While Negan, armed with his trusty “sidekick” Lucille, has received the lion’s share of the attention heading into “The Walking Dead’s” seventh season, he won’t be the only new face Rick Grimes and the other survivors meet. This season will also introduce the eccentric Ezekiel, played by Khary Payton, and his trusty sidekick, Shiva the tiger.
In the “Walking Dead” comics, Ezekiel is the self-proclaimed king of a peaceful community known simply as “The Kingdom.” “That’s probably the wildest swing I took in the comics,” “The Walking Dead” creator Robert Kirkman admitted to Entertainment Weekly. “You know, a guy who has a pet tiger [and] who speaks like some kind of weird medieval king is pretty strange.”
In fact, Kirkman said part of the reason he came up with the character was to see how the producers of the television series would cope with Ezekiel’s pet: “When I was writing the comic, I was like, ‘Hell yeah, let’s see how we handle this tiger in the show!’”
It was certainly a tall task, especially on a TV budget. “This is a very real world, and if Shiva doesn’t walk on screen, and look like this amazing real tiger that’s existing amongst these characters, it’s going to be more farfetched than it is in and of itself,” Kirkman continued. “You wouldn’t, you know, think we had a real tiger on set, but thankfully we don’t or else I would never go to set again.”
Despite even Kirkman admitting that bringing Ezekiel into the zombie apocalypse was strange at first, he becomes essential to the story. “He becomes a very pivotal character in where the story is going,” he said. “So it’s kind of an important benchmark, and an important turning point in the series as a whole to have his character introduced and all the things that come from that.”
“The Walking Dead” returns Sunday, Oct. 23, at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC.
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