[WARNING: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday's The Walking Dead and the comic books that inspired it. Read at your own risk.]
"At the end of the day, no matter how much we may detest this ugly business...a man's gotta eat."
The Walking Dead's Season 5 premiere finally confirmed that the people of Terminus are indeed cannibals. But Sunday's episode revealed Gareth & Co. to be something else: the Hunters.
Having escaped Terminus, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and the rest of his band of survivors began the hour on the road, where they came across the mysterious Gabriel Stokes (The Wire's Seth Gilliam), a local reverend who was on the losing end of a battle with a group of walkers. After Rick & Co. saved Gabriel, he led them back to his church, where he had mostly kept himself locked away from the zombie apocalypse.
Andrew J. West: I was shocked by it. I'm a fan of the comic book, and I was very familiar with the story line of the Hunters. But even going into Episode 2, I didn't know how closely Gareth would be based on the Chris character. But I was so, so excited about it. [Executive producer] Scott Gimple told me that I would be in Episode 2, but I had no idea where the story was going after the premiere. So, I'm flipping through [the script], and... all of a sudden, I get to the second or third to last page and I see that monologue, and I was just smiling from ear to ear. I was so thrilled to get to bring that section of the comic book to life because the panels and the imagery and the language are striking. It's striking when you read the book, and I think they nailed it in the episode.
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Once you realized Gareth was based on Chris, did you go back to the source material to inform your character, or had you already made up your mind about who Gareth was?
West: Looking at the comics isn't really necessary at that point, because the TV show is its own thing. ... So, no, it wasn't a matter of rethinking the character or going back to the comics and finding inspiration. It was a matter of continuing to have conversations with Scott Gimple and really just continuing to take it scene by scene and being very specific on what I'm doing, what I'm trying to get from these people and why.
Why do you think Gareth and his group decided to become cannibals? There are other ways to fight back, right?
West: It's certainly extreme, but I think it's the logical development of that character. A lot of people would say, "Come on, man, you can find any other option than that!" But I don't think Gareth believes that or feels that way. For him, it's like, "In this world, it's us or them, and 100 times out of 100, I'm picking us." This is the only way to make sure that it's us. Gareth is a guy who has made up his mind about the way in which to approach this new world... He's made up his mind based on what has happened to him in the past. So, I think it's the logical conclusion for him.
Gareth says to Bob, "It's not personal. A man's got to eat." But does Gareth take some vengeful pleasure in the fact that he's noshing on one of Rick's people?
West: Some people might call bulls--- on this, but I have never seen Gareth as a vengeful person. For Gareth, I don't think it's about revenge. I think he certainly takes pride in a job well done, and for him, he and his people have come up with a system of surviving, and it's worked very well for them. He takes pride in the fact that he does it well. I think a lot of that comes from, "Look, we're good at what we do, and you're not going to beat us." So it's more pride than it is revenge.
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There is some poetry to the fact that Gareth is eating Bob, whom Gareth told in the premiere "there's no going back."
West: Oh, yeah. It's one of the central tenets of [Gareth's] philosophy. Bob has a conversation with Rick about, "This is a nightmare, and we're going to wake up from this eventually and we're going to go back to the real world." Gareth feels 100 percent opposite. For him, this is it, and you've got to wake up and figure out the way to calibrate your moral compass in this new world. It's totally different than it was before the apocalypse happened, and if you don't get that, then it's too bad for you because you can't go back.
You said Gareth isn't interested in revenge. So, do you think he wants to use this experience with Bob to force Rick into submission? Maybe use this as a recruiting tool?
West: What is much more important to Gareth — more so than vengeance, certainly more so than some sort of sadistic impulse, which I don't think is a part of his persona — is survival. [He's after] whatever would best serve him and [allow his group to survive] for the longest period of time. Whatever system he can find to allow his survival is the system that he will subscribe to.Now, if that happens to include joining forces with another group, or if that happens to include destroying another group, he'll do it. It's just about surviving and whatever it takes to get that job done. We're going to see as we move on from here how he goes about trying to accomplish that.
You mentioned before how confident Gareth is that his group will win, but he's already seen how resourceful Rick & Co. were in busting out of Terminus. Isn't he leery at all?
West: I think that Gareth was leery of Rick the moment he met him. Gareth knew immediately that he was confronted with a really strong individual who is [also] capable of surviving. Gareth is a smart guy, and I think he knew that he had to be very careful with Rick from the beginning. So that has certainly carried over to this point, because now he doesn't have Rick under his control. Having said that, I think he is confident that he will win out because he is so certain about the right way to exist in this world... and he's not second-guessing himself. He's all in. That's one essential difference between him and Rick. I think that Rick has done a lot more soul-searching and there is a little bit of second-guessing with Rick. But Gareth, he's a little bit more sure, and I think that he is confident that... he's capable enough to carry out his philosophy and that it will ultimately allow him to prevail.
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Does Gareth intend to make a full meal out of Bob, or does he want to keep him around as leverage?
West: Gareth is a long-term thinker. He's not in this necessarily just for a quick meal, unless he thinks that may be all that's available to him. Gareth is definitely thinking about the long term. So, we'll see where he goes from here.
In the comics, the Hunters captured Dale, who was out alone because he'd been bitten. Bob was attacked back at the store, and he was crying by himself when he was captured. Could there be some concern about the meat that Gareth's group just ate?
West: That's the cool thing about the show. Obviously, it takes a lot from the source material, and we see some language and some imagery taken directly from the source material in this episode. But it also mixes it up a lot too, and it changes enough things to where viewers of the TV show are left surprised even if they have read the comics. It may not be the same thing at all with Bob, but these things will be explored pretty quickly. [The writers aren't] going to leave anybody hanging on this stuff for very long.
Moving forward this season, how much of a challenge does Gareth ultimately pose for Rick's group?
West: Gareth is a challenge because, mentally and emotionally, he's a rock. He's different than the Governor in that that the Governor had a lot of psychological confusion and was searching for answers. Gareth is past that. Not only is he intelligent and confident, but he has cemented this system in his mind to the point where I don't think, psychologically, he can necessarily be convinced of a better way. That's going to be very difficult to overcome. This isn't to say Gareth is irrational. He's got a very different way of looking at the world, but he's not closed off to reason. I think he's very willing to reason with people and to figure out the best way to move forward in this world, but anyone's going to have a tough time swaying him. So I think [Gareth] does pose an obstacle for Rick. I don't want to say a threat because who knows what or who may or may not become a threat. But he is an obstacle that Rick and the rest of the group is going to have to contend with.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC. What did you think of that final scene?