Religious beliefs and faith in a higher power can often be a personal matter, but they’re not something that The Walking Dead has shied away from. In an apocalyptic, zombie-filled setting, debating the merits of religion is a legitimate question. So over its eleven seasons, the series has portrayed multiple characters either turning to their faith or struggling to embrace it. The most fitting example is Gabriel; as a former priest, he has had numerous battles with his faith, and “No Other Way” continued his religious development in a hypocritical way.
Father Gabriel Stokes first appeared on The Walking Dead in Season 5 as a timid Episcopal priest. Since then, he has developed into a capable fighter and leader. However, that doesn’t mean that he’s pleased with himself. Seasons 10 and 11 have presented challenges to his faith.
Anyone would question the goodness of humanity after experiencing people like the Whisperers, and that directly affected Gabriel in Season 10, Episode 19, “One More.” In that episode, he and Aaron encountered a man named Mays who took them captive and made them play Russian Roulette with a revolver. After Gabriel talked Mays down by offering him a place at Alexandria, he found an opportunity to bludgeon him in the back of the head. Aaron — who was impressed with Gabriel’s faith earlier in the episode — was appalled that the minister could kill a man after connecting with him. That episode was a visual representation of Gabriel’s understanding of faith: that the only faith worth having was in himself. He’s kept that mindset ever since.
Season 11A focused on Maggie and Negan’s rivalry-filled mission to reclaim food from the Reapers, and Gabriel was one of the people to join her. While on the road, the Reapers — whose whole story felt a bit unnecessary — ambushed and separated them. But Gabriel came upon a wounded Reaper and proved his abandonment of God by killing him, saying that “God’s not here anymore.” However, Gabriel found himself appalled a few episodes later when he saw a Reaper priest named Mancea praying in a field. Seeing that someone still had faith made Gabriel doubt himself.
“No Other Way” played off of Gabriel’s self-doubt. As he was hunting Reapers inside their stronghold, he came upon Mancea again. The man claimed to hear God, put his weapon away and offered Gabriel a chance to reembrace his faith. He specifically said that “no one was above saving.” Mancea’s motivation was probably somewhat self-preserving, but he gave Gabriel a legitimate opportunity to forgive someone. However, Gabriel showed no interest in confiding in the Reaper. Once again, he chose to have faith in himself. He plunged his machete into Mancea’s stomach and went on to save his friends from Leah’s sniper.
After all of the Reapers had been killed, Gabriel and Daryl had a conversation over a campfire where Gabriel encouraged his friend to have faith — which was quite the contrast from his actions in the episode. He still outwardly professes faith in God and tells others to keep theirs, but hypocritically, Gabriel clearly only relies on himself.
From a Christian perspective he was wrong to kill the Reaper because indeed “no one is above saving,” but from a character standpoint, the “master of my own destiny” mindset has served his character well. Gabriel saving his friends from the sniper was one of the best moments on The Walking Dead in a while, and he will undoubtedly need to be a steadfast leader as his group confronts the Commonwealth (who looked like a serious threat in the Season 11B teaser even though they shouldn’t be the main villains). If a lack of faith boosts his determination, then that’s the path he needs to embrace.
The Walking Dead Season 11B airs Sundays at 9pm ET/PT on AMC and episodes are available to stream early on AMC+.