by the same principles. The references he makes to the dead mimic both respect and adoration.  For example, he makes several comments about living people making “good masks” once he kills them or as he tries to kill them.

             Image Comics

So who is Beta’s biggest foe? Negan.  To provide some clarity, Negan is not the villain he was once perceived to be, and he actually helps Alexandria and the other communities in the war with the Whisperers.  Now, I believe Negan will have a similar fate in the television series, and he may be one of those characters who defies his comic-based exit to stay on the show indefinitely for a greater purpose. Getting back to his feud with Beta, Negan temporarily joins the Whisperers by Alpha’s invitation. He is having a “I need to find myself” moment when he stumbles upon their camp, but Alpha decides to spare his life. It is through this choice and invitation that Beta questions Alpha’s decision, and such defiance is one of the only times we see him act in this manner.  He quickly asks for forgiveness, but he keeps a close eye on Negan and isn’t as sold on Negan’s usefulness as suggested by Alpha.  Such decision demonstrates Beta’s ability to be a strong judge character because Negan later kills Alpha to prove his allegiance to Rick.  Beta takes control of the Whisperers by default after her death, and wreaks havoc on Alexandria and Hilltop.  Under Beta’s rule, the Whisperers are more successful in their attacks and temporarily swing the  possible outcome of the war in their favor. Rick and his group  ultimately win, but some important lives are lost. On a more personal note as to why the the two hate one another, Negan breaks Lucille on Beta’s back during an attack.  To make the matter worse, Beta survives thanks to some walkers closing in on the fight and some Whisperers dragging him away.

           Image Comics

As I stressed in the past, the Whisperers are a really messed up group who have no concept of civilization or humanity.  Alpha does not always share the true feelings the Whisperers are expected to possess (i.e. her soft spot for her daughter), but Beta embodies such cruel lifestyle and morbid outlook on life.  His servitude to Alpha and his later rule of the group make the Whisperers extremely dangerous, and the way he views life is symbolic of the devastation the apocalypse has caused to the mindset of humanity and civility.  As a result, his death exemplifies the end to such concept.  In a two-on-one fight with Aaron and Jesus, Beta is ultimately slain.  As he lays unconscious, his mask is finally removed, and the two are shocked that they remember him seeing him on T.V. from back in the day. Beta snaps back to life and freaks out over his mask being removed while yelling that he is not that person.  These are his last words and thoughts before he dies, and the threat of the Whisperers dies with him.

Will the series play out in the same fashion through the rest of Season 9 and into Season 10? Your guess is as good as mine, but I think the writers would be amiss to modify Beta. The fight scene with Daryl paid homage to Kirkman’s creation, and his death-defying tumble down an elevator shaft proves his strength and resilience.  Plus, he used his signature knives in that fight but didn’t land a blow.  I know I want to see him put those bad boys to use. He needs to kill to strike more fear into the communities and bring in more viewers as a result.  The Walking Dead needs consistent, chilling villains, and Beta should be in the spotlight.