I don’t care how fake his tiger looks, King Ezekiel is a breath of fresh air on The Walking Dead.
After The Walking Dead’s brutal Season 7 premiere last week (seriously, I may never be over it), fans couldn’t be sure of what was in store for us this week. More heartbreak? Wallowing in our abject grief over losing two beloved characters? To be honest, the fandom probably couldn’t have handled any more loss.
So it was a pleasant surprise when, while watching this week’s episode, I found myself laughing. Laughing, while watching The Walking Dead? So soon after losing Glenn and Abraham, no less? What is this madness?
It was just what fans needed following the gut-wrenching premiere: a little levity.
It’s been a hot minute since we’ve found pure joy in The Walking Dead. Perhaps I’m a bit jaded by recent events, but it’s hard to remember a time in recent history when our lovable crew’s happiness wasn’t tinged with sadness or pain.
This week, Carol and Morgan got to experience that — and by proxy, so did we — when they were taken to a colony known as “The Kingdom” led by none other than newcomer King Ezekiel and his pet tiger, Shiva.
Seriously, seeing Carol’s face the first time she laid eyes on Ezekiel, it was impossible not to laugh. The tough-as-nails, cynical Carol of old seemed to shine through in the face of such farcical optimism. Her interactions while in The Kingdom were, dare I say, fun.
Even Morgan seems to have a lightheartedness about him that we haven’t seem from him since, well, basically ever.
And it’s all thanks to the great medieval-like leader, King Ezekiel, and the zombpocalyptic version of Camelot he has built for himself and his people. So, yeah, the tiger is clearly CGI. Who cares? Ezekiel is still a badass.
Never is this more apparent than when he shows true vulnerability by opening up to Carol and revealing how he came to be the king of this Utopian society — that he had been a zookeeper who rescued a tiger who in return became his best friend, and how the people had begun mythologizing him as soon as he showed up with a tiger in tow.
The people, he explained, needed a hero. They needed something to believe in. And therein lies the crux of why King Ezekiel is just what The Walking Dead needs right now.
I can’t tell you how many people on social media I saw over the last week claim they could no longer invest themselves in the show. It hurts too much, they said. TWD keeps betraying our trust, they said. There’s nothing left to look forward to, they said.
Then comes Ezekiel, who offers the simplest but most powerful of things: hope.
The way he speaks to Carol with such conviction, even Carol cannot help believing in the kind of world he has created with The Kingdom. That’s saying a lot, y’all. The fact that there could be a Carol/King Ezekiel ‘ship shaping up is just icing on the optimistic cake.
Another truth about King Ezekiel and his men — particularly pun-tastic Jerry — is that they do bring a sort of jovial spirit back to The Walking Dead. You know who that reminds me of? Glenn! We haven’t seen that lighthearted side of Glenn for some time (and now we never will again, NEGAN), so it somehow seems a fitting homage to have this character come through now.
He’s the kind of guy Glenn would’ve approved of, you know? Of course, Carol and Morgan don’t yet know about Glenn and Abe’s fate, which is partially why this joy they are experiencing is undiluted for the most part by grief.
Soon they will know, and we will all suffer through that painful epiphany with them. But, for now, let’s just sit back and enjoy the Shakespearean antics and animatronic tiger of King Ezekiel. We’ve earned a brief respite from heartbreak.
What do you think? Do you love King Ezekiel or hate him?