Becoming Beta: 'Walking Dead's Ryan Hurst Talks Playing Alpha's Terrifying Second

Emily Hannemann
Q&A Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: The below contains MAJOR spoilers for Season 9, Episode 12 of The Walking Dead, titled "Guardians."]

Ryan Hurst has traded wheels for walkers in his latest TV role.

While many fans know and love him as Opie Winston from Sons of Anarchy, Hurst recently stepped into the role of the villainous Beta on The Walking Dead; a beast of a man known for his unwavering devotion to the psychotic Alpha (Samantha Morton), his skill in hand-to-hand combat and his refusal to remove his walker mask (surely that thing must get stinky?).

TV Insider chatted with Hurst about Beta's big Walking Dead debut, the nature of Alpha and Beta's relationship, what it was like filming the "fun and traumatic" walker-skinning scene and Beta's biggest adversaries.

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How much did you know about Beta and The Walking Dead before you were cast? Had you read the comics or watched the show?

Ryan Hurst: I had watched the show, I had not read the comic book through the Whisperers yet. But at a bunch of comic-cons, people had actually come up to me and they were like, “You should be on The Walking Dead!” I was like, “Oh yeah, great!” And they said, “You have to play Beta.” So I’d heard that for a few years before landing the role, but it wasn’t until I was offered the role that I went and explored the comic book a little bit more.

That was another thing I wanted to ask you about — where did you draw your inspiration from for Beta’s character? Since he’s so unique with the way he talks, and his presence…

I drew some inspiration from Anton Chigurh, the antagonist character in No Country for Old Men. He was so wildly insane and impenetrable and so psychotic. And I remember in Javier Bardem’s performance, it was so eerie because he did so little, but he said so, so, so much with his presence. So I used that. A little bit of Anton Chigurh, a little bit of Jack Sparrow in the costume.

How would you describe Alpha and Beta’s relationship? In the comics, part of the reason he doesn’t challenge her is because he has feelings for her — do you think that’s true on the show?

I think it’s intimate and complicated. Some of this is yet to be completely explored on the show, but I think he is her right hand, he is her enforcer, he is her consiglieri, a bit. And as we see in this first episode, she every once in a while turns to him for a bit of solace. Samantha [Morton] and I talked about this a little bit — if Alpha has a soft spot left, she knows that Beta is her safe place. But at the same time, these are psychotic killers wearing zombie masks. It’s a very intimate, complex relationship.

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Why does Beta choose to follow Alpha?

Well that’s the big question, isn’t it. Why would this humongous man follow this crazy woman? But that’s the story of all time, isn’t it? [Laughs] Not to be too obscure here, but in Kundalini Yoga they talk about how women are 16 times more powerful than men, and they can use that power for progress or for destruction. It’s fair to say hell hath no fury like a Whisperer scorned. She’s a very, very powerful woman.

Gene Page/AMC

We know that Beta respects Alpha, but how does he feel about Lydia? How does he see Alpha’s daughter?

That’s a good question. I think as Alpha mentions — she’s aware of it and Beta’s aware of it — they’re breaking their own set of rules, going after her daughter. And I think Beta not-so-subtly brings that to her attention, like, “Look, the group is more important than your daughter. We have a set of rules that we live by, and this does not include risking the pack to go after your daughter. Who has a name, by the way! I thought we gave up names! I’m Beta, you’re Alpha, why are we calling your chick Lydia?” [Laughs] I think there’s no small amount of animosity for the “human” relationship Alpha decided to put the group at risk for.

Beta has one of the grossest scenes I think I’ve ever seen on the show, where he's creating a new walker suit for Lydia. What was that like to film?

Fun and traumatic. [Laughs] Nicotero is so brilliant at what he does, and when you have to be inches away from something that looks so fantastic, it’s just gross, man! When you’re sticking a knife up somebody’s… and peeling the skin off their face, it’s as gross as you have mentioned.

In the teaser trailer for 9B, there were a few scenes that seemed to hint at a big fight between Daryl and Beta. What can you tease about that confrontation?

It was fun to shoot. Norman and I choreographed a bunch of that together, and it took us about a week and a half to do it. It was scripted as a three-page fight scene. I remember when I first got that scene I was like, “Oh my gosh.” It’s an epic, epic battle between these two. One of the fun things is — and I can’t give away too much, but — it’s the first time we’ve seen a sort of worthy adversary for Daryl.

Speaking of Beta’s adversaries, what about Negan? They have a pretty legendary rivalry in the comics. Any chance fans will see that play out on the show?

I sure hope so! I’ve always thought that Beta is a wonderful foil to Negan. As much as Negan is full of hubris and charisma, Beta is the exact opposite. He is an immovable object to Negan’s unstoppable force. So when and if they meet, I think it’s going to be something to watch.

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