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Why Gamma From The Walking Dead Looks So Familiar

While many have sought refuge from the perils of 2020 in the realm of film and television, the whole of The Walking Dead fandom was more or less out of luck in that regard as a certain pandemic upended production of the series' tenth season finale before it could be finished. That delay resulted in the air date of said finale being pushed from March 2020 all the way to October. Luckily, the lengthy wait was tempered by the news that season 10 would actually be expanded by a full six episodes, and of course the eventual airing of that Whisperer War conclusion in October, which ranks among the series finest.

Unfortunately, there was one Whisperer who didn't quite make it to the finale showdown, and will certainly not be involved in any Walking Dead narrative moving forward. Her name was Gamma (a.k.a. Mary), and she spent much of season 10 finding her way back to humanity after a lengthy walk among the dead with the Whisperers. She eventually even changed sides, helped Hilltoppers try to hold off a hungry horde, and saved the lives of a few key survivors. 

Those noble deeds were met with the sort of brutality we've come to expect from the Whisperers' second-in-command Beta (Ryan Hurst), and a bloody end eventually capped one of the season's more intriguing storylines. It also brought an end to the nine-episode run of the esteemed actor who portrayed Gamma. And yes, her face (sans Walker mask) really should've looked very familiar to you. It belongs to Thora Birch, and it's been featured prominently in several big-time movies over the course of the past three decades.

Here's why Gamma from The Walking Dead looks so familiar.

Thora Birch played a wayward teen in American Beauty

If you're among the many who no doubt found themselves wondering exactly where you'd seen Gamma's face before, it's most likely because you went to the movies sometime in the fall of 1999 to check out one of the most talked-about films of the decade. That film was none other than Sam Mendes' haunting suburban drama American Beauty, which worked its way up from under-the-radar indie to a near $80 million box office take and five Academy Award wins (including Best Picture).

While some continue to debate whether it was worthy of that Best Picture statue (especially as 1999 ranks among the best movie years in history), and the film has certainly lost some luster of late as it features fallen star Kevin Spacey in the lead, there's little question it was very much the movie of the moment, with it's twisted peak behind the tangled curtain of supposed suburban bliss hitting close to home for moviegoers everywhere.

As it happens, American Beauty also featured a star-making turn from Thora Birch, who stole the show playing the sardonic, cosmetic surgery-obsessed teen Jane Burnham in the film. And while much has been made of her powerful topless scene in the film (she was only 16 when it was filmed with permissions from herself and her parents), Birch's fragile, fiercely intelligent work throughout the film reaches well beyond that singular moment, unfurling into one of the more brutally honest depictions of introverted teen angst ever committed to film. Did we mention she was just 16 years old when she shot this movie? 

Thora Birch brought some serious snark to Terry Zwigoff's Ghost World

After her American Beauty breakout, the world essentially seemed Thora Birch's oyster. Unfortunately, the talented young actor followed that breakout with a pair of underwhelming offerings in the indie thriller The Smokers (2000) and the abominable fantasy epic Dungens & Dragons (2000). Thankfully, she got back on track in 2001, appearing alongside future Marvel stalwart Scarlett Johansson in one of the year's best indies, Ghost World.

Directed by offbeat auteur Terry Zwigoff (CrumbBad Santa) and adapted from Daniel Clowes' beloved graphic novel of the same name, Ghost World tells the serio-comic tale of Enid (Birch) and Rebecca (Johansson), a pair of directionless high school outsiders whose only plan in life is to move in together after graduation and try to figure things out. Those plans are upended by Rebecca's unexpected decision to head off to college and Enid's increasingly complicated involvement with a kind, lonely record collector (a rarely better Steve Buscemi) whose personals ad the pair answered as a goof. 

While it hardly set the box office ablaze, Ghost World was released to critical raves in 2001, earning an Academy Award nomination for Zwigoff's and Clowes' screenplay, and Golden Globe nods for both Birch and Buscemi. The film has only grown in esteem in the near two decades since, boasting an impressive 93% Fresh critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes and an 83% Fresh audience mark. As it is, Ghost World also remains a legitimate high mark in the impressive careers of Birch, Johansson, Buscemi, and Terry Zwigoff. And if you haven't checked it out yet, it could not come more highly recommended.  

Thora Birch played the precocious kiddo to Harrison Ford's Jack Ryan in Patriot Games

For the record, we weren't exaggerating with that "three decades" statement regarding Thora Birch's career. Though she's not yet 40 years old, the actor has indeed been a steady presence in Hollywood for over 30 years now, having landed her first big screen role at the age of six with 1988's Purple People Eater. Just four years later, the 10-year-old Birch found herself trading lines with none other than Harrison Ford in one of the actor's best-loved actioners.

That was, in fact, a baby-faced Thora Birch portraying the precocious, beret-wearing kiddo Sally in Ford's Jack Ryan debut Patriot Games (1992). And yes, even in relatively limited screen time, young Birch more than made an impact on the film, holding her own opposite heavyweights like Ford and Anne Archer en route to melting hearts with that teary hospital scene.

As for the film, it's sort of an oddly underrated classic from the early '90s that found Ford stepping into the coveted role of Jack Ryan, a CIA analyst who routinely gets caught up in the action as he tries to foil one nefarious plot or another. Patriot Games found him facing off against a band of IRA radicals whose plans to bomb Buckingham Palace go wrong after Jack's interference (which promptly puts bulls eyes on Jack and his family).

Upon release, Patriot Games was a major success, and even spawned an equally impressive sequel in 1994's Clear and Present Danger (for which Birch also reprised her role), but it also seems like it's largely been forgotten of late. So if you're on the hunt for a classic slice of '90s action cinema, track down Patriot Games ASAP.

Thora Birch stole many a scene in Disney's Halloween classic Hocus Pocus

Of course, if you count yourself a fan of a certain '90s Halloween classic, Thora Birch will need no introduction, as she played the role of scene-stealer throughout. The movie in question is Disney's beloved 1993 family fright fest Hocus Pocus, and it found young Birch trading lines with the likes of Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy.

If you don't currently count yourself among Hocus Pocus fandom, Midler, Parker, and Najimy portray the Sanderson Sisters, who were executed in Salem circa the 17th Century for practicing witchcraft. Thanks to the inadvertent doings of young Max (Omri Katz), they find themselves again among the living 300 years later, desperate to use their dark gifts to stick around. That endeavor essentially involves stealing the souls of Salem's children, so you can understand why Max and his kid sister Dani might have a vested interest in stopping the Sandersons.

That was indeed Thora Birch portraying Dani in Hocus Pocus. And yes, she nearly steals the show from all involved as the Halloween-loving youngster. So much so, in fact, that folks are already clamoring for Birch to fly again alongside Midler, Parker, and Najimy for the upcoming Disney+ sequel. While her casting has not yet been made official, Birch seems more than game to return to the frightful fold for more Hocus Pocus shenanigans. 

Here's hoping Mouse House brass are paying attention, and that they ink the actor for that sequel sooner rather than later. We're all a little bit curious what Halloween might look like for a grown-up Dani.