[SPOILER ALERT: Read on only after watching Sunday’s “Crossed” episode of the The Walking Dead.]
Well, where do you think you’re going? It was an emotional episode of The Walking Dead for Father Gabriel Stokes — who is challenging Tyreese for the undisputed title of Most Reluctant Survivor of the Zombie Apocalypse. Gabriel had to watch his new guests rip apart his church, and then refused to take a tutorial in defense and self-preservation from a kid still going through puberty. And then, even though this guy has shown himself clearly unable to fend for himself out in the wild — Gabriel escaped from under the church. But why? Where is he headed? And why couldn’t he finish off that zombie with the rock? We caught up with the man who plays Gabriel, Seth Gilliam, who revealed all.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We open with Sasha taking an axe to the pew and Daryl taking out the church organ pipes to use as defenses and Gabriel asks, “Are you going to take the cross too?” How’s he feeling watching his sanctuary just be decimated and turned into a fortress?
SETH GILLIAM: I think it’s very difficult for him. After the horror of what went down with his churchgoing flock, that church has become a special haven and safety for him. Seeing it being torn apart is very difficult for him. It’s a sign that you can’t stay where you are.
It launches Gabriel into that whole scrubbing scene were we see you trying to scratch the blood off with your nails and rub it off with your hand. You’re looking a little crazy there, my man.
Yeah, it was a little bit of my Lady Macbeth moment.
And then later there’s the scene where Carl is telling Gabriel to pick a weapon so he can learn how to fight, and he can’t even handle that. Why can’t Gabriel fight back to protect himself?
He’s extremely conflicted by what he’s done, and he’s still a man of God, so foremost that means doing no harm to people. So you pick up a weapon and eventually you’re going to be using it. You can say it’s for self-defense, but eventually at some point weapons get used. They’re not just there for show. There is more telling than showing, and I think for Father Gabriel, the moment that he takes up a weapon is a very difficult one for him because it is kind of admitting that perhaps the ways that he has living his life and going on and believing in the world has really come to an end.
And that comes into play at the end as we see Gabriel being attacked by a walker. He throws it down, sees the cross around her neck as he has the rock raised above his head, but he cannot finish the job. Is this because he’s a man of God, because this person used to maybe be one of his parishoners and it reminds him of what he’s done in locking them out, or a little bit of both?
I think it’s a reminder that he is a man of God, and more so than that, that this was a person. That this was a God-believing — and, presumably, God-loving person — and I think that’s the thing that jars him more than anything. It’s like, yeah, okay, this dangerous creature is here and trying to destroy me, but my God, this is a person! This is a person like me, and this is a person who believed in God like me, and this is a person who believes in the after-life and everything else, and here they are.
How does Father Gabriel view this whole zombie apocalypse — or, to put it in more biblical terms, plague? What’s his viewpoint on why this has happened to humanity?
I’m not sure at this point his viewpoint on why this happened, and why God would have chosen to do this kind of thing. And not knowing is part of his dilemma as well. You would assume that you would have the answers, and all the answers can be found in the Bible and in the scriptures about why things are happening and how they are going to turn out for either the better or worse or what have you. But there’s nothing in it to comfort him with that, and I think it’s very conflicting for him.
What’s up with the escape plan? Gabriel rips up the floorboards and takes off. Does he really think he’s better off on his own out there?
I have not actually seen the episode yet so I am not sure what is in and what is not, but he did have some lines where he was going out really to see if what was happening at the school really went down. Have people really reverted to cannibalism? Are they trapping other human beings and eating them? So I think it’s more of an exploratory mission than an escape. And also, for someone who is not going to fight, the other alternative is fleeing, so having a little escape route, whether he is intending to leave for good or not, is just somewhat comforting for him.
What does he make of this group at this point? Does Father Gabriel think they’re bad people or just that they are people who do bad things to survive and he can’t bring himself to be a part of those things?
Yeah, I’m not sure that at this point why they do what they do to the extent that they do it. And I don’t know if he thinks they’re bad people or good people who do bad things. I know that he’s very tentative in terms of trusting them any further because they’re dangerous, and dangerous in a way that he’s never come across, and that’s got to be frightening for him. But I don’t know if at this point he’s made up his mind whether they’re good or bad people.
This is a show that has so much violence and brutality and gore, and yet sometimes there will be a moment that is not necessarily that gory or graphic however will still be really hard to watch for some reason, and for me that was Gabriel stepping on the nail. I could not handle watching that and was practically screaming out, “Tetanus shot! Get a Tetanus shot!”
[Laughs] Yeah, that was a considerable nail that they had. I was pulling that out of my shoe forever. That was fun. It’s fun to have a limp or an accent or a cane and those kinds of things — it reminds me of being an actor when you’re like 5 or 6 years old and it was all about dressing up.
Things change from the comic to the screen all the time. Some characters in the comics die early but are still around on the show, and others are still around in the comics but already gone on TV. Still, it has to feel kind of nice knowing that Gabriel is still around in the source material.
I have not read the source material. People have told me, okay, Father Gabriel is still around. But I’m not hanging my hat on that because there are so many different kinds of switchovers and changes between the characters from the graphic novels and the TV series. It’s a show about people in extreme circumstances after a zombie apocalypse — I don’t think anybody’s got a real long shelf life, you know? So I am prepared every script that I get to see “…and then Gabriel gets his throat ripped out.” And I’d be fine with that, and if and when that happens will make it the most compelling or grisly or shocking or sad or joyful — if people hate the character — moment that it could possibly be. So I can’t really feel that chest of hope that “Hey, he’s alive in the thing so I’m going to be here until they close this show down for good.” It just doesn’t work that way.