If you’ve seen Alien: Covenant, (and if you haven’t, spoilers ahead!) you’ll know that a main part of the story line focuses on two synthetics: David and Walter, both played by the talented Michael Fassbender. And with the highly-anticipated release of the film, we thought it would be a great idea to break down these two characters and their place within the Alien story.
David is our first look at a sentient being gone rogue, disobeying his programming to serve his human companions, and in essence, developing a mind of his own. We’ve seen other sinister synthetics in the franchise (you’ll remember Ash (Ian Holm) from Alien, programmed with the task of discovering and safeguarding the alien life form), but David is the first to disobey the purpose of his creation and develop freely, with his own interests and desires.
It’s a novel idea, considering the fact that a form of artificial intelligence should not be able to develop intentions outside of its programming structure, which is why David is such an exciting character to watch.
We can trace his beginnings back to the prequel, Prometheus (2012), in which David was originally programmed to serve his creator, Peter Weyland (Guy Pearce), as well as his daughter, Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron). He was created with emotional sensitivity towards his human companions — in other words, he can understand human emotions, but cannot feel them. But his curiosity for creation overrides his role to serve humans and he becomes relentless in his search, sacrificing human life for the sake of this curiosity.
This behavior comes to a head in Alien: Covenant, where we see David’s true intentions revealed. Ultimately, David was not satisfied with being something created for servitude; rather, he wanted to be a creator himself, a true God among men — the created yearns to be the creator. We see his character juxtaposed with his updated model, Walter.
It seems the engineers at Weyland Industries took a cue from the failings of the David model of synthetic, and upgraded him to the Walter model. Walter lacks the ability to exhibit emotions to the same extent as David and is calibrated to serve, harkening back to the self-sacrificing Bishop model of synthetic (played by Lance Henriksen) from Aliens (1986).
When the two finally meet in Alien: Covenant, David, at first, takes on the role of teacher, trying to awaken Walter to a world of possibilities in which he can do more than just serve his human masters. But Walter sees David is more calculated than that, and soon realizes his true intentions.
This discrepancy between Walter and David (the first one in the franchise that pits synthetic against synthetic) can be looked at as a representation of what the franchise has dealt with since its inception, which is the idea of adaptation, and that only the fittest will survive.
David can be seen to embody this, as his ability to function beyond his assigned boundaries has allowed him to continue to exist and further progress. Walter, on the other hand, cannot go beyond his rigid controls and faces more challenges. It’s the same enduring quality possessed by the alien life forms in the franchise. No matter what happens, they continue to survive throughout every film because they are not subject to any boundaries and continue to adapt.
We see this within the human characters as well. Often, the ones who survive the longest operate outside of their established boundaries or “roles,” like Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Characters like Ripley and Daniels (Katherine Waterston) disobey orders that dictate what they’re supposed to do, or protest them, and seem to adapt best to the challenges faced by their crew and the threat posed by the Xenomorph — the ultimate adversary. ~Alexa Caruso