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Major spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched The Walking Dead's Season 9 premiere.
The final shot of "A New Beginning" was one of The Walking Dead's most disturbing visuals, with Gregory's lifeless body dropping to the ground as his noose was cut, instantly cutting to the episode's credits. It was the creepy end to a well-deserved character death, but star Xander Berkeley revealed that his character wasn't originally supposed to get killed off in the premiere in such a way. In his words:
There's only so long a douchebag like Gregory can stay alive, so I wasn't shocked to find out, even though it was very much at the last minute and I had been a little bit set up to expect a very different journey. That was when Scott Gimple was guiding it. Last year, this assistant had given me ideas of where it was going to go and then [Gimple] switched over to Fear the Walking Dead, and Angela [Kang] came in and she had her whole set of ideas --- which is part of what Scott does and any good show writer will do when handing the reins over to the new showrunner is, let them run with it and go with their ideas. I know there was a certain amount of up-in-the-airiness about Lauren, and then we all know about Andrew. All that shuffling must be involved in the balancing out of storyline so, yeah, it was very last-minute for me, but I have no hard feelings about it.
Comic readers are probably nodding along right now in understanding, since Gregory's death came far earlier on the show than it did in the comics, where all the characters were a bit deeper into the time jump. (That wasn't the only difference from the source material.) Before Scott Gimple made the move to oversee the entire Walking Dead franchise, it sounded like he and the writers had some extended plans for Xander Berkeley's shit-stirring fusspot. But when Angela Kang took over as the new showrunner, those plans either got altered or thrown out altogether.
To be sure, Angela Kang was granted showrunner duties going into a season where just about everything seemed to be in flux and hard to nail down. From the time-jump complications to Andrew Lincoln and Lauren Cohan's upcoming show exits to the arrival of all kinds of new characters, Season 9 is a beast of a year for this show. As it would be for any series making so many changes this late in its run.
It sounds like Xander Berkeley wanted some of those changes in Season 7 when Gregory was being locked up in Hilltop with the captured Saviors. Speaking with EW, the actor claimed he was actually asking to be killed off rather than having to keep going with that plotline.
The stuff in the pen last year in season 8, it got a little purged for me. It was just a long way to be away way from home at my stage of the game and to be away from the children. That was the first time on the show that I was in conflict because I was like, 'Kill me out.' You know, 'Give me something exciting. Kill me out so I can get home to my children and/or other more interesting projects.' I've always got more interesting things to be doing than sitting around in a prison pen saying the same lines that I said more or less five times before. I'm like, 'I don't deserve this.' You know, how many times can you do that? And then they did come up with some cool stuff in getting out, and then when he gets hauled back in and the bumping of the head --- I loved that episode. But I told Scott's assistant, 'I'm languishing a little long in the pen,' and he said, 'We've brought Gregory down here, and the intent of course is to bring him back up into power before the inevitable demise.'
Of course, that didn't quite happen. When Season 9's premiere kicked off, the narrative was now 18 months beyond the events of the Season 8 finale, and the Hilltop citizens had voted on making Maggie their leader over Gregory. So the character never even had a shot to try and usurp his quasi-nemesis, for Gregory's semi-drunken plan to have Earl kill Maggie got him sentenced to death.
For what it's worth, Berkeley was glad they show went with the actual hanging in taking Gregory out. The actor said he's been killed tons of times in other ways -- including stabbings, shootings, plane explosions and falls from buildings -- but hadn't ever gotten to bow out on camera in such a fashion.
Still, even though Xander Berkeley did get a slice of what he was looking for from Gregory's final hour, the actor does imply the premiere episode moved a little too quickly from one inciting incident to the next. In his words:
It felt a little bit jammed into an also-ran for a season premiere, but eh, it's just me. It's a bit mustache-twirly when I turned on her. They did as much as they could, but I think they just had so many stories that they were trying to juggle. Angela is a good writer and I think she knows what she's doing, so I don't really question it. I can't imagine having her job with all those characters and then all the actors that go behind them.
Xander Berkeley kept his opinions respectful and cordial, but it seems clear that he's disappointed in how The Walking Dead's creative team stuck the landing with Gregory's arc. (Not the literal body-thudding-on-the-ground landing.) But I bet there are lots of viewers out there who are glad we never have to hear or see Gregory's brown-nosing ever again.