Though AMC’s The Walking Dead may have permanently done away with two major characters in the Season 7 opener, the latest episode introduced two fan-favorite characters from the pages of Robert Kirkman‘s comics. If you haven’t watched “The Well” yet, it’s probably best to avoid reading any further due to potential spoilers. If you have, but need a refresher, be sure to take a look at Evan Valentine‘s episode recap here.
In his first appearance on both AMC’s The Walking Dead and its after-show companion Talking Dead, Khary Payton made quite the impression as not only himself, but also as the iconic King Ezekiel. (Okay so Shiva might have made a bigger impression but only slightly.) He had a lot to say about Ezekiel, the eccentric character’s backstory, how he crafted the leader of the Kingdom’s personality, and, of course, Shiva the tiger. Payton also chatted with THR about a possible relationship between his character and that of Melissa McBride‘s Carol. See what he had to say below:
Payton on Ezekiel’s message after the bleak opening of Season 7:
That last scene with Carol and Ezekiel is all about hope. After that first episode [with Negan, Glenn and Abraham], you feel like all hope is gone and by the end of this episode, you’re reminded that hope is never gone.
Here’s Payton’s take on Ezekiel:
Ezekiel is putting on a show of sorts. He’s being a character he built into something. He’s a showman but he’s a man who doesn’t turn away from a responsibility. Even as a zookeeper before he became this King Ezekiel character, he became a zookeeper because he felt it was a calling, not a job. He was about finding those moments that make us all live a little in awe of life. He finds a responsibility in sharing that. So when Ezekiel and Shiva end up being the only two creatures huddled together and people come upon them and see this guy with a tiger … he’s bigger than life and then people start to see him that way. And before he knows it, he falls ass-backwards into this King Ezekiel-ness. But he goes with it because people need something to gravitate to; people feel safer when they feel like somebody knows what they are doing. Even though he doesn’t know what he’s doing, he decides to fake it and figure it out.
Here’s how Payton sees Ezekiel’s relationship with Carol starting and possibly going forward:
He sees strength in her and he knows the savagery that comes with the Sanctuary and the Saviors. He sees a strength there and a matriarch, in a way, and someone who is faking it and he understands that. On several levels, he feels like, “There’s something more to this woman and I need that kind of strength and my people need that kind of strength.” It’s important enough for him to let down his guard. Carol is at the point where she is not going to trust anybody who doesn’t give something first. That’s why he takes that moment and is confiding in her with his big secret …
He fell ass-backwards into this job of being king but as he starts to live it, he has to put on this extraordinary persona. He starts thinking, “Why is this working?” The reason it’s working is because this is a f—ed up world we’re living in. And in order to combat all the shit you have to go through, you have to go the other direction — and maybe you go a little far and maybe it seems a little weird, but that’s what it takes because there are dead people walking around out there. It becomes a philosophy that was built out of necessity that he would slowly start to see that in order to keep his sanity, he has to go a little crazy in a positive way. That’s going to help Ezekiel hold on to his humanity…
This relationship [with Ezekiel and Carol] is one where there’s enough of an attraction for there to be a relationship down the road but at the same time, there’s also so much more that needs to be done that that’s not necessarily the end game for either one of them. They could just as easily walk this road together and never come into contact together and then there’s a possibly one trips on a rock and falls into the other’s arms. It’s as simple as that kind of happenstance. This relationship is what it is; whether it gets physical or not, I don’t know.
As for other characters on the show, here’s how Payton sees Ezekiel getting along with them, starting with Morgan:
It’s like happening upon someone who has been more thoughtful about what it means to be human than most people do in this world. Everyone is so worried about survival and Ezekiel happens upon this guy who has decided that survival is not the end game in lieu of losing your soul. That’s what Morgan is doing: fighting for his humanity. It’s the same focus that Ezekiel has in his life: he’s going to live his life exuberantly and joyfully, no matter the circumstances. He’s not going to let the fact that the dead are arriving preclude him from his soul and humanity, even when he kills a walker. That’s church for him and giving last rights: he’s setting a soul free. If someone is walking through this world not seeing the beauty in it, then you may as well be a mindless creature. Ezekiel is not going to become that. He sees Morgan as a kindred spirt. Morgan is fighting to make sure he doesn’t lose his humanity and become that. And to Ezekiel, that’s a voice that means something, whose opinion means something.
And Ben (Logan Miller), whom Ezekiel pairs up with Morgan:
Ezekiel feels the responsibility of this leadership role. This is something he didn’t have to do; he didn’t have to become King Ezekiel and this leader. It’s not something that he was but when it was presented to him, he didn’t back away from it. So when Ben’s father died under his watch, that was a big deal to him. The preciousness of life is important to Ezekiel and he wants to make sure that that doesn’t happen again. Each one of these lives that have been entrusted to him and he wants them live as long as they possibly can. When Ezekiel asks Morgan to train Benjamin, that’s an obvious choice because he’s trying to give Benjamin more perspective from a person like Morgan who sees the humanity and the importance of holding on to it. If Ezekiel can’t teach this kid to use a sword or knife, but he has Morgan — who understands the importance of life in this world — and if somebody is going to teach him, Ezekiel wants it to be Morgan.
And, because we’ve certainly wondered what this would look like, Payton offers his thoughts on Ezekiel meeting Rick (Andrew Lincoln) for the first time:
Ezekiel will look deeply into Rick’s eyes, and say, “You, sir, are a man of great strength and piercing blue eyes. How about we have a bite to eat?” They’ll embrace and go play Xbox or something! (Laughing.) I can’t say how it’s going to happen but it’s probably going to be pretty epic.
We’ll find out how Ezekiel & Co. continue to develop as AMC’s The Walking Dead rolls out the rest of Season 7 on Sunday nights at 9pm. Let us know your thoughts on King Ezekiel in the comments!