After such a heavy episode, it’s nice to be reminded that not everything in TWD is dark and depressing. Some of it is still vibrant and cheery.
In episode 702, “The Well,” we’re introduced to the Kingdom, a lavish, well-off community with generally agreeable people. It’s the largest settlement we’ve seen so far in TWD (save for maybe Woodbury) and it’s lead by royalty.
For the most part, the show takes King Ezekiel right off the page, bombast and all. Characters like the Governor and Negan, to a certain extent, need to be tweaked to fit the overall vibe of the show, but being that the Kingdom and Ezekiel are meant to be larger than life in any format, he contrasts nicely against the somber personalities of our heroes.
We discover the Kingdom through Carol’s eyes. As we recall, Carol tries to run away from Alexandria near the end of season 6 because she all of a sudden doesn’t want to kill. Unfortunately, that resolve follows her into season 7, more contrite than ever to leave the chipper confines of the Kingdom to blaze her own trail across the zombie wasteland. Good thing her best friend Morgan there to help think through her decision. He ends up traveling to the Kingdom with Carol and makes friends with Ezekiel and a bunch of Ezekiel’s subjects.
Although I don’t like why it happened (I think Carol suddenly refusing to kill after she’s been a huge badass for so long is stupid and more contrived storytelling), I like that Morgan stumbles on this new group. I had hypothesized before that Tara and Heath would happen upon the Kingdom in their long supply run and come back to Alexandria with new allies right as Rick’s balls were tightest in Negan’s vice, but I guess I was close.
That’s one bit I like the show better for at this point rather than the comic. On the page, after Rick meets Negan, Jesus introduces him to the Kingdom – them and the Hilltop had been buds for a while. That way’s sort of bland; I like that the show saved the Kingdom storyline for a different character and can do a B plot based on them.
Carol has an audience with King Ezekiel in what I call his “throne room,” but is really a middle school auditorium. He sits on a throne, accompanied by his manservant Jerry and best friend, Shiva, a Tiger. Ezekiel speaks in loud, baritone, Shakespearian sentences, keeping with his regal aesthetic. He’s a kind man, offering Carol anything she need as she recovers from her injuries. Carol echoes what everyone at home must be thinking at this moment when she exclaims, “I don’t know what’s going on in the most wonderful way!”
In many aspects, Ezekiel and Negan are very similar. They both have indefinite rule over their communities, they both are highly respected by the people they rule and both of their communities are thriving. But, their main difference is huge and obvious. Ezekiel governs the Kingdom with love and compassion for every single person who contributes. He’s welcoming and accepting of his subjects’ weaknesses, and because of all this, the Kingdom is prosperous. Negan, of course, rules with an iron fist. Though his people respect him, it’s out of fear that they give their respect. Negan’s manufactured the Saviors by stealing, threatening, intimidating and killing all other peoples he’s encountered. King Ezekiel’s Kingdom grew organically. People flocked to Ezekiel because he is a wonderful human and he does tolerate everybody as they are… and he has a tiger.
It’s later in episode 702, when Carol is well enough to hit the road again, Ezekiel has a one-on-one conversation with her to discover just who she really is and express to her who he truly is underneath his grandiose persona. Turns out, he’s just an average guy – a zookeeper before the apocalypse. He rescued Shiva from the zombie-infested zoo and they’ve been together ever since. People saw Ezekiel as some sort of amazing leader because of Shiva by his side, so he adapted to the part. Since the world had gone banana land anyways, Ezekiel and his people decide to cope with tragedy by fawning fantasy.
Unfortunately, the Saviors have their grip on the Kingdom too. Same deal as the Hilltop and Alexandria: produce enough goods and the Saviors won’t kill anybody. Only Ezekiel and his inner circle know about these transactions, though. Ezekiel doesn’t want his community worried that a hostile group is threatening the Kingdom and he’s been managing the threat well so far. They round-up and slaughter wild pigs roaming the nearby town – easy offerings for the Saviors that don’t dip into their community’s supplies. However, before the pigs are killed, Ezekiel’s top knight Richard makes sure the pigs are well fed… with zombie meat. It’s in this small way that we learn the Kingdom isn’t exactly thrilled with theirs and the Savior’s “arrangement.”
The Knights (what I’ve decided to call the Kingdom’s warriors) are ready to fight. There’s a skirmish at the transaction point between Richard and an asshole Savior and they all immediately raise their weapons to the Saviors. As we’ve come to learn from episode 701, even speaking badly towards the Saviors can get you in a whole mess of trouble. It’s Ezekiel who’s holding the Knights back from taking action, but for good reason. The Kingdom is getting along just fine even with the Saviors’ weekly business looming over their heads. Ezekiel won’t disturb the quiet life of his people unless he knows he can win.
Carol leaves the Kingdom to move into some random house away from everybody. I guess she got what she wanted, but is in arm’s length just in case our heroes inevitably need her back. I’m super looking forward to seeing how Rick and the rest of our morose main characters reacts to Ezekiel’s outlandish and optimistic temperament. It’s unknown yet how many fighters the Kingdom has, but it’ll have to be a hell of a lot to help out Rick in the wars to come.