Just over one year ago, we met one of the more interesting characters in “The Walking Dead” universe. Played by actor Khary Paton, “King Ezekiel” was a character already well known to fans of Robert Kirkman’s comic books (he first appeared on the page way back in 2013), but his arrival on the AMC series, well, let’s just say he didn’t quite fit in with the overall tone of the show – *especially* in Season 7, which memorably kicked off in the most dour way imaginable.
It was only one week after Negan beat Abraham and Glenn to death that Carol arrived in The Kingdom, a sanctuary ruled by the man they call King. Flanked by a loyal servant wielding a massive battle axe, as well as a literal tiger, King Ezekiel appeared to be living in a world that wasn’t actually overrun by the walking dead. Through it all, still he smiled, displaying a theatrical attitude and swagger that reeked of a man hiding himself behind the facade of an off-Broadway caricature.
Later in Season 7, we learned Ezekiel’s origin story: in short, he was a zookeeper in his past life – an ordinary man who decided to become something more once the world went to shit. Granted, that describes most characters on “The Walking Dead,” but Ezekiel particularly went for it, adopting a “King” persona and coping with the horrors of the world outside his Kingdom by playing pretend.
Through it all, still he smiled. But on last night’s episode, titled “Some Guy,” Ezekiel finally stopped smiling. Ezekiel’s crown was removed, making him “some guy” once more.
In the battle against Negan and his Saviors, Ezekiel promised that none of his soldiers would be lost, but that fantasy was shattered by the sound of gunfire at the tail end of the previous week’s episode. Picking up where “Monsters” left off, “Some Guy” showed us that pretty much nobody – aside from Ezekiel – survived the brutal assault at the hands of the Saviors. And though Ezekiel may have been the sole survivor, he emerged from the battlefield a broken man. A king without his crown. Some guy with dreadlocks.
If Ezekiel was living in a fluffy, happy-go-lucky cartoon prior to “Some Guy,” well, let’s just say he officially became a “Walking Dead” character last night.
After being kidnapped and almost beheaded by one of the Saviors, an injured Ezekiel was dealt one final blow in the episode with the death of his beloved pet tiger, Shiva. It was Ezekiel who personally rescued an injured Shiva back in his days as a zookeeper, and the roles were reversed when Shiva returned the favor – rescuing an injured Ezekiel from a pack of melty, toxic zombies… but unfortunately losing her own life in the process.
In what was easily the most depressing moment in Season 8 thus far, Shiva was torn to pieces by the undead. If you shed a couple tears, trust me, you weren’t alone.
Broken, injured and stripped of the persona that allowed him to become something more than a man for so many years, Ezekiel returned to The Kingdom. It wasn’t a triumphant return, however. It was something more akin to a sad walk of shame, as Ezekiel said not a single word to his loyal followers. It was understood, presumably even by them, that the man before them was no longer their king. Rather, they were seeing the man behind the crown for the very first time in their lives.
To its credit, Season 8 of “The Walking Dead” has thus far evoked the spirit of guns-blazing, ’80s action flicks, but the first three episodes did little to advance the story forward or really even make the show’s return very exciting. Instead, they recycled tired old themes from the past, serving up a buffet of gun violence but little else to speak of. “Some Guy,” however, brought to the screen a wonderful character arc in and of itself, telling the first side story of the season that was actually worth paying attention to and being invested in.
Ezekiel is a better, more realistic character in the wake of “Some Guy,” and the best episodes of “The Walking Dead” have always been the ones that strip away facades and show us precisely who we’ve chosen to spend our Sunday nights with. If he didn’t quite fit alongside the other characters prior to last night, Ezekiel damn sure does now.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to finishing crying about a dead tiger.