It’s her father’s cold eyes that Lydia remembers most. As a child, hidden away in a basement with a group of survivors 23 days after the outbreak began, listening to the crackling of emergency comms, she clung to her mother and with her finger traced the lines of her inked name on her mom’s arm. She remembers her mother, the same woman who would one day call herself Alpha, singing Groucho Marx’s “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” against the blare of sirens in the background, but it’s the image of her father, Frank, that’s seared into her brain.
Memory isn’t always the most reliable source of information. Every time we think back on a memory, we’re inadvertently rewriting it in our minds. Maybe, during one such remembrance, Lydia recalls her father shaving in front of a mirror instead of her mother, maybe she remembers he dove to protect her from a walker instead of another man, maybe she remembers the words of “Lydia the Tattooed Lady” coming from someone else’s lips. Trauma affects everyone differently and, through Lydia, the writers of The Walking Dead explore what happens when the brain of a young girl rewrites memories to protect the body. It’s not the most well-executed exploration ever put to television — HBO’s The Tale set a new bar — but it’s an admirable effort.
Daryl is still listening by the window of the Hilltop jail cell as Lydia recounts some of these reworked memories to Henry. She remembers her father getting ready to go outside with members of their group from the same basement bunker, but Alpha tells him to stay and let the others go. They just need to wait it out.
For those of us keeping tabs on all aspects of The Walking Dead, the Fear spin-off seems to have been quietly preparing us for The Whisperers, who now feel like a conglomerate of the Vultures and the Filthy Woman. Like the Vultures, they are convinced that all settlements will inevitably crumble, so they resolve to remain quiet while others try and fail. Like the Filthy Woman, Lydia mentions that “hunger is a gift.” It keeps her strong, it reminds her of her survival instincts. It’s when you go soft, she says, that people die. Another memory of a young Lydia finding a white sheet to wear over herself as a Halloween costume foreshadows that more gruesome aspect of the Whisperers masking themselves as the dead at a time when, Frank mentions, it’s Halloween every day.
It’s when Daryl, another figure who suffered abuse as a child at the hands of a parent, intervenes that Lydia’s memory reveals itself as the unreliable protagonist. When Henry starts revealing details about Hilltop and the Kingdom, Daryl pulls him out of the cell and decides to try a calmer method of interrogation. He listens as Lydia recounts a moment when Matthias, a man in her old group, starts panicking. Her mother says all they need to do is shut up and wait it out, but Matthias tries to pull down the wooden boards and escape. Alpha attacks and, whether intentionally or not, kills him, while Lydia’s father sings “Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” It’s a song, Lydia admits, Frank sang to soothe her as a kid, without acknowledging how she once remembered her mother singing the same melody. The tattoo, even, shifts from her mother’s arm to her father’s.
“What my mom does, she does for a reason,” Lydia says, partly to convince Daryl, but mostly to convince herself. Earlier, Tara took Magna’s group on a mission to find Luke and Alden, but all they found were their slain horses. Yes, Alpha has done unspeakable things, but, to Lydia, it’s because she didn’t have a choice. Even the cuts and bruises all over her body were supposedly inflicted to make her strong. Her memory begins to warp even further as she looks back to the aftermath of Matthias’ death. Earlier, she called up an image of Frank cutting off his beard in a mirror, saying, “The world’s over. I’m going to do what I want.” His beard now returns fully formed while Alpha is bald. In this memory, the group decides to wait till morning to remove Matthias’ body, but later that night he reanimates as a walker and attacks Lydia. She remembers her father stepping in to save her and that’s how he ended up dead. A later visit from Henry proves that, too, was a lie.
It’s only when Henry comes to Lydia’s cell at night to let her walk around Hilltop, facing her with proof that settlements can thrive in this world, that the real memories flood back. The sounds of a crying baby force open the vault to reveal it was Alpha who cut off her hair in the mirror. It was also Alpha who killed her father in the chaos in the basement for his unwillingness to let Alpha take their child out into danger. The next morning, Daryl, who watched the whole midnight walkabout, finds her back in her cell. She’s more cooperative and he now feels more for her due to their shared trauma. It becomes a complication as they spot Alpha leading a group of Whisperers to the gates of Hilltop to demand her daughter back.
Magna’s group had voted to go out in the middle of the night to look for Luke, but it was too dark so they decided to go back. Kelly, however, began to break down. Details of Coalport, the settlement they crossed previously, remain elusive, but this interaction divulged a bit more. Yumiko feels regret for leaving, saying if they had a vote, then they had a choice in the matter. Kelly, in her need to find Luke, mentions that when she was separated at Coalport, Luke was the one who came to find her. Connie stays behind with Kelly to continue the search, but a Whisperer is watching from the brush.
Tara had sent out guards from Hilltop to retrieve them, but it seems Alpha’s henchman reported back and the group tracked them back to the colony. As Alpha makes her demands at the gate, Yumiko and Magna watch from the wall as Connie is forced to hide among the cornfields and Kelly is hurried inside with the guards. Lydia earlier warned that Alpha probably killed Luke and Alden, but if they’re still alive, the Whisperers may now acquire three of Hilltop’s people to trade for Lydia. Keeping a girl away from her abuser may now longer be an option.