The following article contains SPOILERS for Season 9, Episode 1 of The Walking Dead.
The Season 9 premiere’s big death likely won’t create the same outrage Glenn’s death did in The Walking Dead, but it is a significant one. Gregory has been a thorn in the Hilltop’s side since before our intrepid survivors even knew of its existence. After the Hilltop and Alexandria began interacting, it’s been Maggie who had to put up with Gregory and his sniveling, conniving ways. He might be one of the most hated characters in the entire series – which should be worn as a badge of honor by the writers and actor Xander Berkeley – but he was an instrumental part in Maggie’s evolution.
The Importance of Being Gregory
Aside from Glenn, Gregory might have had the biggest influence on Maggie’s evolution into the character she is now. He treated everyone like they should be constantly thanking him for allowing them into the Hilltop, and treated all like they were beneath him – none more than Maggie, who he constantly referred to as “honey” instead of her name. He was a snake and a post-apocalyptic turncoat – ready to switch sides as many times as it took if it meant he was on the winning one when the dust settled.
What makes Maggie Maggie she didn’t pick up from Gregory. She was already an intelligent, strong character – but she did learn how to lead because of him. She learned through opposition. She fought with Gregory about the Hilltop nearly from the jump. They were great rivals because Maggie felt – even when her options were lose-lose – it was important to be honest about her choices with the community, while Gregory always had a new way to spin things. It wasn’t Glenn, or Herschel, or Rick that helped her tap into her leadership potential – it was her need to oppose Gregory.
“After All This, I’ll Be Following You…”
It’s a shame that Lauren Cohan is taking a backseat this season – to film her new ABC series Whiskey Cavalier – at the same time Andrew Lincoln is stepping down. The series’ focus has always been on Rick as the obvious leader, but it’s become clear in recent seasons that Maggie is the most qualified to lead. Rick even says so himself in the premiere: “Hilltop’s doing better than all of us because of you.”
Maggie is reluctant to help out the struggling Saviors, mostly for what they did before and during the war, but also because Rick wants them to survive. It’s clear she’s still resentful of Rick for unilaterally deciding to let Negan survive at the end of last season. That’s partially because she believes Rick didn’t see her as the kind of leader who could make those calls.
“When we were fighting the Saviors, you told me that soon you’ll be the one following me. But you didn’t,” Maggie reminds him. “Because I wasn’t someone to follow. That changes now.”
A Meaningful Death
Maggie’s choice to hang Gregory in front of everyone at the Hilltop marks an evolution in her leadership. Last season, she chose to spare the man time and again – along with a number of Saviors – and her only thanks was being nearly killed by the man.
“I built this place. None of this would exist if it weren’t for me. You’re just Rick’s lackey,” Gregory taunted in the premiere before trying to drive a knife into her. “He’s your friend, and your mentor. You know what’s funny? You can’t go back to Alexandria because you know who is still there.”
And Gregory was right. Maggie protested on the battlefield when Rick decided to let Negan live, but it clearly held little water. In her words, she “wasn’t someone to follow.” Rick ended the war, Rick spared the Saviors. Rick was someone to follow. In a way, Gregory’s attempt on Maggie’s life is his one final lesson to her. People view her as someone Rick comes to when he needs things – food, labor, etc – but not when the big decisions are made. Maggie’s choice to kill Gregory will change the way the Hilltop sees their leader.
Despite holding a democratic election where Maggie beat out Gregory, some still thought that their leader was doing too much for the other communities rather than focusing on what was happening at home.
“Gregory has been saying he’s the one that always put Hilltop first,” a woman tells Maggie after losing her son on a supply run. “The man’s a damn scoundrel, but maybe he’s no fool. My son’s dead, your boy has no father, and those damn Saviors eat our food and take everything that Hilltop bled for.”
Maggie choosing to hang Gregory shows two things. She’s done going easy on people who try to interfere with her leadership, and that she’s beginning to put Hilltop first. The Hilltop may still help the Saviors out, but it’s going to do so on Maggie’s terms, and with the good of her community in mind. Gregory – and his death – helped Maggie finally show where she stands.