Spoiler Warning for Season 7, Episode 2 of “The Walking Dead”
The world of “The Walking Dead” is truly growing and expanding as the story enters a whole new era. Following last week’s intense and heartbreaking premiere, this episode slows things down to introduce an entire batch of new characters, as well as a brand new community (and yes, there is a tiger and she is awesome). With some profoundly gripping character and story development, this episode stands strong as a continuation of “The Walking Dead’s” expansion to new frontiers.
Over the course of Season 6, Carol and Morgan developed a fascinating relationship that evolved two polar opposites into a pair of very similar survivors. After her conflict with Morgan hit its peak, Carol began to crumble while coming to terms with just how many people she has had to kill in order to survive. She made a decision to leave her life in Alexandria behind to live alone in the harsh undead world, however, Morgan refused to allow her to simply abandon everyone and wither away. This episode picks up in the aftermath of the Season 6 Finale, where Morgan was forced to kill a Savior in order to protect Carol; a strange group of survivors arrive on horseback and offer to help Carol and Morgan. Carol weaves in and out of consciousness while lying in a wagon pulled by a horse. She awakens later and finds Morgan and the strangers fighting off walkers; thanks in part to her gunshot wounds, Carol hallucinates the walkers as humans and attempts to flee away from the scene. She makes her way to a creepy old house where several walkers begin swarming her before another group of horseback strangers arrive and save the day. Morgan joins back up with Carol and the group leads the way to their place of safety. Who exactly are these strangers and where are they from? Fans of the graphic novels have been eagerly waiting to see that question be answered on television screens.
After two days of rest, Carol wakes up in a bed as Morgan sits in a chair nearby watching over her. She’s clearly very confused, but Morgan helps her into a wheelchair and pushes her outside into the center of a beautiful community where crops grow in large gardens, livestock rest in pens and children sit and learn in a makeshift school. Morgan explains to Carol that they are in a community called The Kingdom. Carol asks Morgan about how much information he shared with the residents of the community, but he puts her at ease and explains that they know very little about them and nothing at all about Alexandria. Morgan wheels Carol into an auditorium and tells her that she will be meeting the leader of The Kingdom, a man named King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Morgan forgets to mention some of the details about Ezekiel, leaving Carol shocked as she comes face to face with the leader sitting on a throne with a live tiger beside him; the tiger lets out a ferocious roar as Ezekiel introduces her as Shiva. Carol quickly switches to her undercover personality of a meek and fragile survivor. Ezekiel speaks and acts regally as he welcomes Carol to the community and offers her some fruit; his demeanor appears to be that of a monarch in medieval times, even referring to Carol as a “fair maiden.” This larger-than-life personality is incredibly jarring and feels out of place initially until the character is slowly unraveled over the course of the episode, revealing him to be a truly deep and multi-dimensional character.
After her meeting with the King, Carol calls out Ezekiel and The Kingdom to Morgan for being absolutely ridiculous and “make believe.” She also tells Morgan that she will sneak away the first chance that she gets. Later, Ezekiel leads a small team of his soldiers with Morgan to a nearby city to hunt for pigs. The Kingdom guards corral the wild pigs into a room where they feast on a hanging walker. One of the soldiers, a man named Richard (Karl Makinen), tells Morgan that they like the pigs “full of rot.” A younger member of The Kingdom, a boy named Benjamin (Logan Miller), is given a chance to test his training, but fails to kill a single walker; Ezekiel unleashes his signature sword and dispatches the walker. After returning to The Kingdom, Ezekiel asks Morgan to help train Benjamin, who seems to be struggling to develop any fighting skills. Morgan agrees to help train Benjamin with his fighting staff. A sequence follows that helps to show some of the daily life in The Kingdom. A choir practices their singing while Morgan begins his training with Benjamin; Carol explores The Kingdom, but swipes a knife and distracts one of the residents before stealing a few articles of clothing. There is also an impressive shot of Shiva sitting on a porch basking in the sun. There is a strange yet comforting sense of peace and calm in The Kingdom, which is a stark contrast to how life is among the rest of the group after their meeting with Negan and the Saviors in last week’s episode. The Kingdom actually seems to be a place where life can be comfortable and safe, where society has restarted and evolved into the ways of medieval times.
After some training with Benjamin, Morgan is called upon by Ezekiel to join him and a team of Kingdom residents for a mission. In a parking lot outside of the community, the team inspect the pigs that were caught earlier. They have since been skinned and prepared for trade with a group of Saviors that arrive to collect their weekly “payment” of supplies; Morgan immediately recognizes this group as members of the Saviors. The lead Savior of the group (Jayson Warner Smith) mentions to Ezekiel that the pigs are fatter than normal, unbeknownst to the fact that the pigs were allowed to feast on walkers beforehand. While it is not completely clear what effect, if any, eating something that has been contaminated by a walker, this is essentially Ezekiel’s way of slyly poking holes in the strong exterior of the Saviors. Before leaving, a lone Savior (Josh Mikel) picks a fight with Richard, further showcasing the grotesque habit that Saviors have of dehumanizing other survivors. Ezekiel manages to calm the situation before things become ugly and the Saviors leave, but not before warning of the consequences of not delivering the correct amount of supplies each week. The inclusion of the Saviors in this episodes highlights the overarching grip that Negan has on the various survivors in the area; he has a far larger force than anyone else and there is no escaping his grasp.
Back at The Kingdom, Morgan eats with Benjamin and his younger brother in the cafeteria. Benjamin opens up to Morgan about the loss of his father nearly a year ago while on a supply run gone bad. He also tells Morgan that Ezekiel has been keeping the deal with the Saviors a secret from the residents of The Kingdom, likely because there would be a possible call for war if everyone was aware; due to the fact that they are outnumbered and less skilled fighting wise, The Kingdom would definitely lose to the Saviors. Benjamin asks Morgan about his pacifist way of life after noticing a quote written by Eastman in “The Art of Peace.” It is worth noting that this episode features several references to Eastman and the way that he was able to bring Morgan back from the darkness by teaching him aikido in “Here’s Not Here.” It is great to see that writers were able to tie the story of Eastman and Morgan’s training to this new stage in the overall story. Morgan has taken on a protégé, who will likely give Morgan a new mission in life; will he step into a fatherly role for Benjamin and his brother? After eating, Morgan brings a tray of food to Carol’s room, but finds it empty with her nowhere to be found.
Night falls and Ezekiel finds Carol stealing fruit from a tree in the garden. He notices that she is about to leave and manages to call her out for putting on a fake persona when around new people. This takes Carol aback slightly as Morgan was really the only other character that saw through her undercover personality. Ezekiel confesses to Carol that he isn’t exactly as he seems either. The entire theatrical identity that he presents himself as is simply a role that he plays to allow the residents of The Kingdom to have someone strong and heroic to follow. The residents see him as a leader because of his confident, charismatic and composed personality, as well as his kinship with Shiva. He switches from his royal way of speaking and acting and comes across as far more normal than earlier. It also helps that he did community theater before the apocalypse, playing many “king” roles such as Macbeth. Carol, along with the viewers, learn about Ezekiel’s backstory through an engrossing account of life in the early days of the apocalypse. Ezekiel was originally a zookeeper and he managed to save Shiva and take care of her after she was injured and abandoned in the chaos of the collapse of society; he tells Carol that Shiva is perfectly capable of overpowering him and attacking, but that he never feels that he is in danger around her. This perfectly paints Ezekiel as a leader that truly cares about his community and will do what it takes to protect them from the various threats. He isn’t willing to leave anyone behind, even a tiger, who he admits is a massive drain on resources. Carol acknowledges that Ezekiel’s form of leadership is working, but that she still wants to leave. Ezekiel offers her a solution, to leave and be on her own, but not fully. The more human side of Ezekiel is shown very clearly in his scene with Carol. He truly just wants what is best for his people and will play along in this role. This juxtaposes the role that Negan plays as leader of the Saviors, putting on a performance to assert his place as the supreme power; Carol also plays the aforementioned role each time she is around new people.
The next morning, Morgan and Carol head to the old house from earlier in the episode. They each complement each other, hinting at a more positive relationship between the two in the future. Morgan leaves and Carol sets foot in her new home. She tidies up the house and buries a walker that was inside before hearing a knock and roar at the door. She opens it to find Shiva and Ezekiel, who offers her a pomegranate, prompting her to smile. After so much tragedy in the Season Premiere, this episode ends on a lighter moment that hints at some of the possible upcoming storylines. Many fans have already begun speculating as to whether a romantic relationship between Carol and Ezekiel is around the corner. While that remains to be seen, it is clear that some unique connection exists between these two characters. Will Carol choose to return to The Kingdom or stay in her own little cottage? Will Morgan and Carol ever return to Alexandria? It is important to remember that both Carol and Morgan are completely oblivious to the deaths of Glenn and Abraham, as well as the new rule of law placed on Alexandria by Negan. How will they react when they learn the news of what has happened?
“The Well” is a satisfying break from the gloom and doom of the Negan storyline and allows for Morgan and Carol to be placed in the spotlight. There is still a sense of danger as the threat of the Saviors is tied directly into the The Kingdom, showcasing the growing expansion of the world, which slowly began last season with the introduction of Jesus and the Hilltop Colony. Both Melissa McBride and Lennie James proved once again that their acting talents are incredibly versatile, they are both able to expertly pull off both serious and comedic scenes. This episode marks the first appearance of Khary Payton as King Ezekiel, who demonstrated that he is the perfect fit for this role; in what could have been an incredibly cheesy adaptation of this beloved comic-character, Khary flawlessly showed off Ezekiel’s human and emotional side. How will The Kingdom play into the conflict that is brewing between the Alexandria group and the Saviors? Be sure to tune in to “The Walking Dead” next Sunday at 9 p.m. on AMC.