Some Guy – After his people are massacred by the heavy guns, King Ezekiel is left with nothing but self-doubt while Carol desperately tries to stop the guns leaving the outpost and breaking the siege on The Sanctuary.
While last week’s heavy caliber cliff-hanger was good, this episode’s opening has it thoroughly beaten. Whenever The Walking Dead gives an extended pre-titles sequence, it tends to be special but this somber flashback through the eyes of King Ezekiel is something else. Everything about it builds upon and raises the impact of The Kingdom’s casualties and the mindset of Ezekiel having led them to ruin: The silent shots soldiers bidding farewell to loved ones, the dramatic uplifting speech by Ezekiel, promising them victory and echoing the, “yet I smile” sentiments from prior episodes. Even a glimpse behind the curtain as we see him suiting up for the day, finished by fixing that fake smile in the mirror. It all sets up perfectly for the cleverly placed cut back to the present as the actor faces reality. It also conjures some of the best horror scenes this season. The sheer guilt and driven terror on Ezekiel’s face, as his people start returning from the dead to discuss recent events over dinner, is utterly captivating and worth 2 prior weeks of build.
These themes continue well through the episode as Ezekiel is mocked and ridiculed by The Saviours for being nothing more than a con man and fraud. Khary Payton offers some great little tentative expressions to portray such consideration. With all seemingly lost the man now finds himself asking, was the king a symbol to inspire hope or merely a guise to ensure his protection? It conjures mullet free memories of Eugene lying to Abraham for his survival in fear of personal weakness. This culminates nicely in ultimately showing that The Kingdom’s falsehood was a 2-way street. That many, “loyal subjects” know exactly who Ezekiel is... and isn’t. Yet believing in something beyond themselves, like him, helps these people deal with their more horrific reality. Could you almost call him The Kingdom’s Father Christmas? Although, as with most things in life, Jerry says it best, “You don’t have to call me that.... yes I do, dude”. It’s like a more positive (all be it in tragedy) take on Firefly’s Janestown. The only difference is Ezekiel built his own statue. In many ways, this is an episode that’s been on the cards ever since the man and his tiger first roared on to our screens last season. You could almost call this an easy win that the show has had up its sleeve but this so easily could have been terrible. Instead the directorial debut of veteran Walking Dead editor, Dan Liu takes us on a fantastic emotion journey that leaves its feature character in a fascinating new position.
Partially due to comparisons of recent weeks, this episode feels very slow-paced in places. Despite being a single-location story, it frequently lacks the flow of the last 2 weeks and their flicking between multiple stories. The middle section also feels a little uneventful compared to the opening flurry. The on-screen emotional content is still good but with the two featured characters of Ezekiel and Carol quickly getting stopped in their tracks the story feels like it’s spinning its wheels for a while. Speaking of Carol, we see her dip back into her always enjoyable Rambo mode against The Saviours; even working in a little of her innocent Stepford Wives routine too. I liked the parallels that writer David Leslie Johnson drew between Carol and Ezekiel. The way Ezekiel chose to become a leader out of his circumstances is just like how Carol chose to become a killing machine when people needed her in the same way. The climatic action was a very pleasant fist pumping surprise with several awesome moments.
While at times I found myself wanting more from this episode I have no qualms about the deeper exploration of Ezekiel it delivered. When compared to cheese-making with Morgan or many other single-character deep-dives, it stands regally superior. The season continues to progress well.... but is anyone else missing Jeffrey Dean Morgan? Let’s catch up with his bro down with Gabriel pretty soon, please.