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[This story contains a disturbing image from The Walking Dead comics as well as spoilers for the season nine premiere of the AMC drama.]
“You’re wrong. I’m not ashamed.”
With five words, Maggie Rhee (Lauren Cohan) gave the order to execute her longtime enemy Gregory, the Hilltop founder played on The Walking Dead for four seasons by Xander Berkeley. Barely four seasons, anyway, as the scoundrel only appeared halfway through season six, and didn’t even make it out of the season nine premiere alive. Not that there are too many broken hearts: a New York Comic Con screening of the new Walking Dead episode ended with fans loudly cheering when Maggie hanged Gregory, a reaction Berkeley himself would surely approve.
“In a way, the cheering for the demise or the volume of the boos is an indication of your having made an impact on an audience,” the actor told The Hollywood Reporter about his hopes for Gregory’s final impression on people. “You don’t always have to make an impact through warming the heart.”
Gregory’s death wasn’t a surprise for readers of the Walking Dead comic book series from Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. The Hilltop’s former head honcho dies under similar circumstances in the comics, albeit with a slightly different roadmap toward his grisly fate.
In the comics, as on the show, Gregory conspires to murder Maggie. As with the show, the illustrated Gregory leans on a family tragedy at the Hilltop to shore up support in his favor. The specifics behind that tragedy are markedly different. Instead of a young man heroically losing his life on the open road and thereby spurring his father (Earl, played by John Finn) into drunken action against Maggie, the comics’ version of events featured Carl (Chandler Riggs) beating a pair of antagonizing young boys within inches of their lives; the parents are so furious with Maggie’s relatively tame response to Carl’s actions that they decide to endorse Gregory’s murder plot. Clearly, the story needed modification for the TV series, considering Carl’s death in season eight.
Similarly, the attempted murder on Maggie plays out differently between the comic and the show. In the show, Gregory tasks Earl with the dastardly deed. “You can’t even murder someone right,” Maggie growls at Gregory during their eventual confrontation. The line has roots in the comics, where Gregory actually makes the move against Maggie with his own two hands, via poison. He’s about to finish the job, when Jesus (Tom Payne) shows up just in time. When she gains consciousness, Maggie snarls at her enemy: “You can’t even fucking poison someone right.” Close enough!
In the show, Maggie demonstrates very little hesitation when it comes to killing Gregory, as though it’s the only and obvious answer to his crimes. The comic books take a lengthier approach to Maggie’s decision, as she deliberates whether execution is the right answer. In fact, she’s against it at first, as she wants to live up to the example Rick (Andrew Lincoln) set by keeping Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) alive at the end of “All-Out War.” A big difference there, already. It’s Jesus who first champions the idea of executing Gregory, and after some further deliberation, Maggie eventually settles on it as the right course of action.
As for the execution itself, the season nine premiere built an entire final act around Gregory’s demise, a means of demonstrating the kind of leader Maggie Rhee has become. In the comic books, Maggie announces her decision to execute Gregory at the end of The Walking Dead #140. There’s no further sign of the Maggie-Gregory feud again until the final page of The Walking Dead #141, in which Gregory is seen hanging from a tree for all of Hilltop to see. It’s a brutal image, one that puts the televised product to shame in terms of graphic content.
What fresh horrors reside on the other side of Gregory’s death? The coming Walking Dead episodes will surely answer that question. Keep following THR.com/WalkingDead for full coverage.
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