Spoiler warning for anyone who hasn't watched tonight's episode of The Walking Dead.
The Walking Dead TV show is reaching the golden age of Robert Kirkman's comic book series, with the outside world opening up in vast new ways, and new characters and locations popping up at a quick clip. Tonight's "The Well" wisely avoided everything about last week's bonkers season premiere, instead introducing viewers to King Ezekiel and his loyal tiger Shiva, and what a fantastic introduction it was. I. Love. Ezekiel.
A place where hope and levity aren't scarce commodities, The Kingdom is exactly what The Walking Dead needed at this point, and actor Khary Payton could not be more brilliant in the role of Ezekiel. He and Shiva were first unveiled to audiences at Comic-Con, and the show has done a pretty great job of teasing this new arc without showing too much. So it truly felt like an introduction when Morgan first wheeled Carol into The Kingdom's auditorium - it was once a school - and we got that killer shot of King Ezekiel in his throne with Shiva roaring loudly beside him. Yeah, Negan stepping out of that RV was pretty cool, but this was just damned great.
As soon as Ezekiel began speaking, it became extremely clear that showrunner Scott Gimple and the creative team were not interested in taking this boisterous and extravagant character in a different direction than how he's portrayed in the source material. Ezekiel is all about making others look at the big picture, which he knows will keep them busy while he focuses on the smaller details that would threaten to destroy the half-mirage of safety if everyone in The Kingdom knew about them. It's possible that many have probably done what Carol did by brushing off Ezekiel as a loony based solely on his extroverted behavior, but he is neither crazy nor stupid.
Like Rick's group, Ezekiel has become quite familiar with Negan's Saviors, though the Kingdom leader is far more willing to be amicable during the frequent sharing of goods. Not that this automatically will keep them any safer than the walkers being chomped on by those hogs, as evidenced during that brief fight scene with The Kingdom's Richard. That said, I guess it can be considered both crazy and stupid that he sent along that infected hog meat with the Saviors, but it was a great move nonetheless.
I truly thought that The Walking Dead would keep TV viewers guessing for a while when it came to Ezekiel's true personality, but it all came clear quite quickly, and I think it was the better choice overall. The episode's third act hinged not on dangerous rescue attempts or walker mayhem, but on a bullshit-free conversation between Ezekiel and Carol that easily stands out as one of the best dialogue scenes The Walking Dead has ever delivered in any context. If this was Khary Payton's only episode as a guest star, he'd have landed the first acting Emmy nomination for the show.
Ezekiel immediately saw through Carol's overly positive act - breakfast cobbler! - and when she threw his own disingenuous behavior in his face, he surprisingly countered it by giving her an honest breakdown of how the "King" came to be. In a time like this, people don't just need someone that can tell them what to do; they need a human pillar to look up to that can appear larger than life, and someone with arm-thick dreads and a mega-throne can pull that kind of thing off. Especially when there's a giant deadly mammal right next to him.
Just in case it sounds like I'm giving Ezekiel all the credit here and ignoring Shiva, know that it's because Shiva was just one more element that made Ezekiel the perfect addition to The Walking Dead. She didn't get to do much, since nothing particularly dangerous happened within The Kingdom, but her presence is like a ticking clock, with viewers knowing that it's only going to be a matter of time before she strikes. And hot damn, I cannot wait for it.
By the time Ezekiel and Carol were finished talking, it became clear that these two characters are closer than Carol would have ever expected them to be. In fact, after Carol found herself a new home inside that house with all the graves outside (complete with a new one), Ezekiel and Shiva were her very first visitors, as the leader came bearing fruit. The episode ended on Carol ju-u-u-u-st as she started to smile, which makes me think that she may indeed be taking over one of Michonne's comic book plotlines. This would be a point when I'd make a tiger "rawr" sound to indicate romance, but there's an actual tiger here, and I don't want her to think I'm being threatening.