WARNING: The following contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season 11, Episode 9, “No Other Way,” now streaming on AMC+.
Plenty of ruthless characters have cycled their way through The Walking Dead‘s 11-season lifespan, but fans tend to lean towards favoring Daryl and Negan as the most hardcore survivors of the series — but they all might be wrong. In Season 11, Episode 9, Father Gabriel proves his worth against the Reapers, but it comes at a personal cost.
Since his introduction in Season 5, Gabriel has been the residential religious spokesperson of the group, acting as a moral compass that can be off-balanced sometimes. He’s been through stages of betrayal and fear, but has stepped up to the plate as leader of the council in Alexandria in recent seasons. His newfound relationship with Rosita has made him an adoptive father to her daughter, Coco, which makes audiences believe that he’ll stick to the word of God for the sake of his daughter, but it’s actually the opposite.
Gabriel and Aaron’s central episode in Season 10C was a major turning point for the priest when he and Aaron are forced into a game of Russian roulette by Mays, played by guest star Robert Patrick. Gabriel ends up killing the man in cold-blood to Aaron’s surprise, leaving a scar more permanent than any Russian roulette game would. It seemed like an unimportant episode at the time because of its irrelevance to the looming Reaper threat, but it significantly changed who Gabriel is as a person — or at least, exposed who he really is.
Since the Whisperer War, Gabriel has become a hard shell of the man he used to be, justifying it as a means to protect the ones he loved. He’s no longer the coward who closed the church door on his fellow Christians, begging to let them in to survive, nor is he the man who accused Rick as a reincarnation of Satan because of their different viewpoints on killing. Gabriel has a community to protect, and he won’t let anything get in his way — even the word of God.
In “No Other Way,” Gabriel speaks to a fellow Reaper about religion and God’s presence in their lives. Gabriel has already proclaimed that “God isn’t here anymore,” solidifying his belief that he can’t hear the voice of God, which his actor Seth Gilliam claims is what Gabriel is internally struggling with. He sees his former self in the religious Reaper, which haunts him to his core, and ends up killing the man. Clearly, sparing the same Reaper in a previous episode proved to himself that no good deed goes unpunished, and that leaves him shaken with his faith.
Gabriel’s crisis in faith may be detrimental for his character, but it doesn’t define his status as a survivor. Even as a God-loving man, he took initiative to protect the group, even killing Saviors and Whisperers when he believed murder was a sin. His religion has drawn him a line between good seminarian and stone-hearted leader, but he’s currently trying to work out the kinks to find a middle ground that works best for him. With characters such as Daryl, Maggie or Negan, they’ve never really had to experience this issue before, which makes him all the more interesting.
It’s his transformative arc in the series that puts him at the same level as Daryl or Negan, because the two of them have always been known for their ability to outsmart or outfight others, but Gabriel hasn’t always been that way. Seeing Gabriel now as a man who takes control of the situation — proclaiming himself as just Gabriel, not “Father” — when holding a sniper to the Leah and the remaining Reapers gives him much more credit than Negan or Daryl could’ve ever earned. Gabriel’s turn to the dark side is the storyline that’s been well-due over the years, but hopefully he doesn’t stray too far off the moral compass when he’s confronted with the Commonwealth.
To see Gabriel move up in the survivor ranks, watch The Walking Dead Season 11, Episode 9 on AMC+. New episodes of The Walking Dead air every Sunday at 9 pm ET on AMC, and are available to stream a week early on AMC+.
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