Seth Gilliam reacts to Gabriel's brutal 'executive decision' on The Walking Dead
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode The Walking Dead titled "One More."
The priest has spoken. And while Father Gabriel had plenty to say on Sunday's "One More" episode of The Walking Dead — at one point proclaiming that "Evil people aren't the exception to the rule, they are the rule" — the exclamation point was delivered not with his mouth, but the spiked end of one-armed Aaron's club.
While out searching for supplies, Gabriel and Aaron happened across what appeared to be an abandoned warehouse. But after a night filled with drink, grilled boar, and poker, the duo was confronted by a scarred individual named Mays who forced the friends to play Russian Roulette, until one of them was dead.
However just as Aaron appeared ready to blow his own brains out, Mays — finally convinced they were good people and finally open to their pleas that they would bring him back to their community filled with others who were once lost and found their way back — told Aaron to stop and freed the pair. And Gabriel responded to the unexpected show of mercy with an unexpected move of his own — bashing Mays' head in with Aaron's spiked club.
The surprises were not over, as Gabriel and Aaron found a secret space above in which Mays' twin brother was chained up next to the corpses of his family — the group forced to also play Russian Roulette after a struggle broke out between the brothers over the last scraps of food. After grabbing Gabriel's gun, the chained-up brother killed himself, saving Gabriel from having to make a decision on what to do with him.
So what would Gabriel have done with the other brother? And why did he show death instead of mercy to a clearly wayward Mays? We went straight to the source and chatted with Seth Gilliam about all the drama and trauma clearly going on both internally and externally for Father Gabriel.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: First off, congratulations for making it this far on The Walking Dead because your character of Gabriel died in the comic during the Whisperer war, yet here you still are on TV!
SETH GILLIAM: [Laughs] Here I am. Yes, thank you for that. I didn't think he was long for this world at all. I thought way back in the day, three episodes and he's gone.
Really? What made you think that?
For some reason, I thought that it was kind of a bait-and-switch thing. I thought that he's there and people would recognize him from the comics and assume one thing and he would actually wind up getting another major character killed coming to his rescue, and then be killed off in the next episode anyway. I thought it was going to be some of shock-shock thing.
Did you know how he died in the comics? Once the Whisperer stuff started up, were you like, "Oh, I've heard this is when he goes," or did you not pay attention to any of that?
No, I knew because I was at a convention and a couple of kids came up to me and showed me the comic. They were very excited to show it to me, about how graphic the death was. That was my first hint that the Whisperer war would not end well for Father Gabriel, but that really turned out not to be the case.
How uncomfortable is the colored contact you have to wear for Gabriel's infected eye?
I've gotten used to it. It's not uncomfortable at all, really. It takes less than a minute to put it in. I have a lens tech, Justin Face, who has to put drops in it every 15 to 20 minutes or else it sticks to my eyeball. Aside from the sticking to the eyeball every once in a while, it's just cool. I think it's a great look. I like it. Love the eye.
It is a strong look. Okay, let's get into this episode that just aired. What was your reaction when you found out about this smaller more intimate deep character dive story we were going to get here with Gabriel and Aaron?
I was pretty excited for it. There hasn't been any kind of Gabriel backstory thing. I had some ideas about where he came from and everything else, but it was nice to give a little more insight into the character and focus on him a little bit more, aside from the main story plot that's going on. So, I was really excited about it. Then when I found out that Robert Patrick was going to be in it and he was going to be playing the brother, I was really over the moon because I've always been kind of terrified by the characters that he's played, his intensity and everything. But it turned out to be a dream.
When you say you had some ideas about Gabriel's backstory, what kind of ideas are you talking about?
I wanted pretty basic generic things like, did he have friends? Did he have lots of friends? Did he have one friend? Did he talk to himself? Was he once much heavier and then lost a lot of weight and now it's important for him to try to maintain some kind of slim physique? Things like that.
As I watched the episode and the way it was a contained story, it reminded me of an episode back in season 8 called "The Big Scary U" which featured you and Jeffrey Dean Morgan trapped in a trailer outside the Sanctuary. There's an echo of that in here when you get just two characters, which later becomes three, in a contained space.
Yes, there is. I think there's only so much that they can throw away to other people. If it's just two people alone in the space, they've got to actually get to the heart of what's on their minds. Oftentimes, in those situations, it becomes what they seek of each other and what they mistook about them or what they were on-the-nose about.
The last time we saw Gabriel in what was supposed to be the season finale he was giving this great motivational speech telling the kids how fingers together make a mighty weapon, and he was lifting their spirits. But by the time they get to this warehouse here, his spirits seems to have been dampened pretty considerably.
Well, you speak one way to the kids than you do the adults, you know? You never let them into like, "Yeah, we're on the dark side of this now, kids. We've got people dressing up as the dead. They want to put our heads on sticks. It's going to get bad. It's going to get ugly. You're going to see people get blown up." You're not going to do that to the kids. You've got to give them the bright side.
Before we get into the stuff that happens once you guys find this warehouse, tell me about shooting the scene where you have to fall in the mud. How many takes did you have to do of that?
The mud was pretty quick because I think we may have done three or four takes because you're really just ruining the costume completely, to begin with. The mud was pretty cold. Though it was edible, it still tasted like dirt. So, I didn't really care to be in the mud too much too long. Thankfully, I think we got it in the four takes that we did it. I think we probably got it in the first take, but that's life.
So Gabriel gets his drink on, and he tells Aaron he doesn't want to preach anymore and says that "Evil people aren't the exception to the rule, they are the rule." Where is this coming from? How much of this is the whiskey talking and how much is it what he truly feels?
I think it's kind of a combination of those things. I think it's a bit of a risky loose-lips into what's going on with Father Gabriel. But I think also, seeing the kind of depraved nature, the way these people chose to live in the Whisperer War has been more traumatic for Gabriel than he could care to admit. He was at death's door. He was right at the precipice of going. So, I'm sure lots of things flashed through his mind at that time, about what the world had become and the way he was going to leave it. So, I think he's carrying a lot of that kind of trauma.
I found it really interesting as I'm watching the scene when Robert Patrick does show up with all that intensity you talked about and he forces Gabriel and Aaron to play Russian Roulette. I think back to when Gabriel was locking people out of his parish and when we first found him and he was petrified of those walkers. He's come a long way, because I watched the difference in Gabriel and Aaron when they pick up that gun. Gabriel really didn't hesitate much at all to pull that trigger there. He's not scared to die anymore, is he?
No, I don't believe that he is. I'm not sure that he knows what's on the other side, but I don't think he's afraid anymore, no.
Okay, so the big question I have for you is after you all convince this guy Mays to let you go by telling him about your great welcoming community you are going to bring him back to, you then bludgeon him with Aaron's spiked club and really do not flinch or seem to be even remotely affected by doing so. So what is that all about?
I think he sized him up from the very beginning as more of a threat than someone that could be trusted in a community behind walls where children are running free and things are shared. I think Gabriel made a decision pretty early on. I don't think he foresaw having to play Russian Roulette, but I think that just kind of capped it for him, that someone would do that to other people, put other people in that position, is beyond hope. So, Gabriel made an executive decision.
Do you think it was the right one in this instance? Do you think that Mays was unstable and that this was the right call?
I think for Gabriel it was. I don't think he had any hesitation about it. I think yeah, it's the right call. The guy's a danger, the guy's a threat, the guy's unstable, the guy's too damaged. He's been wounded far beyond repair.
Well, let's play my favorite game, which is 'Walking Dead What If.' And it's kind of part two of the question I just asked you because after that, we see you find the twin brother chained up in the secret space above. He takes your gun and he kills himself. So, what do you think Gabriel does if that guy does not kill himself? Does Gabriel bring that guy back to Alexandria or does he have to sort of assess the situation of what they're dealing with here first? What do you think his next action is?
I think Gabriel brings that guy back to Alexandria. I think he sees that guy as kind of like a wounded bird that just needs to be nurtured and loved and healed back to his full self and potential and fly. But I don't think he saw that in Mays.
Finally, we saw in the episode that Gabriel's pretty damn good at poker. How are your bluffing skills, Seth?
I think I'm a pretty good bluffer, man. I think I'm a pretty good bluffer, though I'm a trash talker when I play games. That really wouldn't work well in poker, you know what I mean? I would wind up giving something away thinking I was trash talking, something would slip. So, yeah, I think I'm a good bluffer, but it's got to be a quick hand, I guess.
Do you ever get in on those epic Backgammon games between Norman Reedus and Andrew Lincoln?
[Laughs] No, I stay away from those. Those are high stakes. Very tense, man. Very tense.