Whose Episode Is It?
No sign of Rick or the rest of what remains of his inner circle this episode. This week we check in on Morgan and Carol, who we last saw being saved by some mysterious men on horseback. But it quickly becomes apparent that that “The Well” belongs to the man introduced in its opening scene: King Ezekiel, leader of The Kingdom.
Yet Another Human Faction
Yes, that means we’re introduced to another mini-society this episode, a particularly idyllic one called The Kingdom. The good news is they’re friendly. The weird news is their leader is a tiger-owning guy with dreadlocks who talks like he’s in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” “Yeah, he kind of does his own thing…” Morgan offers as way of explanation before Carol is granted an audience. It’s a magnificent understatement, and Ezekiel’s introduction is the funniest “The Walking Dead” has ever been, or even attempted to be.
Let’s get this out of the way: King Ezekiel rules. He refers to Carol as “fair maiden.” He tries to ply her with fruit offered by his manservant Jerry (played by Cooper Anderson from “Halt and Catch Fire” in a blatant attempt to get on my good side). He spouts little inspirational phrases that are also painted around the town. And of course there’s his tiger, Shiva. For once, someone on “The Walking Dead” has gone crazy in a really fun way. And Khary Payton’s performance is fantastic, hilarious at the outset, but conveying a greater depth of feeling as the episode progresses. (It doesn’t hurt that he has Lennie James and Melissa McBride to play off.)
Carol, as she tends to do when surrounded by strangers, reverts to her innocent doe routine, declaring both the Kingdom and King “amazing.” “I don’t know what the hell’s going on in the most wonderful way!” she declares, speaking for the audience. But once they’re clear of the King, she makes it clear to Morgan that as soon as she’s healed, she’s taking off. She’s contemptuous of The Kingdom, much like she and Rick were of Alexandria when they first arrived. Morgan’s still insistent on following her, but after killing a Savior to save her last season, he’s starting to doubt himself.
A Shred of Humanity
Suffice to say, “The Well” is a complete 180 from the swamp of misery that was “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” At first the episode seems like insane tonal whiplash, the brutality of last episode immediately segueing into wacky comedy. It should make for an interesting binge experience once the season is on Netflix. But it’s also clear that that’s entirely the point: this is an episode dedicated to hope instead of despair. It does nothing to alleviate the premiere’s pacing, logic, and tonal problems, but it at least indicates that the writers have more to offer this season than “Negan’s awful and everyone’s sad.” Obviously, this is “The Walking Dead,” so more horrors await us sooner rather than later, but it’s nice to have the occasional respite and argument in favor of humanity.
It’s funny, because I spent a good chunk of “The Well” waiting for the other shoe to drop, like a reveal that The Kingdom engages in medieval torture or some other nightmare scenario. Instead, the reveal is that King Ezekiel, while certainly eccentric, is a just leader and a decent, perceptive man. He’s patient with Benjamin, a young member of The Kingdom who has shown no aptitude for killing zombies, and he asks Morgan to help train him. Most importantly, Ezekiel reveals to Morgan that he deals with the Saviors, and offers them their tributes in secret. He fears that if the citizens of The Kingdom knew, they would want to rise up against the Saviors, and Ezekiel, who was reckless in the past, does not want to lose more of his people. His only small revenge is that the pigs he offers the Saviors are fed exclusively on the flesh of walkers before being slaughtered.
But that’s not all. When Carol attempts to make her escape, she runs into Ezekiel, who sees through her guileless housewife act. When Carol calls him out on declaring himself a king, he drops the act. He slumps down on a bench next to her, loses his affected speech, and levels with her. He was a zookeeper who saved Shiva’s life, earning her loyalty, and the citizens of The Kingdom were more than happy to follow someone who was so large than life. “They needed someone to follow, so I acted the part. I faked it ’til I made it.” He became what the people needed in order to help them.
Of course, “these sheep need a benevolent dictator to know what’s best for them,” isn’t particularly comforting, morality-wise, even if Ezekiel is charming and it evokes Rick at his worst. Still, this episode is such a relief I can let it slide for now, and hopefully there will be some pushback later in the season. Fingers crossed!
But the episode’s central theme is the message Ezekiel gives Carol when she tells him she wants to leave. He’s sorry for the bad that has happened to her, but he hopes to convince her that there’s more to life than that. “It’s not all bad. It can’t be. It isn’t. Life isn’t. Where there’s life, there’s hope. Heroism, grace, and love. Where there’s life, there’s life. I hope that’s not what you’re walking away from.” It’s something “The Walking Dead” could stand to remind us of more often, because the theme of “the zombie apocalypse is terrible” has been beaten into our heads rather thoroughly at this point, and a show can’t run on misery alone. The words are enough to convince Carol, who takes Ezekiel’s advice to “embrace the contradiction” by moving to a house on the outskirts of town. She still can’t fully be a part of the community, but she hasn’t severed her connection to humanity just yet.
Achievement In Grossness
Not too much walker action this week, but early on a zombie does get its face chopped off, just like that one time on “Spartacus,” so thanks for giving me an excuse to link to that gif, “Walking Dead!” Keep up the good work!