Warning: Spoilers are ahead for the season eight of The Walking Dead. Keep reading at your own risk.
On Sunday we watched Ezekiel, Head of the Kingdom, Speaker of Shakespeare, and Father of Tigers, finally get dethroned. While the lead up to Ezekiel dropping his theatrics was a gory, traumatic, and all around sad affair, I couldn’t help but also think, thank god. The truth is, I never quite warmed to Ezekiel. I didn’t like how his whole shtick strained credulity. While The Walking Dead requires a certain suspension of disbelief, within the show the characters and situations always felt quite grounded. I accepted that Hershel thought his turned loved ones could be cured; that the Governor was unable to let his dead daughter go and kept her chained; and that some people would, yes, resort to cannibalism when food got scarce. Walkers aside, The Walking Dead gave us a believable look at how people might act in a world-ending situation like this and I loved the show for it.
But that suspension nearly broke with King Ezekiel. In a post apocalypse scenario, it was difficult to believe that people would want to pretend to live in a fiefdom and take comfort in a leader who only spoke in Early Modern English. Then there was the tiger. Tigers are awesome, don’t get me wrong, but a pet tiger is bound to feel out of place in just about any show. The show also never explained how Shiva knew who to attack; in season eight she joins the battlefield, and it’s hard to accept that Ezekiel just lets her loose and she knows which humans are from the Hilltop and Alexandria. There’s a fine line between believable and ludicrous in fiction, and all of this crossed the line for me.
The times I connected most with Ezekiel were, of course, when he dropped the act. One could argue that as the audience — as the assumed members of Rick’s group — we’re not meant to buy into Ezekiel’s theatrics, and that our point-of-view character for the situation has always been Carol. When Ezekiel approached her in season seven and admitted he does what he does to make people feel safe, and that safe people are “less dangerous, more productive,” I finally felt like I understood him. Ezekiel slouching on a couch with Carol, speaking in his native Southern vernacular and admitting he was a zookeeper who did community theater made him a three-dimensional, interesting character, one I wanted to get to know more.
Yet we don’t see much of that Ezekiel going into season eight. Ezekiel leads his people into battle with overblown promises and a wide grin, one that becomes more strained as his act takes its toll. For the last three episodes, his character largely fell flat, with his cheerful attitude in the face of slaughter feeling wholly out of step with everyone else. The fact that Ezekiel was maintaining appearances even while getting shot at felt unbelievable, and Carol’s pensive face throughout the episodes was probably a sign to us that it wasn’t meant to last. And it didn’t.
In “Some Guy,” we find out the garrison Ezekiel is approaching is actually where the guns that Rick was looking for are being held. We also find out they have at least two mounted machine guns, and the Saviors use them to decimate Ezekiel’s army. Ezekiel’s promises to his people of “we shall end them all” and “not one man lost” turn to ash as Ezekiel wakes up under a pile of his people’s bloody bodies. The transition of showing Ezekiel being surrounded by the Kingdomers in a group hug to seeing him buried under their bodies is a startling contrast, one that works incredibly well. Even later we watch Shiva get killed, taking away everything he had left. Here is Ezekiel, broken–no longer a king, but just “some guy.”
David Leslie Johnson wrote this episode, and his character-focused writing has created some of the strongest and most intriguing moments of the show. He wrote “Swear,” when Tara went off and found the Oceanside, the community of all women; “Triggerfinger,” when Rick first broke his “we don’t kill humans” rule and killed the two men at the bar with Hershel and Glenn; and my favorite, “Chupacabra,” the Daryl-focused episode where he confronted how his upbringing has negatively affected him. “Some Guy” benefits from Johnson’s hand as Ezekiel, a character who’s largely been a caricature up til now, finally comes into full focus.
Watching Ezekiel break down is painful to watch, but it also feels necessary to his longevity on the show. We finally see Ezekiel react as a real human being to a horrible situation. As a character-centric show, The Walking Dead is at its most interesting when we see people break–when we see what hurts them, what they fear, what makes them tick. In the wake of his loss, Ezekiel is distraught, but now that we’re seeing the real him, we can be assured he’s likely to stick around for a while.
For being somebody who never quite liked Ezekiel, this is by far my favorite episode of the season. It was focused and quietly affecting and harkened back to the kind of episodes that made me fall in love with the show. At the hands of director Dan Liu, we got some gorgeous shots–the opening scenes of Ezekiel’s morning routine, and then later, Shiva’s blood running through the water–that lent well to the writing. I’m excited to see where they’ll take Ezekiel’s character from here.
What did you think of “Some Guy?” Share your opinions in the comments.