According to former Walking Dead star Xander Berkeley, ousted Hilltop leader Gregory turning murderous and attempting to butcher Maggie (Lauren Cohan) was both out of character and a “cheap plot twist.”
“To be honest, I didn’t buy him pulling a knife on Maggie. I thought that was something he would never have done,” Berkeley told the Crimson Head Elder Podcast.
“He was a physical coward and he was someone who had witnessed, over and over and over again, Maggie being the opposite. Maggie having been someone who could dispatch a walker in seconds, when he himself had to beg her to come to his rescue when he had been unable to face a walker. So I thought that was a lie.
“And I had to do what I had to do, because they wrote it, but I thought that was a cheap plot twist to throw at a character that had been established in a very specific way. And it was just a way to justify moving the gears of the story forward, to where she had to hang him at the end of the episode, and I didn’t buy it.”
Gregory manipulated grieving Hilltop blacksmith Earl (John Finn) into making an attempt on Maggie’s life following the accidental death of son Ken (AJ Achinger), who received a sentimental sendoff from Gregory in a funeral speech that even Maggie’s right-hand man, Jesus (Tom Payne), considered genuine.
“I bought the soliloquy, and I think that Gregory did [mean it]. I think if he wasn’t sincere, Jesus would have been perceptive enough to pick up on the insincerity,” Berkley said.
“I played it sincerely because I believed he meant it, and felt it, because he did feel for the people of his community. Nobody is that shallow and nobody is that one dimensional.”
Gregory was undeterred by the presence of Maggie’s son, Hershel, luring the mother into a trap after duping her into believing the grave of her late husband, Glenn (Steven Yeun), had been defaced.
Berkeley, who also criticized the decision to have Gregory hanged without first allowing the character his redemption, acknowledged the plot point as it exists in Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, where Gregory was publicly hanged after attempting to poison Maggie.
“They also wanted to provide, I think, a stark contrast to Rick’s approach with Negan,” he said. “It is a graphic novel, so I appreciate those kind of graphic distinctions, and these are all just choices.”
Acknowledging Gregory as a politically-minded “diplomat,” Berkeley believes Gregory would plot a clandestine assassination — but he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, pull the literal trigger.
“He could, from his point of view, have felt entirely justified in taking this leader out. I just don’t think he had the nerve, or the cold-blooded murderer in him, to do it himself,” he said.
“And I think he would justify letting somebody else do it, I think he would look the other way, he would be in denial, but that’s a very different animal than the one that would pull a knife — because he couldn’t even do that with a zombie.”
The actor acknowledged the plot point as it exists in Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, where Gregory was similarly publicly executed following his attempt to poison Maggie, which acted as a counter to the sparing and subsequent imprisonment Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) doled out as punishment for Negan’s (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) many crimes.
“They also wanted to provide, I think, a stark contrast to Rick’s approach with Negan,” he said. “It is a graphic novel, so I appreciate those kind of graphic [novel] distinctions, and these are all just choices.”
Despite its faithfulness to the source material, Berkeley admitted he was disappointed by the decision to have Gregory hanged without first allowing the character his redemption.
“The fact that it was different than what I had hoped for was just disappointing to me, just like the beginning of Season Seven, before starting Season Eight, to hear that there was no room for a redemption,” Berkeley said.
“That sort of disappointed me, just because it felt like an unnecessary constraint put on a character to not give it that element of humanity and dimensionality, and just knowing that that would be something that I could have brought so much to.
“And then with how that played out during the course of the season, as I suspected it would, give them nowhere to go.”1comments
Of his time on The Walking Dead, Berkeley said he “loves” longtime director Greg Nicotero and leading man Andrew Lincoln, and particularly enjoyed the “family atmosphere” and “different vibe” found on set.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays on AMC.