Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the latest episode of The Walking Dead! Proceed with caution, survivors. For reals, if you haven’t yet watched this week’s episode, “The Well,” we highly suggest you do so before proceeding. Okay? We good? Let’s go.
Damn you, Walking Dead. We’re only two episodes into this season and already you’re tying my emotions into way more knots than they were ever built to withstand. After making us drink a gallon of battery acid last week, you go ahead and give us something this week that, by the standards of the apocalypse, is a glass of champagne. For “The Well” is an episode that switches out The Walking Dead‘s fixation with misery porn for light comedy, and despair for…dare I say hope?
When we last left Carol and Morgan, my favorite dysfunctional couple had run afoul of the Saviors only to be saved at the last possible second by what looked like a company of knights. That metaphor is only reinforced by this episode’s opening scene, in which these riders on horseback transport an injured Carol to their “Kingdom,” where she’s introduced to their king–the gloriously colorful Ezekiel.
Melissa McBride has evolved into such an amazing actress on this show, and Carol has honed her survival skills to such an incredible extent, that when Carol first meets Ezekiel, McBride almost convinces us her character really is charmed by the tiger-taming ruler. But then it’s not too hard to see why she would be. As played by Khary Payton (best know to comic fans as Cyborg in the Teen Titans and Aqualad in the Young Justice animated series), the guy’s charismatic as all hell, even if her initial impression of him is that he’s a certifiable loon. But her reaction is entirely justified given the sheer number of cult leaders Carol and her friends have had the misfortune to encounter, all of whom appeared more capable and grounded than than the affected Ezekiel.
This changes, of course, when she tries to sneak out of the Kingdom; after a hilarious sequence in which she steals a knife, some slacks, and a chocolate bar while his people rehearse a church-hymnal version of Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” He immediately sees through her “sweet and innocent act” and recognizes the fact that she’s smart enough to see through his bullshit. She’s a kindred spirit, so he tells her the truth about his origins. It turns out he was once a zookeeper who saved the life of one of the zoo’s few surviving animals, Shiva. He was also a regional theater actor who’d portrayed any number of rulers on stage, and who channeled his experience into becoming the leader he saw people yearning for in a time of crisis. “Maybe they need the fairy tale,” he tells her. Well, at least his real name’s Ezekiel.
What’s especially appreciated is this episode’s placement in the season. After last week’s physical and emotional slaughter, I’m not sure I could take any more graphic depictions of human suffering, and “The Well” couldn’t be further removed from “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” Ezekiel’s advice to Carol, “Where there’s life, there’s hope,” may be cliched, but the mere thought, directed towards the show’s audience as much as its heroine, is no less welcome at this point in The Walking Dead‘s history.
The question that lingers is whether or not Ezekiel and Carol (because, if that tiny smile she flashes him at episode’s end is any indication, she now has his back) can motivate his people to rise up against the Saviors–because the time is fast approaching when they’ll have no choice. Negan may be evil incarnate, but he’s no dope. So it shouldn’t take him long to realize the guts of those pigs his people were given were filled with walkers.
— “I don’t know what the hell’s going on in the most wonderful way.”
— She might find her situation infuriating, but can anyone recall the last time we heard Carol laugh?
— Ezekiel’s Kingdom is an insanely refreshing break from every other community we’ve visited on The Walking Dead. One that offers whimsy and warmth instead of fear and grittiness. Right down to the king’s quotes stenciled on walls in old English typeface.
— “I found a way to deal with the bad by going a little overboard with the good.”
— “I think you’re my favorite person I ever knocked out. Definitely top two or three.” Aw, Morgan. You really do say the sweetest things.
— I gotta be honest… There’s a part of me that would be that would be more than happy to see The Walking Dead, for the remainder of its run, focus solely on chronicling the merry old adventures of Carol, Morgan, and Ezekiel. AMC, if you’re listening, can this please be your next spinoff show?
What did you think of this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter (@JMaCabre).