Emmy spotlight: Can Samantha Morton become the first actor to snag a nomination for ‘The Walking Dead’?

AMC’s hit series “The Walking Dead” has one of the largest casts on television. Impressive considering how many characters are ripped apart by hungry walkers each season. However, no actor past or present has ever garnered an Emmy nomination for their work in this apocalyptic saga. That could change with the introduction of Samantha Morton to the Season 9 cast.

Anticipation for Morton’s debut has been high since the day she was announced. That’s because comic fans have salivated at the thought of the big bad Alpha being translated for the screen. Alpha is the leader of a devastating group known as The Whisperers. This clan lives in the wild among the dead, wearing walker skin masks to disguise themselves. This twist alone makes the group a terrifying threat, but it is the sadistic nature of their leader Alpha that sets The Whisperers apart.

Alpha has only appeared in three episodes thus far and she’s already abused her daughter, murdered a man for being too loud, and advocated for the sacrifice of baby. And when she offered the baby up to the mouths of hungry zombies, she did so with a smile and a shrug. This series has had plenty of deranged villains, but shrugging at infanticide makes the horrors performed by The Governor or Negan look like child’s play. But will Emmy voters bite?

Negan actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan is probably the cast member who has come closest to an Emmy nomination for “The Walking Dead.” His shocking entry to the series, brutally killing two beloved mainstay characters, garnered the actor wins at the Saturn Awards and Critics’ Choice Awards. His performance is a transformative one, full of bravado and swagger that takes over the frame when he appears.

Morton takes the transformation aspect to a new level. In order to replicate the look of the comic book counterpart, she shaved her head, creating a striking visage. The British native also adopts a southern drawl that sounds languid and threatening at the same time. And with her head often hidden behind a mask of decaying skin, she must telegraph emotions expertly through use of her eyes alone.

It may also help that Morton is one of the most decorated performers to grace “The Walking Dead.” Morton is a two-time Oscar nominee (“In America,” “Sweet and Lowdown”), BAFTA winner (“The Unloved”), and Golden Globe winner (“Longford”). And of course, she has a past Emmy nomination for Supporting Actress in a miniseries (“Longford”), which she ultimately lost to Judy Davis (“The Starter Wife”). Bias against genre fare has been a constant hindrance for “The Walking Dead’s” Emmy chances, but Morton arrives with enough clout to potentially sway voters.

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