Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn’t yet watched The Walking Dead’s Season 9 premiere.
For two seasons, The Walking Dead was home to one of TV’s most sniveling and cowardly dirtbags in the form of Xander Berkeley’s Gregory, who would always be quicker to steal a shirt than to accept it as a free gift. Alas, his reign of flagrant fuckery came to an abrupt end in the Season 9 premiere, as Gregory was hung to death for conspiring a plan to murder Maggie.
It may have been “A New Beginning” for everyone else, but Gregory found himself facing a brand new kind of ending within The Walking Dead. Well, not so new within a biblical context, but different from how the shows’ protagonists have done things in the past. Particularly in relation to how Rick chose to handle Negan at the end of the All Out War, with the Saviors’ leader merely getting imprisoned for his myriad crimes, as opposed to being sentenced to death.
Maggie was making all kinds of statements when she chose to string Gregory up. One was to the people of Hilltop (and then the other communities by trickling hearsay), and it boiled down to “If you commit a crime that’s worthy of punishment by death, then that death is imminent.” A lesson like that obviously isn’t the most hyperbolic request, seeing as how most communities get by just fine without deadly subterfuge happening at the highest order. Her tactics were heavy-handed, but effective nonetheless. I guess it would be heavy-bodied in this case.
The soon-to-be-gone Rick Grimes was the other target of Maggie’s statement, and even if that wasn’t immediately obvious to the characters on the show, the episode’s editing made it loud and clear for viewers. After Rick came to her with his request to help the food-strapped Saviors, she agreed, but only by her specific stipulations. She ended that exchange by saying the Sanctuary residents got their salvation when they weren’t killed after Negan was captured, and that she couldn’t solve their problems…which immediately cut to the hanging scene, as hinted at in the newly produced opening credits.
The final minutes of this episode told us a lot about Maggie’s place in the world right now, both authoritatively and emotionally. Those who fucked up beyond belief in the past have run out of sympathetic passes, and anyone who continues to pay the non-Maggie piper will only get to hear funeral dirges. With that in mind, if any Walking Dead character was fit to be the lead example for Maggie’s reestablished world order, it was most certainly Gregory. Let’s just hope Rick doesn’t become her next target.
I’m still stunned that Gregory managed to stay alive between the All Out War’s conclusion and the current timeline, and I have to assume he was in some kind of heavy coma the whole time. Seeing as how it took him all of two-thirds of an episode to commit all the atrocities he did. Which included, but aren’t limited to: feeding alcohol to someone who had been intentionally sober, stoking emotional fires within the parents of dead children, convincing an inebriated person to commit assault and murder, and tricking Maggie into walking into his trap by telling her that someone had defaced Glenn’s grave.
All right, if I’m being completely honest with myself, Maggie had probably already decided she was going to kill Gregory long ago if the situation ever presented itself. And had the weaselly bastard only conceived the murder plan in a way that didn’t require her to be in a specific spot in or around anyone’s grave, his life might have well been spared. But once Glenn’s name came into it, especially in such a hateful context, his fate was probably sealed tighter than the casket that Sasha died in.
Will any Walking Dead fans out there actually miss Gregory? I’ll definitely miss Xander Berkeley’s performances, since no one will ever deliver a more impactful line delivery of the word “rhetorical” than the actor. It’s a testament to his work that Gregory gets on every last one of my nerves, and it’s rare to dislike a character as much as I am fond of the person portraying it. I cannot say I’m sorry to see him go, though. Or that I hope for him to return in a later season, as others are doing in Season 9. That final-second shot of his body falling to the ground was disturbingly perfect.
Another Walking Dead character died in the episode, which was previously hinted at in one of the clips that was released ahead of the premiere. Although AJ Achinger’s Ken wasn’t a major character by any stretch of the imagination — he only got introduced earlier in the same episode — his death was the inciting incident that led to Gregory’s last big scheme. As such, it’s definitely important enough to bring up here, even if it’s equally as unsaddening as Gregory’s.
The biggest character trait that audiences could have possibly picked up about Ken is that he was an animal lover, and that he’d clearly put more focus on pet care than honing his survival skills in the years after zombies took over the planet. In the aftermath of the chaotic wagon retrieval in Washington D.C., when a batch of walkers shambled up to the group sorting their travel obstacles out, Rick called for everyone to abandone the wagon. (Even though the group was large enough to handle the threat just fine.) And it was Ken’s love of our non-human brethren that led to his downfall.
When attempting to free the horses from becoming walker chow, Ken timed things terribly and got bitten by the nearest slow-moving zombie. Things got weirdly intense in the ensuing moments as everyone crowded around and tried to make it sound like he could be saved. It was as if AMC had given Ken a standalone web series that set him up for a shocking premiere death.
Ken’s death was obviously important to his parents Earl and Tammy Ray, respectively portrayed by John Finn and Brett Butler, to the point that they came at Maggie both verbally and physically. This whole ordeal was a version of events that took place in the comics, which could mean that Earl doesn’t get to become the genial friendly face that he was in the source material. That would be a shame, but a justifiable one, if Gregory had to die for it to happen.