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The Walking Dead's Seth Gilliam Thought Gabriel Would Only Survive Three Episodes

With the series finale of "The Walking Dead" officially in our wake, chatter continues about which of the longtime characters lived to see the birth of the new world. As it is, that list is probably a little bit longer than many fans expected, with series creatives forgoing a bloodbath in favor of hope for most of the core group of players.

That includes Father Gabriel Stokes (Seth Gilliam), who first encounters Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his motley crew of postapocalyptic survivors in Season 5. As any "Walking Dead" fan can attest, during the character's early days, Gabriel is hardly the sort one can rely on to step up and handle the everyday business of staving off the zombie apocalypse. He is, however, a survivor, and over the years Gabriel transforms into not only a trusted member of the group but also one of its unquestioned leaders. As for Gabriel making it all the way through the series finale with his life, well, that's not really how things play out in the source material. And it seems even Gilliam was surprised Gabriel survived all the "Walking Dead" carnage.

Gilliam thought his Walking Dead gig was a bait and switch situation

In the "Walking Dead" comics, Father Gabriel meets a gruesome end at the hands of Beta during the Whisperer War, although Seth Gilliam admitted to Entertainment Weekly in 2021 that he wasn't aware of his character's ghastly fate until a couple of "Walking Dead" superfans brought him up to speed. During a 2019 interview with ComicBook.com, however, he claimed that knowing Gabriel's fate in the comic books never changed the way he approached his work. "I don't get nervous about it," Gilliam said. "My routine remains the same in preparing for coming in and doing the season."

During that EW chat, Gilliam even confirmed he expected Gabriel to make his series exit long before that fateful Beta showdown. "I didn't think he was long for this world at all," he said. "I thought way back in the day, three episodes and he's gone." Gilliam assumed the series' creatives weren't exactly lining up to play straight with Gabriel's comics arc, stating, "For some reason, I thought that it was kind of a bait-and-switch thing."

Given how fast and loose the "Walking Dead" team has played with source material canon, it's not hard to see why Gilliam might make that leap. Indeed, the actor initially believed the writers might play Gabriel's death for shock value, noting, "I thought it was going to be some [kind] of shock-shock thing."

Thankfully, the "Walking Dead" team didn't take that course. And in giving Gilliam seven seasons' worth of story to work with, the actor helped make Father Gabriel not only one of the most morally complex characters in the entire "Walking Dead" universe but also one that fans rooted for virtually every step of the way.