The Walking Dead’s Ryan Hurst Came Up With Alpha-Beta Backstory While Meditating

The former Sons of Anarchy star talks about Alpha and Beta's "carnal" (but not sexual) connection, what she saw under his mask, eye acting, and getting spiritual with Charlie Hunnam.

by | October 14, 2019 | Comments

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Ryan Hurst attends the Special Screening of AMC's "The Walking Dead" Season 10 at Chinese 6 Theater– Hollywood on September 23, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

(Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

There’s no area The Walking Dead shines better in than character backstories, and “We Are the End of the World” didn’t break that streak as it shed new light (or more accurately, darkness) on the origins of the relationship between the Whisperers leaders Alpha (Samantha Morton) and Beta (Ryan Hurst).

Hurst, the Sons of AnarchyOutsiders, and Bates Motel alum who has established the TV version of Beta as a calm but terrifying second-in-command to Alpha, talked to Rotten Tomatoes about creating Beta’s backstory with showrunner Angela Kang, how Beta is very much not in the dark about Alpha’s contradictions, why he thinks Beta would never betray Alpha no matter what she does, and how there’s still more backstory to come this season.

Oh, and he also tells us about how he and SOA pal and co-star Charlie Hunnam helped fans at a comic book convention in Detroit get down and spiritual with their bad selves.

At what point did you find out how much we were going to get into Alpha and Beta’s backstory and how much Beta’s backstory was going to differ from the comic book?

It’s one of those interesting things, you know, this happens to me quite a bit…I’ve been meditating for 20 years. And sometimes these ideas just drop into my head while I’m in the middle of meditating. And while I was meditating, this entire sort of backstory dropped into my head. This was before I’d shot a single frame of film for season 9. I contacted Angela, and I said, “Let me come in and pitch you this idea that I have for the backstory about Beta and Alpha.” And I went in there and I pitched it to her and she said, “Oh my God, I love it.” And they put it together, and it was a really collaborative process. They distilled it and made it really, really poignant. There’s still some stuff that we were left to explore about Beta, especially his sort of history before he meets Alpha. We’ve been dropping little Easter eggs — there may or may not have been a little Easter egg in Fear the Walking Dead. We haven’t revealed exactly too much of who he was, but we’re going to get into that also. But yeah, I was just super happy with the way that the episode turned out, you know, and that they actually used some of my ideas, which is enormous.

Does this mean that Beta is not the pro basketball star-turned-actor that he is in the comic book?

I can neither confirm nor deny this. What I can tell you is any changes that we’ve made, if it’s possible to improve upon the comic, we did our best to improve upon the comic … the wonderful stuff that (Robert) Kirkman brought to us.

We finally know now why Beta is so loyal to Alpha and how that began, how their leadership roles were established. Is that at all shaken when he learns she didn’t kill Lydia?

Yes, I mean, I’ve sort of always referred to Beta as the secret keeper of the Whisperers. Beta is acutely aware of the hypocrisies that Alpha possesses. The fact of the matter is that she preaches to everyone, not unlike very charismatic, authoritarian cult leaders, in that they speak one thing and a lot of the time they end up doing another. She says, “Leave everything behind, the apocalypse is upon us. This is their world now, and we’re supposed to live among them.” And yet, Lydia has a name. Everybody refers to her as Lydia … blaring hypocrisy from the very get go, and you sort of very silently, patiently track these cracks in her armor, and that extends to when she names one of the sisters Gamma. These are all things that Beta begins to really sense as enormous problems on the horizon for (Alpha’s) ability to lead the Whisperers. In their flashbacks, you see how much she saved Beta from himself. Beta really takes it upon himself to save her before she sort of cripples the Whisperers forever.

Samantha Morton as Alpha, Ryan Hurst as Beta - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

(Photo by Jace Downs/AMC)

We see his reaction after she kills his friend, the zombified version of his friend, in the hospital in the flashback. And then we see Alpha mirror that after Beta discovers the shrine she’s built to Lydia and how she destroys it. Is that a recognition on her part that he’s kind of onto her, and might start calling out her contradictions more frequently?

Absolutely. And I think that that’s one of the reasons why she says over and over again, pleadingly, “They can’t know, they can’t know. You can’t tell them” that Lydia’s alive. It really sort of reveals another faction of their relationship. The most important things for me in their relationship was revealing that it wasn’t just this sort of authoritative-subordinate role. I was really happy with how the relationship came off, because I wanted it to be primal, I wanted it to be carnal, but not sexual. And that’s sort of the way it comes off, it just comes off as super strange. I think she knows that in an instant, Beta can out her, and she holds no power, in and of herself, outside of her charisma. But Beta is the one who sort of, I always sort of picture him as the Dutch boy, with his finger in the dam. He knows where the cracks are and he’s just trying … they built this army, this, for lack of a better term, corporation of Whisperers, and he does his best to keep everything together.

So this certainly is not a lack of awareness on his part or him simply deferring to her. He’s protecting their way of life, of surviving.

Absolutely. That’s absolutely correct.

Do you think there’s anything Alpha could do that would push him so far that he would turn on her?

I don’t think that he would ever turn on her. I think that he would confront her and confront her, and that’s about as far as they would go. But in the same way, he owes his life to her. He would have starved or ended up going completely crazy [in the hospital] with his friend, and Alpha really came and said, you’re not broken, you’re a strong human being and you just need to assume that role in your life. She pulled him out of that darkness, and for that I feel he feels completely and always indebted to her.

Samantha Morton as Alpha, Ryan Hurst as Beta - The Walking Dead _ Season 10, Episode 2 - Photo Credit: Jace Downs/AMC

(Photo by Jace Downs/AMC)

We learn a lot in this episode, but we don’t learn everything. Beta was wearing a knit mask in the flashback, and we don’t know why exactly, except that we see Alpha have a reaction when she lifts the knit mask. Anything more about that you can share?

I can’t tell you too much. We do reveal more about who he was throughout this season, a sprinkling throughout season 10. All I can say is that I love Samantha’s performance when she pulls off the mask and she sees him; it was such a wonderful recognition and a smile of surprise and then she very knowingly kind of puts it back down because her performance says it all.

It really does. I also have to say kudos to you for your — for lack of a better phrase — eye acting, because your eyes are very expressive underneath that mask.

I tried. I tried. You know, very early on in season 9, before we started shooting, Angela had mentioned, she was like, don’t worry [about the mask], we want to show his face a lot more. And I said, no, no, no. That’s when we really got deeper into the story of … I was like, “Look, I have this idea about how and why he doesn’t show his face that’s sort of contradictory to the comic book a little bit, but it is why someone would never show their face. I’m just always of the school that the more questions you pose to the audience the better, as long as they’re not totally, completely infuriating.

I also love that, as is often the case with The Walking Dead, we get a moment of levity that just, it’s small, but it plays so huge: when Alpha starts cutting up the walker bodies, and Beta says, “Ah, you’re different.” 

Yeah, originally the scene started a few different ways, and I was talking to (director) Greg Nicotero,  and I was just like, “I would just love to say, “You’re different.” And he said, “Oh, I love it.” So yeah, any levity that you can squeeze into this show … especially the Whispers, who are not known for their slapstick. But I’m a huge fan of trying to infuse as much humor as you can into the show.

I have to ask you about this: at the Walker Stalker convention in Atlanta (Oct. 18-20), you’re doing a “Yogis of Anarchy” session, which is an intro to Kundalini yoga, with the fans. Have you done this before?

Yes. I’ve done it in Pittsburgh and Detroit. I’ve been practicing Kundalini for a very long time and teaching for a long time, and it’s been utterly transformative of my entire life. My friend Charlie Hunnam and I … I brought Charlie into doing Kundalini three or four years ago, and he said, “Man, we should do this at one of these cons.” We tried it, and the response was huge. And since then, every convention that I go to, I try to really early in the morning hold a yoga class, and the people seem to love it.

And how many people come to the classes? Hundreds, thousands?

Not thousands yet. That’ll be something to mark off. In Detroit, there were about 500, and in Pittsburgh, there were a little under a hundred, so it’s been a lot of people showing up, and I really try to just share what I’ve learned. It’s a spiritual technology that sort of everybody has access to, and it has the ability to transform your life to be much lighter and much happier.

And is meditation part of this as well?

Yeah, Kundalini is known as the mother of all yoga, and it’s because it’s the oldest form of yoga. It’s an energy-based yoga that, you know, in the West, we (associate) yoga to just stretching, and Kundalini utilizes poses and creeds, but also mantra, Pranayama, which is breathing, and then formal meditation as well. So you get the Cadillac of all yogas. It’s really the quickest, most powerful, energy-based technology.

As a teacher, it’s wonderful to interact with people in Los Angeles, but to teach with people who already sort of know you, and they bring their best selves to a class, it’s a wonderful opportunity, a confluence of really good, good vibes.

And when did you and Charlie do this together?

We did Detroit this year. I posted quite a few photos on my Instagram. It was absolutely wonderful. I don’t really proselytize Kundalini yoga. I don’t go, “Oh, you have to try this, you have to try this.” I just sort of say, “This is what I’m doing, if you want to try it, that’s great,” but Charlie was actually one of the only people where I’ve ever gone, “You know, I really think that you should try to do this. You should try to do this,” and for years, he was all like, “Yeah, I’ll meet you in class. I’ll come,” but then 15 minutes beforehand say, “Oh, I’m not coming.” And then I was off shooting something somewhere, and I get this text where he said, “I started going to Kundalini yoga. I’ve been going every single day, and it feels like coming home.” And it just made me cry.

The Walking Dead airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on AMC.

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