The Walking Dead survivors may be forward-thinking and community-building in Season 9, but that doesn't mean that Sunday's premiere episode of the AMC series was devoid of the usual drama and violence. The episode ended with a pretty major death that fans have kind of been waiting for, to be honest. Spoilers ahead for the Season 9 Episode 1 of The Walking Dead. After zero major characters kicked the dust in the final battle against Negan, in the Season 9 premiere Maggie executed Gregory on The Walking Dead, setting a firm precedent for her role as Hilltop's leader.
Gregory had to go and his character won't exactly be missed. He was a cowardly leader who sold out our heroes to Negan, and then came crawling back to the Hilltop begging forgiveness. He has had it out for Maggie, who we learn in the interim time jump has won a Hilltop election and is now in charge, since the very beginning. However, did Gregory really send that grieving father to attack Maggie before trying it himself, or did he work alone? There's no definitive proof, though it certainly seems that he did, and Maggie only sentenced one of the men who attacked her that night to death.
Earl, the blacksmith at Hilltop, had a truly devastating arc in the episode. In her own grief, his wife shamed him for not being more angry at Maggie "getting her son killed." Later, Gregory definitely manipulated them, offering Earl's wife Tammy alcohol when he knew Earl was sober. Drunk and crying, Earl needed to make things right, and started drinking with Gregory. He suggested that Maggie was power-hungry and not the rightful leader of the Hilltop. So Earl attacks Maggie, and though she and others were able to stop the assassination attempt, Maggie knew that Gregory was behind it.
"You blamed me. You attacked me and I defended myself," Gregory says to Maggie as he attempts to plunge a knife into her neck, laying out the way he plans to gaslight the community and get away with her murder. At the end of Season 8, Maggie was seen conspiring with Daryl and Jesus about putting an end to, or at least keeping a check on Rick and Michonne's leadership. If she's hanging people, will Rick be next?
Public executions aren't the most modern form of government, by any means — but the fact that Earl was not punished, only Gregory, shows a certain amount of benevolence from Maggie. She also took Tammy's concerns and criticisms about the number of people their community was sacrificing to serve the Sanctuary. She and Rick had a diplomatic meeting and worked on a way to better serve everyone, although she is still raging against Negan and the Saviors for killing Glenn and isn't ready to play totally nice. Does hanging Gregory add to speculation and theory that Maggie would become the next Walking Dead villain?
Plenty of the "good guys" on The Walking Dead have done things more atrocious than hanging someone. It would be hypocritical and misogynist to hold Maggie, one of the first major female leaders on the series, to a higher moral standard. While the old-timey wagons and Smithsonian supply runs point towards a brighter future, and some time has passed in pursuit of Carl's vision, they're not there yet. There's still a lot of tension on The Walking Dead, and no matter what you think of Maggie's first major power move as leader of the Hilltop, she's definitely a boss.