Warning: There are major spoilers ahead for “The Walking Dead” season nine.
This is your last chance to head back before spoilers.
On the premiere, Gregory set a plan in motion to try and assassinate current Hilltop leader Maggie (Lauren Cohan) near the end of the season premiere. As a punishment for his crime, Maggie decided against locking Gregory up in a prison cell.
Gregory’s resentment of Maggie and Rick’s group has been evident ever since his introduction near the end of season six. After flip-flopping allegiances for the past two seasons, Maggie decided the former leader of the Hilltop had been given enough chances.
At the end of the premiere, Maggie made the difficult decision to have Gregory hanged for his crimes.
It’s a scene that’s straight out of the comics, so fans probably saw it coming.
Xander Berkeley, who plays Gregory, told The Hollywood Reporter his character’s death was the reason he signed on for the role.
“I was always looking forward to the hanging, because it was death that I had yet to experience, and I’ve made my living dying,” said Berkeley, who has played many characters who have been killed on screen over the years.
However, it was a shock to see Gregory leave the show on the season premiere instead of a few episodes into the season.
Why didn’t Maggie choose to spare the former Hilltop leader?
“I think it just goes a lot to Maggie’s state of mind,” executive producer and season premiere director Greg Nicotero told INSIDER. “The last time that we saw her, she had been kind of betrayed by Rick, because the entire intent was to find Negan and kill him.”
Nicotero said that now that Maggie has her son Hershel to look out for, she feels the need to step up and be a leader not only for him, but to guarantee the safety and future of the Hilltop.
“The scene where Rick and Maggie are on the balcony, and they’re talking, I love that Maggie says, ‘Listen, Rick. You said that eventually, people were going to be following me, and you were going to be following me. That hasn’t happened yet,'” he continued. “She’s really stepping up and challenging Rick, and saying, ‘You know what? You have your way of doing things. I have my way of doing things, and this is all fine and good, but I’m going to do things the way I want to do them.'”
Plan to see a lot more of the differences between Maggie and Rick’s leadership styles as the season continues its next few episodes.
Though we expected to see Gregory’s defiance and eventual death from the comics make it to screen, we were surprised to see it happen so early on the season.
Berkeley told THR he had the sense that his death was supposed to be part of a multiple-episode story arc that was truncated down to the premiere.
“I was given the sense that it was part of an arc, and that all arcs are made to create a circle, and that the full circle would be that he would be brought back up to a place of power before the inevitable conclusion of the horrific demise that we knew [from the comics],” said Berkeley.
Nicotero told INSIDER Berkeley’s exit on the premiere was purposeful.
“Because it’s so unexpected, we really felt that it was important to kind of launch Maggie’s story, at that point, and to let the audience know that you can’t screw around with her,” he said of killing Gregory off in the premiere. “I mean, she’s not going to stand by idly while things happen.”
“Maggie is prepared to do what she needs to do,” continued Nicotero. “She’s been grieving Glen very much so for the past two seasons, so this is, it’s just a great luck of change to get a chance to see Lauren Cohan really, really having an opportunity to get into some great character stuff with Maggie, because she’s been an amazing character since season two.”
New showrunner Angela Kang briefly addressed why the show killed Gregory off in the premiere instead of waiting until later in the season.
“I think usually this is the type of story we would build to over the course of the season, except this is a story we’ve been building to for a long time.” Kang said on aftershow “Talking Dead.” “We always knew we were going to have this moment from the comic book and we just kind of said, ‘OK. Where does this fall?’ And it’s like, you know what? Let’s just put the pedal to the metal and get it over with. The audience knows who this guy is. Maggie knows who this guy is. It’s a pretty quick decision for her.”
“The arc that comes out of it, it’s like a domino effect that ripples out from this incident on into many episodes afterwards. We thought that was really fun,” Kang added.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.
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