The first season of the Netflix Marvel spinoff The Punisher expands Frank Castle's backstory, digging deeper into that series of events that turned him into a killer. Spoilers for Episodes 1-6 ahead. That series of events involves Gunner Henderson, The Punisher's explanation for how a web of corruption in the US government ended up claiming Frank's family.
Technically, it's because of Gunner that Frank Castle’s family was killed and he morphed himself into the Punisher. Of course, Gunner isn’t some evil mastermind. Far from it. He arguably may be the hero of the series.
First, though, let’s backtrack. On the show, Gunner Henderson is portrayed by Jeb Kreager (whose past work includes Boardwalk Empire and Outsiders). Fans first see Gunner in the second episode titled, “Kandahar.” He’s introduced as a special operations soldier from Kentucky who'll be working in Frank Castle’s unit on Operation Cerberus in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Operation Cerberus is an off-the-books and highly illegal operation with a mission to find high-value targets, then interrogate (i.e. torture), and assassinate them. Viewers later learn that U.S. forces were also involved in drug trade during this mission.
Castle and his team, of course, don’t know the extent of Cerberus. They don’t know about the drug trafficking nor do they know Cerberus doesn't have Congressional approval. However, Castle has heard of Gunner before he officially introduces himself as part of his team. He noted he’s a very talented breacher (someone whose job it is to open doors with explosive charges, etc.). Gunner introduces himself as a religious man, saying that they’re all there to serve the Lord’s will. Then, he even quotes scripture (Proverbs 13:6) clearly making Castle a bit uncomfortable.
The two do become a bit closer over the course of their mission. However, Gunner realizes that what they're doing is actually wrong when he encounters agents stuffing bags of heroin into dead bodies to be shipped and sold. He then decides to be a whistleblower, using his body cam to record the torture and killing of an unarmed man.
This instance of whistleblowing was actually one of the first secrets that this show was discussing about in promotional material. “Whistleblower” is one of the terms on the redacted file-style promo poster for The Punisher that’s been out since September. The Punisher reveals that the whistleblower, although thought to be Micro by some fans, was actually Gunner. And that means that the video that Micro received when he was working as an NSA agent — the one that caused the murder of Frank Castle’s family — was all because of Gunner doing what he thought was right.
But, it isn’t all Gunner’s fault. Certainly Castle had plenty of chances to get out. But, he didn’t and it cost him his family. In speaking to Entertainment Weekly, Jon Bernthal said there’s a little Punisher in all of us. “We all go through bouts of darkness and regret and shame,” he said. “We mess up and we make mistakes, so I think to really zero in on that and to dig into that wound is what makes him interesting.”
It’s clear though that Gunner is meant to mirror Frank. He’s just another example of someone looking to right a wrong, but through other means besides murderous rage.
Gunner shows up next in the episode named after him. Castle and Micro go looking for his off-the-grid cabin to see what he knows about the video and why he made it. However, after a firefight government forces sent by Agent Orange that left Castle nearly dead himself, Gunner is killed. He dies trying to protect his friend until the end.
So, while it’s incredibly unlikely that Gunner will come back before the season's over, his story is still important. Without him taking a stand, doing what he thought was right — there would be no Punisher. However, there would also be unchallenged corruption spreading violence, death, and drugs. And while Frank exists in a world where actual superheroes live, sometimes regular people willing to take risks are the ones who should be mourned the most.