“I ain’t no King. I ain’t nothing. I’m just some guy.”
Since his introduction last season Khary Payton’s King Ezekiel has been one of the most compelling characters on the show. His dual persona – charismatic King from another time and humble every-man – has always been entertaining to watch, partly thanks to Payton’s brilliant performance of the character, and this week’s episode explores the idea of Ezekiel’s identities competing further.
The episode opens with an intimate sequence focused on Ezekiel as a he prepares himself for the mission that unraveled (and is still unravelling) in the previous instalment. He washes himself, prepares those mighty-fine dreads of his and assembles his combat outfit before delivering yet another speech – we’re in at least one-per-episode territory now – but it’s, as ever, a charming performance from Payton.
A clever match cut takes us from Ezekiel being embraced by his community pre-war to him trapped under a pile of his gunned-down men. If Ezekiel’s honest-to-goodness compassion wasn’t already clear, we watch him as he mourns his fallen followers, who slowly begin to reanimate around him. As we all know by now, death always packs two punches in The Walking Dead.
As Ezekiel fends off his lifeless soldiers, it is revealed that the Saviors who shot those men were using two Gatling guns – a couple of very valuable weapons in the war. Luckily for the good guys, Carol (Melissa McBride) is on her way to deliver an ass-whooping. She unleashes her inner ninja, hides in the ceiling whilst the Saviors pack away the guns and takes them as they leave the building.
Meanwhile, Ezekiel has been captured by a Savior eager to please Negan. “Hell look at that, you got ’em all killed yet they still following you,” he points out whilst the walkers close in on them. But one of ’em ain’t dead – Jerry (Cooper Andrews), AKA Deus-Axe-Machina, slices the Savior in half. Less than 100 metres away Carol is in the middle of a fire fight with a couple of remaining Saviors who are trying to get away with the Gatling guns. Carol is presented with a choice: save Ezekiel and Jerry from the horde or stop the Saviors from getting away with the guns. She ultimately chooses Ezekiel and Jerry, and whilst this might appear as a sign of Carol willing to getting involved with the lives of others again, there is also another reason for her decision…
Cue Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) in hot pursuit of the guns in jeep and motorbike respectively. It all goes a bit Mad Max again in the most glorious way as the Saviors unveil a Gatling gun on the back of their truck pointed in Rick and Daryl’s direction. The three vehicles snake down down an empty highway in high-octane fashion, with our (anti)heroes weaving and dodging the Gatling bullets. It’s a neat little sequence elevated by a brilliant soundtrack of intense crashing symbols. Daryl manages to take out the man behind the Gatling thanks to a strategic misdirect by Rick, who is then able to jump aboard the Saviors’ truck and kill the driver. It’s yet another victory for the good guys, which is yet another refreshing decision by the show, who have come accustomed to doom and gloom by this point.
We end the episode how it began, with Ezekiel. He is reluctantly escorted to safety by Carol and Jerry but he insists they leave him when his injury becomes too overwhelming for him to walk and a group of walkers stuck in a toxic vac become a little too much to handle. He demands that Carol and Jerry leave him to fend off the walkers believing his fake status as a king does not matter, that he is just “some guy”. As the words leave his mouth he is instantly proved wrong as Shiva, who had been missing the whole episode, pounces in to save the trio. Shiva proves Ezekiel is not just “some guy,” he is a symbol and Shiva, her complete loyalty to him, is a part of that, she makes him transcend normalcy and become someone to follow.
It is extremely heartbreaking, then, when Shiva is devoured to death by the walkers leaving Ezekiel, and us, devastated. It is one of the most upsetting deaths on the show and it leaves Ezekiel’s mental state in question. The episode ends with the trio returning to The Kingdom, the community eager to greet them and shocked to see only three men return. This time Ezekiel has no speech for them, he simply hangs his head and walks home.
This week’s episode is very much Ezekiel’s episode. It is a delight to see the character developed a bit further and his arc in this episode will certain make the coming weeks interesting in terms of what role Ezekiel will play as the war continues. It is also nice to see Payton rewarded for his excellent work so far with an episode dedicated to giving him a large platform to display those talents.
All in all it was yet another well-paced instalment from the series so far. The season certainly seems to be committed to respecting the wartime narrative with episodes focused on the effects it has on the characters involved and the strategic plotting of each aspect to Rick’s grand plan for defeating The Saviors. Time will tell but this may prove to be the show’s best season yet.