“I found a way to deal with the bad by going a little bit overboard with the good”, explained affable new character King Ezekiel (portrayed brilliantly by Khary Payton) as he gave Carol an eye-widening, grounded explanation of false-hope and the necessity of leadership. That quote from this week’s “The Well” accurately captures what The Walking Dead gave us this week: a very sharp contrast to the nauseating season 7 premiere which dealt us two of the most upsetting and tragic deaths in the show’s history last week.
I didn’t enjoy last week’s episode, and it wasn’t just because of how much it tore me apart to watch Glenn’s exit reduced to a cheap, gratuitous gimmick, but because of how the show has resorted to using emotionally manipulative tricks to keep us tuned in week after week. However, much has been said about the story rich content that will come from that hurtful death scene, and “The Well” represents the kind of expansion that makes the promised progress somewhat believable.
Say what you want about The Walking Dead team, it’s hard to deny that they have always handled change rather well. Alexandria could have gone either way, but the writers used that repositioning to give us some really interesting, relatively challenging (for a show that needs to entertain the #masses) content, albeit before they started retreading the same themes over and over again. It’s this kind of tautological television that put a damper on the show and had them resorting to said tricks to keep us engaged, that was until we were then introduced to the Hilltop and the Saviours, the TWD universe expanding and bringing in some new blood, like the highly likable Jesus and *mutters bitterly* Negan, to once again refresh and look to the endless future of this show.
The brutal premiere made it necessary for another restart, hence this week’s episode in some ways felt like a self-contained pilot with the cheer, hope, and general warmth of its setting – The Kingdom – very sharply contrasted against the fallout with Negan. “Embrace the contrast”, the King tells Carol in the episode’s standout scene; embrace the contrast that this faux-royalty has built in order to keep “his” people motivated and safe; embrace the contrast of “The Well” with “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be”; and embrace the contrast of The Kingdom’s seemingly lax way of life with their stone-cold plan to feed Negan’s men tainted meat (shout outs to Bob).
We’re in the Post-Negan world of The Walking Dead now. Everything that happened before that bat swung on the show’s heart and soul is now Pre-Negan, with the feeling that we’re only now able to get into the nitty gritty of the show and plot it’s supposed end game. As such, big things are expected from this season but first it’s nice that we got a little breather while spending it with Carol and Morgan, who are the two best and most interesting characters on The Walking Dead now that Glenn and Abraham are gone.
Both Melissa McBride and Lennie James are given some wonderful material to play around with; Carol in particular as she brings out the thick veneer of oblivious, naive housewife despite this time having it chipped away as soon as King Ezekiel calls her out, admiring her approach but at the same time casually stating: “don’t bullshit a bullshitter”. Perhaps the only thing dampening the thoughtful, well-paced drama was overindulging in Carol’s expected suspicions about The Kingdom. It started to become annoying, but the suspicions were thankfully shed at just the right time, when the King casually prevented Carol’s escape and seemingly coaxed her from someone who was about to stupidly run off completely to someone who was content on living on the fringes of The Kingdom, in a shabby little house that vaguely resembled the cottage her and Tyreese stumbled upon in “The Grove”, an episode which remains the high point of The Walking Dead’s dramatic flair.
I also like how Ezekiel’s major distinction (aside from those gnarly dreads) isn’t focused on as a gimmick. Yes, he has a pet tiger named Shiva, which is rather impressively brought to life with CGI and animatronics. However, it’s not some ostentatious device worked in to overshadow the character’s introduction, rather used modestly and given depth when Ezekiel reveals that he used to be a zoo keeper before all of this went down, and him saving Shivas life has won him the animals complete loyalty and affection.
I just generally really like this character, particularly his hyper-colourful Shakespearean way of talking (complemented by the quotes painted on the walls around The Kingdom) and the residents of The Kingdom who are named in the episode. The balance and hope they bring to a season that’s obviously going to get very dark makes me reconsider the disdain which carried over from last week. The Walking Dead sure love indulging us in their bottle episodes, but using this to contrast against last week turned out to be a smart move, and while nothing major happened, we do get a strong feeling that The Kingdom will be a valuable asset in the inevitable fight against Negan, Ezekiel being a much smarter, quiet, and more patient rebel; a contrast to Rick which we should all embrace.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
- A humble introduction to King Ezekiel
- Ezekiel gets real with Carol
- The warmth Morgan exudes throughout the episode
- Shakespearean tone to The Kingdom
- Tainted meat
- An episode of contrasts
- Carol’s suspicions exaggerated
- Since everyone already has the virus I’m not sure feeing The Saviours pigs that have been raised on walker meat would do much of anything.
- While Morgan is a great character the writers do need an arc for him this season, unless they plan to kill him off in the same hyper-violent, heartbreaking way as previous ‘good’ characters like Dale, Hershel, Tyreese and *sobs* Glenn. Though it would further this shtick of killing off moral compasses that works against TWD in the long run.
Episode MVP: King Ezekiel
The Walking Dead Season 7 will air in Australia every Monday on FX, fast-tracked from the U.S at 1:30pm AEDT and again at 7:30pm AEDT