[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for “The Walking Dead” Season 9 Episode 1, “A New Beginning.”]
Of all the characters on “The Walking Dead,” no one has experienced a more radical transformation than Carol (Melissa McBride), who was introduced as an abused, subdued wife, but is now one of the show’s toughest survivors.
The Season 9 premiere, “A New Beginning,” revealed that she took another important step during the year-and-a-half time jump after Season 8: She’s in a serious romantic relationship with King Ezekiel (Khary Payton).
“He’s such a colorful character, I think,” said McBride of the eccentric dreadlocked man who often speaks with medieval turns of phrase. “There is a bit of her just doing the best she can to be in the moment, because that’s kind of how they’ve come to live, anyway… It all makes sense that she would be at this point to allow some intimacy into her life, to be able to put trust into someone.”
Showrunner Angela Kang said Carol and Ezekiel’s relationship also developed because Carol had chosen to relocate to Ezekiel’s settlement, the Kingdom. “Carol had been developing a deep relationship with the Kingdom because she needed to find some peace in her life, and the Kingdom is a peaceful, joyful community,” she said.
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“Stories on this show are long,” Kang added. “Carol started off as an abused housewife who had no power, who didn’t know how to use a weapon, who a lot of fans said was annoying. She has changed and grown and survived.”
It’s not entirely smooth sailing between the unlikely couple; in the season premiere, Ezekiel proposes marriage and Carol turns him down. “Trust is a big factor, and the fear of loss is a big factor,” McBride said. “Being under the control of a king, or the thought of being under control of anything like that again… Yeah, I think there’s a little bit of cold feet for a lot of reasons.”
Kang likes the differences between Ezekiel and Carol. “It’s a little bit of an odd couple where Ezekiel has a big theatrical personality,” she said. “He’s full of smiles and witticisms. And Carol is quiet, she’s pragmatic, she can be a little cynical at times. The theatricality kind of embarrasses her.”
However, Kang sees acceptance as key to their relationship. “[Ezekiel] loves people for who they are. He has no interest in changing Carol into a version of himself. He likes the fact that she’s a little spiky and cranky, and doesn’t like ridiculousness…. we just thought that it would be fun to explore what does it mean for Carol, who has been in such turmoil over the years, to find this spot of happiness within an unexpected place.”
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Carol and Ezekiel’s relationship status is revealed during a raid on the Smithsonian, when Carol celebrates his narrow escape from zombie death with a kiss.
It was the pair’s first on-screen kiss, but as the characters had technically been together for a while at this point, “we just had to get it over with between ourselves to make it look really comfortable.”
Thus, McBride said, “I was like, ‘Are you okay with it?’ He was like, ‘I’m okay.’ So, we popped gum… Okay, it’s a kiss. Okay,” and giggle, giggle, giggle, giggle, and all right. I’m good. I’m okay.”
Many takes were required. “There were lots of smooches,” she said. “Just lots and lots of smooches. Every time we turned around, we were smooching. It was fun.”
They did get notes on the scene, though: “I was kissing all over his face. And [director] Greg Nicotero comes over and he’s, “I want it to linger a little bit longer.” I was like, “Okay.” And then I just gave him a really lingering kiss. And then I pull back, just smack all over his face, just kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss, kiss.”
This might be tough for some fans of the show to accept, specifically fans who have been rooting for Carol to eventually wind up with Daryl (Norman Reedus). McBride said that Carol’s romantically involvement with Ezekiel doesn’t necessarily detract from her bond with Daryl.
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC
“Whatever they are, they have each others’ backs,” she said. “They trust each other more than probably anybody else in their lives. It’s come as you are. They meet each other wherever they’re at …They’re each others’ breathing room. They’re resuscitators. I don’t know what they are. They’re best friends. I don’t know… And then Ezekiel comes along.”
An intimate scene in “A New Beginning” even features Carol and Daryl discussing her new relationship, and how, in McBride’s words, “he’s happy for her.”
When it comes to Daryl/Carol ‘shippers, McBride continued, “I want to see it from where the fans are coming, and sometimes I get that glimpse. I understand it as a viewer, okay. But I don’t know what else to say. They have a beautiful relationship. Sure. Let’s ‘ship that.”
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.