The Walking Dead's Khary Payton On Ezekiel Being Team 'F--- Negan' And Getting Under Jeffrey Dean Morgan's Skin

Ezekiel picked for labor camp in The Walking Dead
(Image credit: AMC)

As The Walking Dead gets closer than ever to its final episode (at least of the flagship series, if not its various spinoff projects), the characters are gearing up for what will assumedly be a deadly and explosive conclusion. Not so deadly for everyone, of course, as fans are already aware Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan is heading off to island pastures for the spinoff The Walking Dead: Dead City. Someone whose future fate is still unknown is the cancer-toppling Ezekiel, and someone who isn’t so pleased to see Negan surviving and thriving is star Khary Payton, whose character brought out the verbal weaponry in the latest episode, “Outpost 22.”

In the installment, the former leader of the Kingdom found himself opposite Negan working at one of the Commonwealth’s labor camps, and while JDM’s reformed villain may have thought everything was swept under the rug with the King, that was certainly not the case. Ezekiel voiced his lasting distaste for Negan’s treatment of his face-melted followers, his harem of wives, and the people he’d murdered from other communities. Such as, oh I dunno, Glenn Rhee. And Payton was pumped to be the one to put Negan in his monstrous place, telling Insider when asked if he was satisfied by that moment:

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And Jeff knows this about me. I have always been in camp 'Fuck Negan.’ Screw that guy. I have always been there, no matter how I feel about Jeff. I remember when I had these shirts printed, ‘Never bring a bat to a cat fight.’ We sold a bunch of those shirts for charity and he hated those fucking things. And I just loved it cuz I was like, ‘Yeah, man. I love you Jeff, but fuck that guy.’ I don't care how long it's been. He needs to be reminded of everything he's done. The fact that you're incredibly charismatic and shit, means nothing to me.

Khary Payton may love and respect Jeffrey Dean Morgan himself, but seeing him on set on a daily basis as Negan is a brutal reminder of the character’s hardcore first couple of seasons on the show. And while The Walking Dead has pulled off some winning moves in turning him from baddie to goodie, Negan likely can’t do anything that would wipe his slate completely clean where Ezekiel, Maggie and others are concerned. Even Hershel had a mind to put a bullet in the dude, and that gun recoil likely would have messed that little dude’s arm up. 

Though Payton may be as big a fan of JDM as anyone else, the actor clearly enjoys getting a rise out of his grizzled co-star when possible, even when it’s not directly prodding him with T-shirt messages. The Young Justice star said he also enjoys ribbing Morgan for being put out by gross weather. In his words:

I have always been on team Screw Negan. It makes me very happy to sit there, especially because I actually love working with Jeff. Jeff is — especially when it's cold and nasty out — he is Mr. pumpkin spice latte, fucking can't take the cold. He's like [JDM impression] ‘Fuck this, man.’ And I love giving it to him. I'm like, ‘You can't take it? Come on, boy. What's wrong with you?’

A lot of female fans were no doubt happy to hear Ezekiel finally be the one to put Negan in his place for his violent, tyrannical reign over the Saviors. He might be a happy-go-lucky hubby and father-to-be this many years later, but he deserves to know on a daily basis that his past actions are still very much on the minds of those who were around. Not that I think Ezekiel or Maggie or anyone else would murder Annie as a revenge plot, but it seems like his redemption story isn’t over just yet. 

As far as upcoming Walking Dead shows go, Morgan and Lauren Cohan are urrently filming its Dead City spinoff, and it was only a couple of weeks ago when Norman Reedus revealed the Daryl Dixon follow-up is also in production in Paris, France. And the mothership series is gearing up for its series finale, which will simulcast across both AMC and AMC+ on Sunday, November 20, at 9:00 p.m. ET. After rewatching the entire series in preparation, head to our 2022 TV premiere schedule to see what new and returning shows are popping up soon.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.