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Spoilers below for The Walking Dead's winter finale, so be sure to watch before reading on.
After seven episodes rife with protagonist paranoia, The Walking Dead brought a brutal end to one threat while putting many of the core characters in an extremely dangerous and unfamiliar situation. Season 10's midseason finale didn't mess too hard with The Walking Dead's time-honored formula for capping off its eight-episode runs, which was mostly a good thing. We obviously don't yet know what will happen with Daryl & Co. inside that walker-filled cavern, but it was made pretty clear that the duplicitous Dante won't be around to see it happen.
CinemaBlend had a chance to talk with The Walking Dead's Juan Javier Cardenas about his relatively short, but highly effective, arc as the Siddiq-murdering Whisperer Dante. Justice came pretty quick for Dante in the episode "The World Before," so we probably won't be seeing him anymore, which is completely different from the character's comic arc. Still, the character's actions in Alexandria will continue weighing on those who are aware of them. Especially Father Gabriel, who went absolutely apeshit on Dante inside the prison cell.
Though our conversation didn't start with Dante's death, let's begin on that note at the moment, because ouch! Here's Juan Javier Cardenas on how filming that scene went with co-star Seth Gilliam:
As much as the audience is taken aback by the absolute ferocity of Father Gabriel's attack on Dante – when he drops all level of civility or control, and he unleashes this beast within him – as unnerved and as taken aback as anybody is by watching it, I assure you, in the room at the moment, I felt the same going through and working with Seth. Seth was a force in that scene, and I think what I'm actually proud of about that scene is that I feel that the violence and the brutality of it solely existed to serve the story that we were trying to tell, and served it well. Gabriel is this person you see as the epitome of control, the epitome of civility, of hope, of aspirational thoughts that we can maintain civilization and civilized rules within the walls of Alexandria. Under his nose, this person was able to come and infiltrate and sour and poison almost everybody that was close around him. It's such a betrayal and such a dark, bottomless feeling, and that's what makes him tear down any kind of control that he had.
A character like Father Gabriel could come across as hokey in many actors' hands, but Seth Gilliam totally pulls off his portrayal of someone who doesn't lose faith in fellow human beings, regardless of the horrors he's seen. As such, it's all the more surprising to see him attack Dante after being provoked only by the villain's words and nihilistic outlook on humanity. Not to mention him causing everyone's sickness. Sure, it was Siddiq's murder that really sent Gabriel over the edge, but he's obviously had restraint when dealing with Negan and some others.
From a performance perspective, Juan Javier Cardenas was aiming to bring Seth Gilliam to the right emotional peak during their characters' confrontation. In his words:
Dante, in a way, is a catalyst in that scene, and I knew that if I just threw that at Seth, if I played that scene the right way, then that would propel the Father Gabriel character to finally make that decision. And that would justify that level of violence, because you see a man just tear at this other human being, but also tear at himself, because he's at one of the angriest moments he's ever been pushed to in the series. What it does is it propels Gabriel's character further, because it gives another facet for the audiences to watched and be introduced to with Gabriel, so all the violence there serves a purpose. It serves the story and the greater conflict of what we were trying to tell, and I think it served it really well.
One might think that Father Gabriel wears his heart on his sleeve, but the character's true emotions are only rarely played up by Seth Gilliam. So it's both shocking and believable that his stress levels were so sharpened that he would impulsively stab the bejesus out of the next person that stepped just over the line.
As much as he might have enjoyed playing Dante, Juan Javier Cardenas understands the damaging effect that his character has on the other survivors. Here, he talks about the sadness invested in his arc, and what's to come in the future.
In a way, it's a sad thing to watch, because you hope that these people can rise above it. But it echoes that dark, very antagonistic worldview that the Whisperers inhabit, and that Dante speaks with Gabriel about. That he's essentially saying, 'You don't understand. Nobody is really good. All this stuff that you've got here in these walls in this city you made, this is all play-acting. We're all animals. When the lights go out, people will eat each other here.' And instead of taking that and walking out of that room, Gabriel makes a different choice, and that says something. At the end of the day, the story arc of Dante and Siddiq – and then around that, Gabriel and Rosita – it's a sad story, because it's not just the death of one person or two people. There are multiple lives that are affected, that are broken. And what's gonna be exciting is, in this season, seeing how they try to repair themselves from it.
The biggest question on my mind right now is what Father Gabriel is going to do with Dante's body, and whether or not he's going to confess his deadly transgressions to everyone else. After all, that would mean he'd go straight into that messy jail cell himself, right?
The Walking Dead's midseason finale also left us with other questions, such as where exactly Michonne and Virgil are headed, and how the currently trapped Whisperer-hunters are going to escape their hectic ordeal in a safe and timely fashion. Also, why didn't we get an update on Negan and Alpha? We're going to have to spend a few months waiting before we learn anything concrete about the Whisperers War, since it won't be back on AMC until some point in early 2020.