Alicia Witt's Walking Dead Performance

Performer of the Week: Alicia Witt

THE PERFORMER | Alicia Witt

THE SHOW | The Walking Dead

THE EPISODE | “The Same Boat” (March 13, 2016)

THE PERFORMANCE | Since Paula wasn’t going to live through “The Same Boat,” Witt, who played Carol and Maggie’s captor, didn’t have a moment to waste. She had to make sure right from the start that we felt like we knew Negan’s henchwoman. So, in her first scene, the actress tempered Paula’s contempt for her hostages with a confidence that was chilling to behold, creating in the process a character that we not only recognized, we feared.

But — and herein lies the beauty of the writing as well as the performance — we’d only just begun to scratch the surface of Paula. In subsequent scenes, Witt appeared to delight in the cruel humor that is the hallmark of the merciless Saviors, as Paula taunted Carol (Melissa McBride, crushing it, as always) and “praised” mom-to-be Maggie for popping out “bite-sized snacks for the dead.”

Only later did the script and Witt — as subtly as brutally — reveal that beneath the villainess’ rock-hard exterior lay scars that were less hidden than denied. She wasn’t vicious for the sake of viciousness, she was a Carol who had lost the ability — no, make that the willingness — to feel. (BTW, best of luck to the future generations of acting students who’ll audition with the carrot/egg/coffee monologue that Witt slayed.)

In the end, perhaps the highest praise that we can heap upon the guest star isn’t that she made a helluva first impression (which she did) or that she made a lasting impression (which she also did), but that her nuanced work made us wish almost as much as Carol did that Paula could have been spared.

FreddieHONORABLE MENTION | If Freddie Highmore hadn’t already broken your heart with his sympathetic portrayal of Bates Motel’s “psycho,” he had to have shattered it with his stunning work in “Goodnight, Mother.” First, he imbued his disturbed counterpart with a rarely seen confidence, as Norman, unaware that he “became” his mother during his blackouts, began watching the real Norma like a hawk. He had no idea that the “Mother” he saw dispose of a hotel guest was, in fact, him — a point painfully driven home that evening over turkey pot pie. When Norma asked him to snap out of it, Norman snapped, period, allowing his portrayer to take the teenager in a matter of seconds from controlled to so rageful that his mother fled in fear for her life. Later, more quietly but no less powerfully, Highmore revealed Norman’s resolve to end his and Norma’s dysfunction for good. “We just don’t belong in this world anymore,” he said. And, through it all, the actor remained as committed as his character finally was.

unnamed-3HONORABLE MENTION | If your only exposure to T.R. Knight has been as Grey’s Anatomy‘s George O’Malley, Hulu’s 11.22.63 really did a number on you this week. To date, his Johnny Clayton merely came off as uptight do-right with some sexual peccadilloes. But upon learning that estranged wife Sadie’s suitor, (time traveler) Jake, not only was keeping secrets but had been made privy to Johnny’s own, Knight was given a showcase that dared you to watch, as the door-to-door salesman reveled in his savage assault on Sadie and torturing of her new love, whom he ordered to drink bleach. “You did this! You turned my wife into your dirty-bird whore!” he roared at Jake, evoking another of 11.22.63 author Stephen King’s crazies, Annie Wilkes. “There are bad people in this world… and someone has to do something about it!” When Sadie then taunted Johnny with the most tragic bit from his past — “Your grandmother washed you real good” — Knight, with a twitch of his face, made clear that Johnny had been shamed beyond words, before launching into what would be his final rage.

The AmericansHONORABLE MENTION | Just one anguished look from Philip’s “wife” Martha in this week’s Americans‘ premiere hauntingly illuminated the dark underbelly of the Jennings’ Cold War spy game. As her husband confessed that he set up Gene to take the fall as the FBI’s mole, Alison Wright‘s face registered pure shock as she realized that the man with whom she shares a bed had killed her colleague. Then the horror set in when it became clear  that she was, at least in part, responsible for Gene’s unjust death. “I didn’t agree to this! I didn’t want this!” a distressed Martha cried out. “What have you done? What have I done?” Wright brought so much raw, relatable emotion to the intense confrontation that we almost found ourselves wishing Martha would save herself and walk away from her sham of a marriage. We said almost.

Which performances knocked your socks off this week? Hit the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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50 Comments
  1. pecola says:

    I’m not sure what the problem is at TVLine but you keep spelling Viola Davis wrong.

  2. Mr. Tran K says:

    Taye Diggs’ guest starring performance on the 300th episode of NCIS should have been one of the honorable mentions.

  3. Mary says:

    Melissa Benoist was great this week as Supergirl as she went from the superhero that everyone in National City loved to the person they most feared after her exposure to synthetic red Kyrptonite and to her upset,once her sister Alex and the DEO were able to neutralize the effects, about how she had been to Alex, her friends, and to the city.

    • Dude says:

      Agreed! She was so good. Especially in the last scene with Alex.

      • Yes, Melissa Benoist definitely showed that she is a much better actress than she had heretofore been given the opportunity to showcase. But all the others listed were definitely worthy of their recognition–at least the ones who aren’t on HULU, which I really do need to start subscribing to. I would much rather watch Alicia Witt’s story line from DC secretary to Savior badass than the awful “Fear the Walking Dead.”

        • Cate53 says:

          Melissa Benoist has been such a revelation as Supergirl. I found her bland (but with a great voice!) on Glee but she captures Kara’s optimism and joy so well. However this week she got to be a bad girl (which was probably fun for her) but really impressed me with how well she sold Kara’s distress at her actions once she was ‘cured’.

    • Pérola Cardozo Alves says:

      Exactly, it’s a shame she isn’t here this time!

    • Phun says:

      Agreed! Melissa’s performance as bad Kara was incredible!

    • chitown_mimi says:

      Yes! Totally agree! I never found her interesting on Glee, but on Supergirl, her sincere, honest personality radiates. But this last episode, Melissa seemed older and maturer. I loved how she performed “evil” Supergirl. She’s really growing in her range.

  4. dd says:

    I know network TV is “uncool” these days, but did you watch NCIS’s 300th episode? Mark Harmon’s portrayal of Gibbs’ continued, aching grief was beautifully subtle yet powerful. Taye Diggs’ guest starring role was haunting and touching.

  5. Angela says:

    Excellent choice in putting Freddie Highmore on the list. He gave me the damn chills in this week’s episode.

    • Katrinka says:

      Completely agree. I wasn’t familiar with Freddie Highmore’s work before “Bates Motel” & I am blown away by his talent. I’m watching “Charlie & the Chocolate Factory” later today to de-Norman my brain. :-)

      • Bwhit says:

        He’s adorable in August Rush too.

      • Angela says:

        LOL, good idea. I’ve seen that movie, but it’s been some time since I have-may need to go back and rewatch it sometime. He seems to be one of those criminally underrated actors-hopefully he’ll continue to get the recognition he deserves as time goes on.

      • opus says:

        Freddie should have won performer of the week, not just gotten honorable mention. I have loved his performances since first seeing him in Neverland, where he stole the movie from Johnny Depp, If you haven’t seen this movie, watch a very young Freddie – he will steal your heart.

    • Mak says:

      I agree, Freddie Highmore deserves an Emmy for this haunting role…

  6. teeanne says:

    I thought Teri Polo’s performance this week on The Fosters was really wonderful,especially the scene where Stef talked about her haircut.

  7. jerrired says:

    I fall more and more in love with Freddie and Vera’s acting each week. It baffles me that neither of them have won an Emmy for the last three seasons. Both of them truly deserve them this year, just so good. I also loved Alicia Witt on TWD this week. She was one of the best single episode guests.

    • The Beach says:

      I loved Alicia Witt on Justified as the least despicable member of the truly despicable Crowe family. She seems to be really good at playing characters who are actually smarter and deeper than they appear to be at first.

  8. Mik says:

    I’m thinking there’s a good chance we’ll see Paula back in action next season if Negan gets a flashback episode or two (assuming Negan is back for season 7).

  9. Carlos Alvarez says:

    Charlie Weber on How to get away with Murder should at least been honorable mention for playing Frank. He did great in that final scene with Tom Verica where he confesses it was his fault Annalise lost the baby

  10. Spence says:

    100% agree with Alison Wright as Martha, her scene was chilling. Also agree with Witt as Paula, I was actually almost hoping she would live through the episode.

  11. Jax says:

    Congrats TVLine. You got it all right this time. Amazing performances by these (mostly ignored/under the radar) actors. 👏

  12. A Fan of TV says:

    Alicia Witt is the sort of actress who could carry an incredible series on her own, always has been. I don’t know what the Good Wife showrunners are doing with their next project, but they should call Alicia Witt. I have nothing – nothing – at all against Claire Danes, but 100 per cent Alicia Witt could have done Carrie Matheson just as well, maybe better.
    …This post sounds like a girl crush. Sorta is.

  13. Elden Henson absolutely killed every scene that he was in during the first episode of Daredevil’s Season 2, showing tremendous character growth!

  14. Bwhit says:

    The choices of Alicia Witt and Freddie Highmore are perfect. Alicia brought it in one episode and I was a little disappointed we only got Paula for such a short time. Freddie has been fantastic in this role, but he has elevated his performance even more in these first two episodes of the season.

  15. KLS says:

    I haven’t seen the others mentioned, but Alicia Witt was outstanding in a creepy sort of way. Yes, we wanted her to die, and Yes, we wanted to see more of her. Though I am sure that prolonged exposure would have diminished her impact, but &$@$, that was good!

  16. Jeremy Wilhm says:

    For next week, just put the entire cast of Daredevil on the list. Season 2 is outstanding.

  17. N says:

    T.R. was soooo creepy in 11.22.63

  18. HAP says:

    Alicia Witt, now 40, has been acting since age 9. She was in the 1984 movie Dune. I’ve never understood why she never got a lead role in a series. That said, she is also a singer and musician.

  19. Sandy Duncan's Eye on Network TV says:

    I do like the way The Walking Dead invests so much in the development of a one-off character….like hey did with John Carroll Lynch earlier this season. Alidia Witt was fantastic. I just wish they used as much care with Fear the Walking Dead. That show is horribly cast.

  20. Joey Padron says:

    Alicia Witt did great on The Walking Dead. Freddy was great in latest episode of Bates Motel. Hope he will get nominated for an Emmy this year!

  21. Hedy S. says:

    I have to disagree with POTW. Alicia Witt is an alright actress, but I felt like her performance was so forced and over the top on TWD. It made me cringe. Yes! To Freddie Highmore and Allison Wright. It’s nice to see a secondary character get recognized too (Allison’s Martha character). She has been excellent from day one.

  22. Paul says:

    Taye Diggs Performance on NCIS

  23. LAwoman says:

    Freddie, Alicia and Alison were among my faves this week too!

  24. Lauren says:

    So happy to see Freddie Highmore on here! He has been blowing me away this season, and it’s barely begun! Bates Motel is criminally underrated, as well as Vera and Freddie. Easily one of the best shows on tv.

  25. chadcronin says:

    I loved her on Urban Legend and was interesting to see her in role completely opposite.

  26. Steve F. says:

    I approve of your choice of Performer of the Week (get Alicia Witt a new project, stat!) – but no consideration of Taye Diggs as an Honorable Mention? Dude crushed that performance of “Hallelujah,” and with the chemistry he showed with Mark Harmon, I wouldn’t be surprised if he reappears on NCIS sometime soon.

  27. People complaining about Viola Davis is boring. You only watch that weak show? Really. Is one of the most bland shows i’ve ever seen. Davis is amazing actress, trapped in that so so show.