It’s an episode with actual focus this week, as King Ezekiel is the protagonist of “Some Guy.” And just like last year, his spotlight episode is the bright spot in an otherwise rough opening to the season. “Some Guy” is basically an extended character beat, as Ezekiel’s created persona cracks after the devastating loss of his troops. It’s a pretty grim hour, but the understandable motivation, decent action, and surprising loss make it Season 8’s most successful hour yet.
Of course it wouldn’t be “The Walking Dead” if the show didn’t hammer down some point it’s made before, so we get a flashback of Ezekiel once again giving his “And yet I smile” speech to the Kingdom’s assembled troops (who presumably then went to meet Rick’s forces to hear the speech from the premiere). Ezekiel’s overconfidence is key to what the episode is doing, but since overconfidence has been his only setting since Season 8 began, the point’s been sufficiently made before now.
Still, it leads to the stunning visual of Ezekiel, surrounded by his beloved subjects reaching out to him in hope, and then a smash cut to those same subjects dead on the battlefield, covering Ezekiel’s body with their own to save him at the cost of their own lives. What’s worse, they soon start turning, and an injured Ezekiel can only impotently scoot backward as they approach, an encroaching undead wall of his personal failure. It’s so nice when the cold open has stakes and meaning instead of just being an artsy time-waster.
Things go a bit downhill when Ezekiel is captured by a weaselly Savior, who takes some time to kick Ezekiel when he’s down (literally and figuratively). He mocks Ezekiel for his king persona, claiming he’d be nobody if he didn’t have his tiger (foreshadowing alert). Ezekiel seems prepared to die until Jerry appears out of nowhere and cleaves the Savior in twain with his battle-axe, in an inspired bit of grossness.
After the loss of his troops and the verbal/physical abuse of the Savior, Ezekiel no longer feels he has the right to live and repeatedly instructs Jerry (and later Carol) to leave him behind so they can get away safely. Ezekiel can’t understand why Jerry sticks by his side, because he doesn’t understand that he didn’t trick the Kingdom, he simply them offered them benign order in a world that had descended into chaos. Ezekiel is a kind man and a good leader who (despite his protests to the contrary in a flashback with Carol) was simply not prepared for the losses the war would inflict.
Unfortunately, Ezekiel still hasn’t hit rock bottom, so the show has to sacrifice the true signifier of his power and persona, Shiva. She comes to the rescue when the walkers are about to overwhelm Ezekiel, Jerry, and Carol, but she’s cut off from them and devoured. Shiva’s death is surprisingly tame by “Walking Dead” standards, just showing the zombies swarming and a tasteful shot of the creek water stained red with blood. It’s also kind of weird, because while the show has a borderline-perverse interest in presenting violent human suffering, graphically depicting the death of a tiger is apparently a bridge too far.
It’s certainly too far for Ezekiel, who now feels he has been exposed as a fraud. When he, Carol, and Jerry return to the Kingdom, he can scarcely look his citizens in the eye, offering only a brief shoulder squeeze to the son of one of his fallen soldiers. He hobbles away from the waiting crowd, a broken man.
We take a break from King Ezekiel’s existential crisis for Rick and Daryl to appear just in the nick of time and chase down Saviors’ gun truck. It’s a perfectly serviceable little action sequence, but it’s downright weird showing up in such a focused episode. It feels like an orphaned scene, something that needed to be shown but didn’t fit in anywhere else. Anyway, Rick and Daryl get the big guns! If you don’t count the wholesale slaughter of the Kingdom’s forces and the emotional hollowing out of one of the rebellion’s primary leaders, the war is going really well!
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.