Well, what did everyone think of the 2nd episode of the 7th season of The Walking Dead? After all the violence and darkness of the premiere, The Well felt like a different beast altogether. In fact, there were times when I had a hard time believing that I was watching the same series, the tone of The Well was so entirely different from the previous episode.
Essentially, we got to find out what Carol and Morgan were doing while Abraham and Glenn were being killed by Negan. They were discovering yet another settlement of survivors. This settlement, known as The Kingdom, was ruled over by King Ezekiel and his pet tiger, Shiva.
Judging from twitter, it would appear that over a thousand people fell in love with King Ezekiel last night. (Even more fell in love with Shiva.) And I don’t blame them. As played by Khary Payton, Ezekiel was a breath of fresh — if possibly insane — air. He was exactly what the world of The Walking Dead needs. He’s a leader who sincerely cares about his people but, unlike Negan, he’s not a sociopath. At the same time, he’s also not totally ineffectual and, after what we saw with Rick last week, that was a welcome development.
When he was first introduced, Ezekiel seemed like a comical, buffoonish character. After all, he frequently spoke like a bad Shakespearean actor. He was given to broad pronouncements. He sat on a throne. He carried a sword, called himself a king, and often seemed like he was auditioning for a Renaissance Faire. But as the episode progressed, we started to see that Ezekiel was far more intelligent than he first appeared. As he told Carol, he knew he and his followers were living in a fantasy world but that fantasy was far more preferable than dwelling on the state of the world. Over the course of an hour, Ezekiel went from being a joke to being a symbol of hope.
It was interesting to compare Ezekiel and his fantasy world to both Negan and Rick. Though neither one of them would ever admit it, both Negan and Rick have also built up a fantasy world for themselves. In Negan’s fantasy, his own sadism is justified by the state of the world. Negan has created a world where being a sociopath is a heroic act. Meanwhile, Rick continues to cling to the fantasy that, somehow, things can still go back to being the way that they were before the dead rose. It’s no coincidence that, after seeing both Glenn and Abraham die, Rick immediately started to fantasize about a future where Glenn and Abraham were still alive and everyone was sitting down for a happy picnic. In the end, Ezekiel is set apart by the fact that, of all the leaders, he is the only one willing to admit that he’s living in a fantasy.
As of right now, if I had to pledge allegiance to anyone in The Walking Dead, I would pledge it to King Ezekiel. And it appears that Carol is about to do the same thing. Either that or Carol’s going to decide to kill him just because she can. It’s difficult to predict with Carol.
(Sidenote: While the episode was stolen by Khary Payton, Melissa McBride also contributed some of her strongest work yet. Her amazement upon being initially confronted with Ezekiel’s Kingdom was brilliantly conveyed.)
Last week, a lot of people told me that, after spending an hour watching Negan torture Rick and kill Glenn and Abraham, they were done with The Walking Dead. I’ll be curious to know if any of them watched last night’s episode and whether it changed their mind. Much like Carol, the show must now make a choice. Will its future resemble the first episode of the season or will it resemble The Well?
Now, I have to admit that, at times, I found The Well to be a little bit slow. I liked it but I didn’t love it, at least not the way that some reviewers loved it. (Over on the A.V. Club, both the reviewer and several of the commenters are practically rapturous in their praise.) As fascinating as I found Ezekiel to be, I have to admit that I spent a bit of the episode wishing that I was discovering what was going on with Rick, Maggie, and all the rest. On twitter, I compared it to how, whenever I wanted to know what was going on with Sawyer on Lost, it would be Hurley episode instead.
But, for the most part, I think The Well worked. The Kingdom seems like a nice place to live but we probably shouldn’t get too comfortable with it. Anytime Rick or Carol shows up at a new settlement, that means that death and destruction will soon follow.
We’ll just have to enjoy our time with Shiva while we can!