After last week’s relentlessly dark and brutal season premiere left half of the show’s fan base traumatized, ‘The Walking Dead’ immediately shifts gears with an episode that’s dramatically lighter in tone and introduces us to one of its most colorful characters yet.
If you want to find out how the deaths of Abraham and Glenn will affect Rick and the gang, you’ll have to wait at least another week (or possibly more). The season’s second episode checks in with Carol and Morgan. As we last saw them, Carol had been attacked and shot in both an arm and a leg by a vengeful member of the Savior group. Morgan killed the Savior, violating his own personal moral code to save Carol. Just then, a pair of men wearing body armor, one of them on horseback, rode up and offered to help.
The episode starts without much dialogue. A half-conscious Carol lies in a cart being towed by the horse. Morgan stops frequently to mark their path by carving symbols into trees, telephone poles and mailbox posts. The combination of body armor and the lances they carry makes the strangers look somewhat reminiscent of old-fashioned knights, which turns out to be intentional. Carol wakes up to find the men fighting off a horde of zombies. Delusional, she runs off, hallucinating that the zombies are living people. Morgan stops her before she gets herself killed, and a cavalry of the strangers’ friends arrive to help clean up the zombies.
Carol next wakes up in a bed. Morgan tells her that she was unconscious for two days. They were brought to a thriving community, complete with a farm, a school, and a lot of kids running around. The people seem friendly. Morgan says that they call the place “The Kingdom.” He brings her to meet its leader, a man who goes by the name King Ezekiel. “He does his own thing,” Morgan warns her. Carol is left speechless when she sees this king, a formidable black man with long dreadlocks, lounging on a throne upon a stage with a tiger sitting by his side (a combination of animatronics and CGI, done pretty well). He speaks like someone who belongs at a Renaissance Faire, while a sidekick named Jerry cracks jokes. “Perhaps you think me mad?” Ezekiel asks the still silent Carol. “What do you think of the king?”
Carol blurts out with a laugh, “I don’t know what the hell is going on, in the most wonderful way!”
Carol puts on her sweet and innocent act and says she’s honored to be in the presence of royalty, then claims to need some more rest. However, as Morgan wheels her back to her room, Carol makes it very clear to him that she thinks this place is a farce and she wants to get the hell out of there. Morgan isn’t surprised, but begs her to stay for at least a few days to recover.
Ezekiel asks Morgan to join him on an expedition outside the community. Some distance away, they round up wild pigs and herd them into a building where the pigs eat still-thrashing zombies that have been captured and trussed-up as feed for them. Ezekiel asks Morgan to keep this a secret from the rest of the community. He also requests that Morgan train a young protégé named Ben on how to fight with a staff. Ben has proven fairly incompetent with guns and edged weapons, but Ezekiel hopes that Morgan can instill some aikido discipline into him.
Still committed to her Suzy Homemaker charade, Carol surreptitiously steals things she needs, including a knife and some clothes. Morgan gets to know Ben, who may be a lousy fighter but is quite bright (he says that he’s read every book in the village twice) and tries very hard to learn from him.
On their next expedition, Morgan learns that Ezekiel is fattening up the pigs with rotted meat and slaughtering them as payment to the Saviors. He does this far away from town because he fears that his people would want to fight the Saviors if they knew what was really going on, and he believes it to be a much better plan to keep the peace. If the Saviors should get sick from the tainted meat, well, they get what they deserve.
Morgan returns to town to find Carol missing from her room. That night, Ezekiel catches her stealing fruit from the garden. He sends his people away and asks to have a word alone with her. He tells Carol that he can see right through her naïve and helpless routine, and pushes her to tell him what she’s really thinking. Carol calls him a joke and accuses him of selling a fairy tale to his people.
Ezekiel then drops his own act and speaks in a normal voice. He admits that he’s been putting on a performance, because “People want someone to follow.” Before the apocalypse, he was a zookeeper. He saved the tiger’s life and it has remained loyal to him. He keeps it around even though it eats as much as ten men because the intimidation it offers is invaluable. He got the idea for the King Ezekiel character from doing community theater. “I faked it till I made it,” he confesses.
Ezekiel confides in all this in Carol because he sees something in her and wants her to stay. She insists that she still needs to leave, even if she has no destination or goals in mind. She just needs to be away from other people for a while. Ezekiel suggests that there might be a way for her to, “Go but not go.”
The next morning, Morgan rides with Carol out to the gate at the edge of the community. Just on the other side of the gate is a house they had passed on the way in. Carol clears out a zombie inside and moves in. This is her way of going without going. She can be away from the others and can leave if she needs to, but can also still stay close and be part of the community if she wants. Ezekiel and the tiger show up at her door to offer a housewarming gift.
This episode represents a necessary come-down after the sickening horror of the season premiere. It’s much quieter, with the only deaths being zombies and pigs. It also reassures viewers that at least a couple of the show’s main characters are doing just fine, while bringing aboard some interesting (and friendly!) new ones. Not everything in this world has gone completely to shit after all.
That said, could this be too much of an over-correction too soon? Is it really OK to laugh this week when we just saw Glenn’s head smashed into pulp? Don’t we need more time to grieve?
I see no reason at the moment to suspect that Ezekiel is lying to Carol or Morgan, but I do have to wonder what kind of leader reveals his biggest secrets to total strangers so soon after meeting them?