Warning: spoilers ahead for the second episode of the seventh season of The Walking Dead.
The second episode of The Walking Dead Season 7 was far lighter and and much less bloody than the first episode, and that is largely thanks to the introduction of Khary Payton as King Ezekiel. We finally got our first look at the theatrical leader of The Kingdom and learned why he is the way that he is in the zombie apocalypse. Ezekiel is a big character from the Walking Dead comics, and Payton has revealed that the show tried to keep the casting process a secret... to various levels of success. He shared this story about his auditions to play King Ezekiel:
When I got the audition, first of all it was four pages long. And it was just about -- maybe there was someone who said a couple of things -- but it was like a four-page monologue. That scene that I had with Carol, that was pretty much it. And so you kind-of had to dive in and realize there was a lion or a tiger. They told me in the audition it was a lion -- they were trying to throw me off. So, I kinda figured out that one pretty quick.
Considering that Ezekiel is really most notable for the fact that he has a tiger in the comics, it's easy to see how Khary Payton figured out that he was auditioning to play the leader of The Kingdom and not any old random survivor. If anything, his reveal on Talking Dead indicates that the casting department may want to work on disguising characters a little better. There are only a few zombie shows on TV and a quick googling of "The Walking Dead lion" or "The Walking Dead tiger" is enough to figure out that the cat wrangler is Ezekiel.
Of course, comic fans wouldn't have needed to know that a tiger was in the works to realize that Ezekiel was on the way. In the wake of the Season 6 finale, the show was auditioning actors for a role called "Augustus," who was described as bringing a combination of wisdom, oddity, and exuberance to the show. What better way to vaguely describe King Ezekiel?
It makes sense that the casting crew would want to use Ezekiel's monologue from the end of Episode 2 to figure out who was right for the part. His characterization hinged on whether or not there was more to him than a man who called himself king. Ezekiel's reveal to Carol that he's really just a former zookeeper with a community theater background changed him from ridiculous to realistic for life in the post-apocalyptic world. Plus, it explained how the hell he had a tiger. Many things have happened over the years on The Walking Dead that have required suspensions of disbelief; a guy wrestling a tiger into submission in the zombie apocalypse may have been too much.