Okay, let’s get a show of hands. How many of you actually thought tonight would be Father Gabriel’s swan song and when he emerged from that trailer, it would be as a walker? Or, perhaps you thought that Gabe would survive but then be revealed as a “mole” who’s working for Negan? Come on, be honest! I spend a great deal of time on social media, and judging from the comments over the past few weeks, these appear to be the top theories of the vast majority of the fans. Well, the good news is we finally learn Father G’s fate in tonight’s episode, and the even better news is all of the fan theories are completely wrong.
A PEEK INTO THE BACKSTORY AND PSYCHE OF A SUPPOSED MAD-MAN
Tonight’s episode opens with a series of flashbacks, and in fact, I think it’s the longest opening of the entire series — almost 15 minutes! The first flashback is a relatively brief one and depicts Father Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) praying in the church at Alexandria right before the attack on the Sanctuary from the season opener. It’s the prayer of a man who seemingly believes these are his final days and won’t be returning from this fight alive.
You’ve given me redemption, and so, I no longer fear death. What I fear is a fruitless death. What I ask for after you’ve given me so much is purpose — Father Gabriel
Unfortunately, with Gabriel trapped in a trailer with Negan (Jeffrey Dean-Morgan) and surrounded by a horde, at first glance it appears that God may have forsaken Gabe. After all, if Gabe dies in that trailer, that would mean the point of his death was to save Gregory, who is nothing more than a spineless prick who ditched him the first chance he got. Not very “fruitful” at all, and somehow I don’t think that is the “death of purpose” that Gabriel had prayed for.
Fast-forward to present day and the shitshow in the trailer, Negan makes this very point. Even though Gabriel had no plans of attacking the bat-wielding baddie, Negan still quickly disarms Gabe. But, when he realizes Gabe is no threat to him, Negan helps him up off the ground, and they just sit down, stay quiet, hoping that the horde will pass. During this time, both men strike up a conversation, and that’s when Negan brings up Gregory. He saw how Gabe went back for that “bearded prick,” and asks him why in the world would he do that. Gabriel’s response to the question is EPIC.
He split on your creepy little ass. The point of your life would be saving that idiot? — Negan
That wouldn’t be it. There had to be some reason I did what I did. Maybe this is the reason. I think I’m here to take your confession — Father Gabriel
Oh snap!! I bet no one saw that one coming! So, no, the point of Father Gabriel and Negan ending up alone in that trailer isn’t to reveal that Gabe is a traitor and working with Negan, or to have Negan kill Gabriel in another gross-out “Lucille” scene. The whole point of this arc is to finally get some character development on the super-villain that we love to hate and also, as a sneaky — albeit brilliant — way of introducing Negan’s backstory.
For those who are not aware, over the past year and a half, there has been a comic book series titled “Here’s Negan!” devoted entirely to the backstory of our favorite baddie. It begins with Negan as a high-school table tennis coach and the realization that his wife, Lucille, has terminal cancer. And, the series ends with Negan meeting Dwight and taking leadership over the group we assume will eventually become the Saviors. Well, the timing of that comic series couldn’t have been more perfect because tonight we get the first glimpse into the backstory of the TV version of Negan, and it appears the writers decided to stay true to what was presented in the comics.
Gabe and Negan’s conversation begins by talking about being weak and being strong, and Negan mentions that’s what the Saviors are all about. Taking people who are otherwise weak, figuring out what their strengths are, and then, utilizing those strengths to make them strong. He goes on to say that he’s been helping the weak all of his life, and that’s when we get the first piece of the backstory.
You helped the weak before this? — Father Gabriel
Kids. If you don’t show them the way, well, they turn out like garbage. Little assholes become great big ones. So, you show them the way. And adults, they need it too. Government, laws, religion, guilt. People are weak — Negan
Although Negan doesn’t specifically mention his profession before the apocalypse, I think it’s a safe bet it was probably some kind of teacher or coach just like in the comics. So, after getting this first bit of information, Gabriel continues to push for more. “How are you weak?” he keeps asking. Gabe continues on, asking what most would consider “inappropriate” questions and pushing Negan even more. What about all the people Negan has killed? What about all of the workers that Negan treats like slaves? But, then Gabriel asks the one question that literally stops Negan in his tracks: What about all the women Negan forces to be his wives? Was there a first wife before all of this? Negan doesn’t answer and only utters, “Lucille, please give me strength,” and sensing that Negan may be distracted, Gabriel grabs Negan’s gun and tries to get off a shot.
Holy shit! Gabriel, are you effin’ crazy?! If you were going to do that, you should have done at the very beginning, not now! Regardless, Negan quickly disarms Gabe (again!!), and Gabriel runs into an adjoining room and locks the door. So, now what? The gunshot and the fight attract even more walkers, and Negan and Gabriel really need to make a run for it, otherwise they’re not going to make it out alive. Plus, as Negan points out, it doesn’t look like his people have come up with a plan, which doesn’t surprise him since he’s what holds the Saviors together. Finally, after Gabriel makes his own confession by telling Negan of how he got his entire congregation killed, Negan concedes and answers Gabriel’s question:
My first wife was a real wife. My only real wife. Til death did us part. It was before this. I lied to her, I screwed around on her. She was sick. And when she went, when she went it was during this. I couldn’t put her down. That is how I was weak. That is what I will confess — Negan
As Negan is telling this story, something I’m sure none of us thought we would ever see happens — Negan cries. He CRIES!! Can you believe it? All of a sudden the humanity of the man most fans view as a monster is revealed, and for a moment, we no longer see the bat-wielding asshole in the leather jacket who crushed Glenn’s skull. Instead, we see just a regular guy with a regular life before this shitstorm happened, and like so many other characters on the show, he lost it all. But, instead of crawling up in a ball and dying, he persevered and continued doing what he does best — taking the weak and making them strong.
With Negan’s confession, Gabriel finally opens the door and comes out. For stealing Negan’s gun and popping off a shot, Gabriel does get his nose punched, but Negan doesn’t kill him and that says a lot. So, what may have started out as a pretty rocky relationship ends with the 2 men working together. Using the old “guts” trick, Negan and Gabriel cover themselves with walker goo, open the trailer door, and finally make their way to the inside of the Sanctuary. Now, isn’t that a great story!
It’s now apparent the focus of tonight’s episode is Negan, and besides the first look into his backstory, he also gets some bits and pieces into his psyche and his famous “code” from the comics by watching him in various scenes as he interacts with his people. I had mentioned earlier that the opening 15 minutes are devoted entirely to flashbacks, and besides the brief flashback with Gabriel, there is also another longer one featuring Gregory (Xander Berkeley) and the time he left the Hilltop until the attack on the Sanctuary in the season premiere. In the season 8 trailer and in one of the promos, we see Negan slamming his bat down on a table, and I think most people assumed Gabriel was on the other end of that table. Well, he wasn’t. Gregory is instead, but surprisingly, Gregory isn’t the one Negan’s reacting to. It’s his right-hand man, Simon (Steven Ogg)!! They’re discussing how best to handle the Hilltop and their betrayal, and Simon suggests that they go in, guns-a-blazing, and if necessary, just kill them all. Oops!!! That was THE wrong thing to say!
People are a resource! Money on the table. People are the foundation of what we’re building here!! — Negan to Simon
This also goes back to something else Negan said earlier on — that while he may enjoy killing people, it’s only **certain** people. That is, killing people just for the sake of killing isn’t what the Saviors is all about. Killing someone must serve some kind of purpose because people are their most precious asset.
This point is reiterated at the very end of the episode when Negan and Gabriel finally make their way to the inside of the Sanctuary, and Negan chastises Regina for killing one of the workers. Putting all of this together and everything we learned tonight about Negan, the point is this: Is Negan really the bad guy here? I know, I know, we as the fans don’t like Negan because he bashed in the skulls of 2 fan-favorites, and we don’t want to admit that Rick Grimes — someone whose story we’ve followed since day one — could possibly be in the wrong here. But, think back to this little exchange between Negan and Gabriel at the beginning of the episode:
Your friend, Rick, is an asshole — Negan
You’re an asshole — Gabe
He’s going to get people killed — Negan
By you — Gabe
See, I killed the widow’s husband and the ginger. But, I didn’t **get** them killed. That was your boy, Rick — Negan
Very good point, don’t you think? And, after last week’s massacre of virtually the entire Kingdom, that pretty much proved Negan’s point. King Ezekiel lost his entire army, and it wasn’t Negan or the Saviors’ fault. It was Rick’s plan, and so, it was Rick’s fault. Period. Shooting each other and killing people in droves on both sides isn’t the solution. Negan tells Gabriel towards the end of the episode that the only solution is for them to work together, as equals. And, as much as it may pain us, he’s absolutely right.
Even so, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Gabriel is going to bow to Negan, betray Rick and switch sides (although Gabriel DOES take a knee along with the rest of the Saviors at the end of the episode!). In the final moments of the episode when Eugene brings Gabriel a “welcome wagon” of goodies to his cell, he finds Gabriel shaking and sweating profusely. Could Gabe have been bitten, or could all that walker goo have made him sick? Regardless, he’s obviously very ill or he’s making a very risky, elaborate play to gain access to Dr. Carson. Either way, I think Gabriel just found that “purpose” he’s been searching for.
That’s why I’m here. Carson is Maggie’s doctor. We have to get him out of here — Father Gabriel
THE END TO THE SHOW’S #1 BROMANCE
Over the past several seasons, we’ve had some fantastic couples on The Walking Dead. Maggie and Glenn. Aaron and Eric. Tara and Denise. Rick and Michonne. And most recently, the budding romance between Carol and Ezekiel. However, perhaps the show’s #1 “couple” is the bromance between Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus). They’ve been together since the beginning, always seem to have each other’s back, and so, they are probably the last ones fans would expect to turn on each other. But, never say never, and as the old saying goes, all good things must come to an end.
Yes, everyone, start throwing things at the TV because the bromance officially comes to an end tonight. However, for some, it may not be that big of a surprise because there’s definitely been warning signs over the past few episodes. Daryl killing Morales when Rick told him to wait. Daryl killing the Savior after Rick promised he would live if he revealed the location of the guns from the outpost. Daryl is obviously suffering from PTSD after being held at the Sanctuary, and it’s somewhat understandable that he wants revenge. The plan is to kill only one man, Negan, and it’s not to wipe the Saviors off the face of the Earth.
So, following up from last week’s episode, Rick and Daryl search the wrecked jeep of the Savior, and while they don’t find any guns, they do find a case of explosives. My first thought is those might come in handy in protecting Alexandria, but oh no, not Daryl. Instead, the first thing to pop into his head is to use them to blow a hole into the Sanctuary and allowing all of the walkers from the horde to flood in. As Daryl said, “Fight could be over by sundown.” Okay, Einstein Dixon, that may be true, but as Rick points out there’s also workers at the Sanctuary, and some of them have families living there. Rick knows this because Daryl told him himself after being held prisoner there. But, nope, Daryl doesn’t care. He’s going to do it anyways, and he doesn’t give a shit what Rick thinks.
But, Rick can’t allow Daryl to do it, and so, while the jeep is leaking gasoline and is about to blow, he tackles Daryl from behind. Rick finally gets the bag of explosives from Daryl, throws it back into the jeep, and the two continue to fight. Daryl finally sees that the jeep is about to explode, pulls Rick up from the ground, and they barely make it out before the jeep goes up in flames, along with all of those explosives. Is it just me, or is this deja vu of the supply truck rolling into the lake back in season 6? While Rick does mention that he’ll meet up with Daryl later after he executes “the next step in the plan,” the two do part ways, and it makes me wonder if things will ever be the same between them.
SO LET’S TALK ABOUT THAT HELICOPTER…
After Rick’s jeep won’t start and Daryl goes on his own on his bike, Rick takes off walking, and we’re not really sure where he’s going. We finally realize he’s going to pay a visit to Jadis and the Heapsters, but as he approaches the junkyard, he hears a strange noise. When he looks up, holy shit it’s a helicopter (a very nice callback to the Pilot, BTW, where Rick also saw a helicopter). A freakin’ helicopter! Now, for those with a keen eye, you may recall a scene from last season when Rick is standing on a big pile of trash with Jadis. In the background, we see something fly by — an airplane perhaps, but it’s quite possible it was a helicopter. Most people wrote that scene off as a major f*ck-up by the editing department, but after this scene tonight with the helicopter, it’s now clear that it was intentional.
SEASON 7 JUNKYARD SCENE
So, what does this mean? Who is flying the helicopter? Is it someone in Jadis’ group? Somehow I don’t think Jadis and her garbage people have access to something as valuable as a helicopter. Could it be the military? Again, I doubt that too because all indications point to the government being completely gone. Or, maybe Qaletaqa Walker and Crazy Dog went back to the ranch after the season 3 finale of Fear The Walking Dead, fixed up that wrecked helicopter, and these 2 men are the characters in the highly-anticipated crossover with The Walking Dead (I’m really joking here, but I just HAD to mention it)?
No, I think the likely scenario is this helicopter is from a brand new group of survivors, and one that we probably won’t meet until towards the end of the season, or possibly not even until season 9. Now, in the comics, the Whisperers are the next big group of survivors that Rick and Co. encounter, but guess what? The Whisperers don’t have anything advanced like a helicopter. That tells me the writers may be teasing brand new material for the television series that has never been seen in the comics. Now, to me, that’s something to get pretty damn excited about.
The Walking Dead airs on Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
Critic Grade — A-
Geeky computer and math nerd by day and TV fanatic by night. My beats are The Walking Dead, The Strain, Person of Interest, Z Nation, and anything that most people would call freaky. Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer of TVGeekTalk.com