SPOILER WARNING: The following article contains major spoilers for tonight’s episode of AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” as well as previous episodes and the Image Comics series.
The Kingdom has always been a strange beast in the world of “The Walking Dead.” Its guards dress up as knights, there’s a widespread positivity that borders on gooey, and their leader Ezekiel (Khary Payton) has a pet tiger. As cool as Shiva has gone on to become, it was a bit of a jolt to see her roar on the page for the first time.
And yet it all worked, mainly because Michonne called out how ridiculous and over the top everything was. The show smartly puts that conversation at the end of “The Well,” only it’s Carol, not Michonne, who says it to Ezekiel. She calls out his persona — the mysticism, the spiritual platitudes, the tiger — as being part of an act. Ezekiel admits she’s right, that in reality, he was a zookeeper before the apocalypse. All the other stuff (except for his name) is a way to give people a sense of hope. Sure, the overly harmonious aesthetic of The Kingdom is more than a little goofy, but sometimes that’s what’s needed. And isn’t that better than the more violent alternative offered by The Saviors, and even Rick? The silliness works because Carol calls out how silly it all is.
And even she’s not immune to The Kingdom’s charms: the kinship, the cobbler at every meal, the a cappella gospel renditions of Bob Dylan songs. Ultimately though, it’s not for her, either because she’s not ready to buy into it or because she’s not ready to try to fit into yet another new community. The Kingdom seems too good to be true, so maybe it is. By the end of “The Well,” Carol’s on the road again, much to the dismay of Morgan, who believes The Kingdom to be a fitting place for his peaceful outlook. And indeed, the audience of “The Walking Dead” could use some peace after the brutality of last week’s season premiere. It’s good to take a breather from Lucille every now and then.
But just because it’s a relatively peaceful episode doesn’t mean there isn’t the odd action scene or two. Like Alexandria and Hilltop, The Kingdom is caught up with The Saviors, regularly paying them resources. It’s here that Ezekiel shows his more brutal side, orchestrating a delivery of pigs who have been feasting on nothing but rotten zombie guts. It seems that it’s a ploy to infect Negan’s ranks.
It also allows Payton to add some complexity to his role. Because “The Well” gets to Ezekiel’s put-on right off the bat, it forces him to display the conflicting traits of his real personality and the one he’s meticulously crafted over the past two years. Through a mixture of well-timed facial adjustments and theatrical speechifying (it’s no coincidence that Ezekiel has some theatre experience), he’s able to portray a man who’s charismatic, troubled, calculating, and more than a little sad all at the same time. Maybe he’s more like the other leaders on the show than he’d like to believe.
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