Review: King Ezekiel & Shiva Make Their Perfect Debut on The Walking Dead

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The Well Plot Summary:

Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) are taken to The Kingdom, a new community which is ruled by King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), who owns a tiger named Shiva.

Last week’s episode of The Walking Dead was an absolutely intense, gut wrenching, and utterly brutal episode to watch.

Thankfully (and wisely) the series pivoted from the premiere with an episode that was filled with humor, heart, hope, and sometimes rolling heads. (Yes, there was some violence in the episode).

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The episode saw the much-anticipated debut of King Ezekiel (Payton) and his pet tiger, Shiva. Our first glimpse of these characters come when Carol is wheeled down a long ramp inside of a theater by Morgan. On the stage is this almost ludicrous figure — covered in thick grey dreads that would put George Clinton to shame, and a magnificent tiger that makes Sher Khan look like a house cat. It easily should’ve been one of the most laughable moments in series’ history, but luckily this character is probably one of the better written, and better acted characters to debut since, well, Negan.

And after watching two characters get their skulls pummeled to a bloody pulp, it was actually a bit of a relief to see the guy who voices Cyborg on Teen Titans Go! giving ludicrous speeches in a ridiculously put-upon accent. Payton’s grandiosity in his early scenes was done with such robust energy that you couldn’t help but be tickled by his absurdity.

Then came the scene.

Carol, throughout the episode, has been doing her own put-upon accent — the Suzie Homemaker act she so convincingly dropped upon the people of Alexandria. However, this time it was intentionally transparent that Carol was acting, and acting horribly. So after convincing everyone that she’s this flustered, meek, and fragile woman, she decides to plan her escape — and that’s when King Ezekiel confronts her.

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The scene between the two is an extremely powerful, and humanizing scene. One that’s actually kind of shocking, given the fact it’s a brand new character revealing his entire motivation. Usually on this series, unless a character is destined to die, it takes a few episodes before we really get to know a character’s drive. When Ezekiel drops his accent we find out the reason he’s a former zookeeper who saved his tiger’s life years before the apocalypse. He was a man who lost everything and found himself back at his job, and his tiger was once again in need of saving, but then again so was he.

It’s an incredible scene that Payton delivers absolutely brilliantly. There’s no melodrama, there’s no theatrics, it’s a stripped down, honest scene. Ezekiel’s charisma, his playfulness, and his soul are all bared open in this speech, and it’s surprising that a new character got to do so much so soon. Payton’s performance combined with Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s performances gives this series two “episode carrying” options that they haven’t had in ages.

Also, the way the speech is shot — with Ezekiel shot from the upper chest up, so all we see is the face of the man wrapped in his dreadlocks, and none of his silly armor or regalia, drives home the point that “this” is the real Ezekiel, not the man who’s legend has been built up in order to give the people of The Kingdom hope.

Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC
Photo Credit: Gene Page/AMC

The episode also allowed for two other very important storylines to begin percolating — The Kingdom’s relationship with The Saviors (and how its a secret treaty), and the further emotional evolvement of Morgan. Morgan is a character that can stray on the one-note side, so seeing him riddled with conflict — fighting his urges to be violent towards mankind — is gripping stuff. As for the Kingdom/Saviors relationship, they’ve definitely built the seeds for an Alexandria/Hilltop alliance, as The Kingdom is sending zombie filled pigs to The Saviors in hopes of poisoning them. It’s something that’ll blow up in their face, and I like it.

Overall, this is probably one of the better world-building episodes the series has had in years. It’s also given us another supporting character that can carry an episode, something lacking since the days of The Governor. Now we don’t have to sit in Alexandria and be bored out of our minds — we can spend an episode watching King Ezekiel or Negan and Daryl or even go back to Hilltop since we’ve only scratched the surface there. Having options will greatly benefit this series, especially given the two strong cast members that they’ve added.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Bill Bodkin is the gray bearded owner, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Pop Break. Most importantly, he is lucky husband, and proud father to a beautiful daughter named Sophie. He can be seen regularly on the site reviewing The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, and is the host of the site's podcast, The BreakCast. He is a graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Journalism & English. Follow him on Twitter: @BodkinWrites