This was posted by Rodney Ho on Sunday, October 30, 2016 for the AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
After the gruesome, torturous season seven opener, the producers of "The Walking Dead" decided to give us a break, focusing exclusively on Carol and Morgan.
This episode is well written and a significant stylistic difference from week one. Violence is only focused on walkers. Light humor is incorporated.
As last seen during the season six finale, Morgan had saved Carol's life by taking down a Savior she didn't quite kill earlier. But he had also found the horse a Kingdom resident had lost. Two men from that group helped both Morgan and Carol, who had three gunshot wounds. They then nurse Carol back to health, whose recovery was nothing if not incredibly fast.
The Kingdom seems like an even more robust version of Alexandria and the Hilltop. Everyone appears placid, kind, normal. The leader: King Ezekiel, with his tiger Shiva. The whole "royalty" set up is, on the surface, ridiculous. Morgan brings a recuperating Carol into the theater where Ezekiel resides with his tiger.
Sample Ezekiel dialogue: "Our fair maiden has been through a myriad of trials! You're our guest!"
Carol is dumbfounded, slackjawed. He asks, "You are skeptical. You see this is mad or perhaps you see this as a mirage. Tell me. What do you think of the Kingdom, Carol? What do you think of the king?"
Carol's survival instincts kick in and she decides to resurrect her "innocent home-maker" act she honed in Alexandria.
"I think you're amazing!" she says, dripping with sincerity that is sincerely insincere. "It's amazing. And your Shiva: amazing. I would be speechless if I wasn't already speaking. I don't know what the hell's going on in the most wonderful way."
But the reality is she has no desire to stick around here any more than she did Alexandria after it was invaded. She believed briefly that a "normal" world was possible in Alexandria but when that hope was dashed, she lost faith in humanity in this world. She also felt after all the people she had murdered, the cruel zombie-fied "real" world was where she deserved to be, not any society where people try to act "normal."
She finds Ezekiel's absurdist floral language silly.
"This place is a damn circus," she tells Morgan. "All of it is make believe. It's play time. I can't do this. I can't be here!"
As she tries to sneak out like she did in Alexandria, Ezekiel catches her. He isn't angry. He is curious about her. And as an actor, he recognizes a fellow actress in Carol. "Never bulls*** a bulls***ter," he said. "The sweet and innocent act you've been doing, it's quite clever. Worked on me. You blended in, got people to trust you, acquired what you needed, then you're gone as if you were never here."
She then repeats what she told Morgan, that his place is a "joke," that he's selling these people a "fairy tale."
While most leaders would take offense at this, Ezekiel barely blinks.
His explanation is quite logical and plays into our current presidential campaign for what it's worth:
People want someone to follow. It’s human nature. They want someone to make them feel safe. People feel safe are less dangerous, more productive. They see a dude with a tiger. Shoot. They start telling stories about finding it in the wild. Wrestling it into submission, turning it into his pet. They make the guy larger than life. A hero. Who am I to burst their bubble? Next thing you know, they treat me like royalty. They needed someone to follow. I acted the part. I faked it til I made it.
Ultimately, Ezekiel may play "king" but he is hardly evil. He's not the Governor, haunted by the death of his daughter. He's not a power-tripping maniac like Negan. He's a breath of fresh air in the grimness that is "The Walking Dead." He's a fundamentally nice guy, a zookeeper who happened upon Shiva after the apocalypse had begun. He had saved her from injury and she was loyal to him. As a result, he was able to use her as a front as he built his "empire" of sorts. He had done community theater, had played kings. So he became one.
And the people in the Kingdom bought it. He grew into the role. He doesn't understand why Carol is unmoved by his kingdom and extols the positive.
"There's hope. Heroism. Grace. And love. Where there's life, there's life. I hope that's now what you're walking away from."
"What if I am?"
"Maybe you don't have to," he said. "I made my own world here. I found a way to deal with the bad by going overboard with the good. I embraced the contradiction. Maybe you could too in your own way. You could go and not go."
Although he doesn't force Carol to tell her story, his interest in her confuses her. "Why do you care?" she asks.
"Because it makes me feel good," he said.
Ultimately, she leaves, says goodbye to Morgan. "Take care of yourself," he says sincerely. "Always watching, always ready," she responds. She decides to stay in a nearby house, though, for now. The final scene is Ezekiel stopping by for a visit, offering a pomegranate, a fruit she had declined earlier. Perhaps he is romantically attracted to Carol as well?
Meanwhile, Morgan connected with the Kingdom more than Carol. Ezekiel likes Morgan's vibe, that he can kill when he has to but generally chooses not to. He convinces Morgan to train a young man whose father was killed by walkers a year earlier to use his stick. The kid is endearing.
Alas, Ezekiel's world is not devoid of secrets. He is keeping the Saviors at bay by offering them a weekly diet of fattened pigs and produce. The pigs eat walkers, which is kind of gross but Ezekiel doesn't tell the bad guys that's their diet. He entrusts Morgan into the fold to deal with handing payment to the Saviors, who act like power-hungry jerks.
"It's a secret I keep from my people," he says to Morgan. "They are burdens. Not part of the reward. Pigs. They are the cost."
One of his guys gets into a tiff with a Savior and they fight. Ezekiel tells his man to stand down. The leader of the Savior crew actually compliments them for being so compliant but says they have very little room to spare. If things go bad, that dude will be the first to go.
This is clearly sowing the seeds for future conflict. Surely Morgan will meet up with Rick again.