Warning! Spoilers for The Walking Dead by Image Comics belowThere are few comics more violent and gruesome than The Walking Dead, but one death stands out as the most horrifying in the entire series. In The Walking Dead comic book, Father Gabriel met his end after being devoured by a group of zombies, but it was the events leading up to the character’s demise that made his end the darkest death in either the comic or AMC television adaptation.

Nobody was ever safe in The Walking Dead, as the Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore series killed off some of its most beloved protagonists, and reviled villains, in truly disgusting fashion. Walking Dead fans remain traumatized by Glenn’s head getting bashed in by Negan in issue #100. Or when the Governor brutally killed Rick Grimes’ wife Lori and daughter Judith, early in the series’ run.

Some deaths were more impactful than others, while others were played primarily for shock value. However, Father Gabriel’s death in The Walking Dead remains one of the most truly disturbing moments in the comic book series.

Father Gabriel’s Death Cut His Redemption Arc Short

First Appearance: The Walking Dead #61 – Written By Robert Kirkman; Art By Charlie Adlard

Father Gabriel's Death Cut His Redemption Arc Short
Father Gabriel’s Death Cut His Redemption Arc Short

In the arc preceding Gabriel’s death, he took the step to train as a fighter, joining the Alexandria militia – in a move that ultimately doomed, rather than redeemed him.

Introduced roughly one-third of the way into The Walking Dead comic series, Father Gabriel Stokes proved to be one of the franchise’s most complicated characters. His death, when it came, was as shocking for its abruptness as it was for its graphic brutality. A man of faith, Gabriel was nevertheless plagued by fear and doubt, as the core tenets of his character; though he made strides to overcome his less-than-desireable character traits, in the end, his worst impulses still led directly to his demise.

More than that, it was actually Gabriel’s attempt to overcome his cowardly nature that put him in position to have one of Walking Dead’s stand-out gruesome death scenes. For the majority of his tenure in the comic, Father Gabriel was a non-combatant, offering his services as a priest in an effort to give the survivors of the outbreak some semblance of familiarity, in the form of worship and community. However, in the arc preceding Gabriel’s death, he took the step to train as a fighter, joining the Alexandria militia – in a move that ultimately doomed, rather than redeemed him.

At this time in the comic, the conflict between Walking Dead’s protagonists, the Alexandria survivors, and the malevolent group known as the Whisperers was reaching a boiling point. In issue #157, Gabriel found himself ascending the city’s water tower with a sniper rifle, where he was the first to discover the approach of the Whisperers, followed by a horde of walkers. An inexperienced soldier, Gabriel made the mistake of trying to scramble down the ladder for help, resulting in a fall. However, unfortunately for him, this was not the end just yet.

Early on following his introduction, it was revealed that Father Gabriel locked his congregants out of his church, refusing them shelter, and listened as they were killed by zombies. The guilt from this trauma drove the character’s actions throughout his entire arc.

Gabriel’s Final Moments Were A Convergence Of Walking Dead’s Brutality

The Death Occurred In: The Walking Dead #158 – Written By Robert Kirkman; Art By Charlie Adlard

Walking Dead, Father Gabriel breaks his leg and gets caught hanging from a ladder
Gabriel’s Final Moments Were A Convergence Of Walking Dead’s Brutality

Aside from its underlying zombie apocalypse premise, The Walking Dead was a surprisingly realist portrayal of human foibles and fragility, something Father Gabriel embodied as much as any character.

A head-first fall from the water tower almost certainly would have killed Father Gabriel, but his death was far from that simple. Instead, as he plummeted, Gabriel’s leg was caught between the rungs of the ladder, violently breaking it, and leaving him dangling upside down and helpless. Were he not in the midst of a zombie apocalypse, and a battle with a rival group of survivors, this might have even been considered “lucky.” Tragically, in the context of The Walking Dead, it was anything but.

Trapped and in pain, Gabriel was approached by Beta, the leader of the Whisperers. Telling the poor, mangled priest, “you should have whispered…” Beta gutted him, leaving his intestines to pour out of his body, making him an even more appealing feast for the approaching zombies. Even still, Gabriel lingered just long enough to be consumed by the swarm of undead. In this way, the many threads of violence and suffering comprising The Walking Dead came together in a singular moment, resulting in one of the franchise’s most intense character deaths.

In addition to the grotesque, horrifying nature of zombie violence, The Walking Dead always prioritized depicting the suffering inflicted on survivors of the outbreak by other survivors. Gabriel’s death highlights both of these aspects. It also serves as a significant reminder of writer Robert Kirkman’s tendency to truncate character arcs with sudden death, in one of the zombie comic’s most regularly gutwrenching acts of verisimilitude. Aside from its underlying zombie apocalypse premise, The Walking Dead was a surprisingly realist portrayal of human foibles and fragility, something Father Gabriel embodied as much as any character.

Gabriel first joined the militia in The Walking Dead #151. His training seemed to be going well over the next several issues – making his death in issue #158 all the more impactful.

Gabriel’s TV Counterpart Avoided His Tragic Fate – So Far

Total Comic Appearances: Thirty-Six Issues

Walking Dead, Father Gabriel's first appearance

Though for now, the character has avoided the gruesome death he suffered in the comics, more on-screen appearances in future Walking Dead spin-offs only increase the likelihood of Gabriel’s demise, in one form or another.

Father Gabriel’s death in The Walking Dead comic was intense, but it was also a shock to readers at the time for how quickly it happened. Gabriel climbed up to the Alexandria water tower at the end of The Walking Dead #157, and he died within the opening pages of issue #158. Though no one knew it at the time, this was exactly thirty-five issues from the conclusion of the series, meaning that had Gabriel not joined the militia, it is possible he could have survived to the end.

In any case, the character of Gabriel was adapted for the screen by AMC’s Walking Dead television series, starting with Season 5. The TV version shared Gabriel’s cowardly backstory, but across his time on the show, his arc diverged significantly from the comic book source material. This iteration of Gabriel was able to actualize the arc that his comic counterpart had only just begun, growing out of his fear and accepting the need to become a strong, more capable fighter in the post-outbreak world.

At the end of the TV series, Gabriel stood out as one of the most prominent survivors – especially considering the grim fate of the original character, as devised by Robert Kirkman. Father Gabriel subsequently appeared on the spin-off series The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, showing both his enduring popularity as a character and his continued role as a core part of the franchise’s TV universe. Though for now, the character has avoided the gruesome death he suffered in the comics, more on-screen appearances in future Walking Dead spin-offs only increase the likelihood of Gabriel’s demise, in one form or another.