One of the things I've always tried to give The Walking Dead serious credit for is that when they have these episodes that introduce a new group or a new safe haven, they're usually really well-executed. Season 3's "Walk With Me," our first appearance of Woodbury and The Governor, was a perfect introduction and foil to Team Family and the prison as it helped really give off this vibe of a safe, heaven-like home to escape the walkers and people; you could make the same case for Alexandria in Season 5's "Remember," an episode I personally have among my top 10.
Our first real introduction to Terminus in the Season 4 finale "A," similarly, helped give off the mysterious, creepy vibe that the place was supposed to represent. When you introduce a new place or group, you need to set a tone and properly establish just who or what our main characters are dealing with. Can the people be saved or turned into good people, or are they a lost cause at this point in the apocalypse? Is their leader one that could rival Rick Grimes, or is he just a puppet that is lying to his people?
Well, that's what we need to find out in "The Well," an episode that introduces us to King Ezekiel and The Kingdom. Was "The Well" another awesome introductory episode, or did it make us want to just let Shiva the tiger tear us apart piece by piece?
As always, now is when I should say that there is a MAJOR spoiler warning about this episode's events. If you're alright with reading on, then hop on your horse, find a cool looking tiger, and let's travel to...The Kingdom.
Tonight, thankfully, was the return of what I call awesome Carol - not to mention the excellent acting by Melissa McBride after a bit of a subpar finish for both at the end of Season 6. From Carol playing possum again like she did with the
Shatnerians Alexandrians to more of her "the reason you suck" speeches to Morgan, McBride was absolutely fantastic on Sunday night in what I'd argue was honestly one of her best episodes over these past seven seasons. No one is going to argue that the "woe is me, this life is bad" act from Carol wore down a lot last season, but what we saw tonight seemed to almost make up for that entirely; she's still a broken woman, but she's also regained enough of her identity to call Morgan out for the "circus" that The Kingdom happens to be.
Carol is best not when she's mowing down walkers or murdering humans, but when she's tricking people and putting on that smirk of hers. Telling Ezekiel to his face that "this place is a joke" and that he's "selling people a fairytale" is the Carol we need to see because it's the Carol that has been built up since the quarry in Atlanta; she is one of the few people in this world who knows what needs to be done - chances are that if she'd never reunited with the group after her exile, she'd have fully let the anger and darkness consume her, maybe turning her into a female version of Negan that traded bloodlust for manipulation - and that's why tonight's episode worked. If the writers kept up the "my life sucks" belief that Carol has in 6B, this episode would have been forgettable aside from a giant, CGI tiger.
Hands down, though, nothing is going to beat Carol "crying" about The Kingdom having cobbler at every meal. Get Melissa McBride an Emmy, now!
Speaking of The Kingdom, getting to finally see the newest after some speculation over the summer was...interesting. Where else in the apocalypse have we seen a full-on school, a choir practice, and a movie night? Credit has to go to AMC for making each of the three main safe-zones we've seen so far - Alexandria, The Hilltop, and The Kingdom - looks fantastic on screen and mimic their comic book counterparts. Truthfully, the last time I felt this good about what I've seen of a new place from everything to the characters to the dynamic was Woodbury - or, as I call it, one of the few things Season 3 did right.
Do I have concerns about The Kingdom, especially since they're dealing with The Saviors and already have a tense relationship? Yes, and you'd be silly not to have any concerns about a safe haven in the apocalypse, but I get a vibe from The Kingdom that I haven't had about any of the other groups we've met so far really since Woodbury; you have people who actually know how to handle themselves and aren't going to take things without a fight the way Gregory and the Hilltop did, the way the Alexandrians started to when Rick took over. If Morgan becomes a general of sorts for The Kingdom and teaches them the art of Aikido - something I'll discuss later this week - than Negan and friends may actually have a problem on their hands.
As for Khary Payton, the man tasked with bringing Ezekiel to life, I honestly thought his performance was a bit forced. I get it: King Ezekiel is supposed to be this larger-than-life figure, a character straight out of a fairytale with a throne and an animal by his side, but Payton was just a bit too strong in the role. It was almost like when they were writing the episode, Scott Gimple and Robert Kirkman were standing on the side of the auditorium or the "pig house," telling Payton to put more emphasis on his lines and act like he was the king in a Disney movie.
But, that's a problem right there: this isn't a Disney movie, it's The Walking Dead and these major characters you introduce need to feel realistic. You're probably thinking to yourself, "Jake, how do you make a dreadlocked man with a tiger realistic?" and I think it comes down to the following:
- Body language.
- How they handle walkers.
- How they handle humans.
- How they handle what's inside the walls.
I don't know how much of that has to do with the lines he was given - I actually found myself cringing after some of the things he said to Carol during their introduction - because Payton as an actor seems like the perfect fit for Ezekiel; his stance and how he carries himself truly screams that of a king, as do his warm, encouraging eyes. I thought one of Ezekiel's best moments was when he looked into Morgan's eyes as the two discussed the Savior that Morgan shot at the end of Season 6...and then it was ruined by him raising his arms in triumph after. What?
I will give Ezekiel/Payton some credit, though, because the trade scene with the Saviors was extremely well done. Maybe it's because we're seven seasons into a show where seriousness nearly always reigns supreme, but after one episode, I think I'd rather see Ezekiel as that type of serious, cunning man than one who tries to put on this flamboyant, king-like act. It's early, and maybe that opinion will change after a few more episodes, but that serious side from Payton just worked so much better in my opinion than anything else he did.
I love Shiva and the auditorium, but hey, give me Ezekiel telling Richard to back down and not turn the Savior into the next Glenn over some preaching nonsense.
As always, time for some stray thoughts and observations.
- I guess there was some kind of confusion after last week's episode that tonight's episode would be called "The Kingdom" due to previews being named that rather than "The Well." Was there a miscommunication? Did someone title the video clips The Kingdom because they introduce us to the newest safe haven?
- Speaking of last week, we did get a new opening tonight...kind of. We got some new scenes in the opening - most of it is still the same format from the past two seasons - but the iron and flame with Jeffrey Dean Morgan is an awesome touch. Something I'm also a fan of? Alanna Masterson, Josh McDermitt, and Christian Serratos all being added to the opening lineup as they replace Steven Yeun and Michael Cudlitz. Welcome to prime time, friends.
- "I forgot to say that Ezekiel...has a tiger." When Morgan allows himself to have a little fun and act like someone who isn't in the zombie apocalypse, he makes for such a lovable, adorable character. If you're bummed out I didn't talk much about Morgan, don't worry - I'll have something on him in the next couple days. Like with Abraham and Glenn's deaths last week, I thought there were other things that needed to take precedence in the review than Morgan because, let's face it, everything we saw from him tonight is deserving of its own piece.
- I hope everyone else caught that writing on the wall in the background of the cafeteria: the dead are alive. Obviously, that refers to the walkers, but could that be a reference to how the "dead" - the people in this world - are alive as well? Speculate in the comments and let me know.
- "Never bulls**t a bulls**ter." Ezekiel, have you been spending time with my mom? That is one of the most common Jewish mothers saying, which makes me now wonder if The Kingdom celebrates The Sabbath.
- I can't wait for the Ezekiel/Carol shippers to start getting to work on their fan fictions after that fireside chat.
- Tainting the pig meat with walker blood... I love it, man.
- Tonight's title: "The Well" refers to the quote on the infirmary wall that says "Drink from the well, replenish the well" but I'm also interpreting it as the mind state of the Kingdomans (it doesn't roll off the tongue the way Shatnerians does) compared to Carol. By the looks of things, they're all "well" in the mind, but Carol? She views them as weak - or not well - due to her own state of mind which isn't well.
Next week, we travel to another new survivor's compound: The Sanctuary, where Daryl is currently held as a prisoner. Here's a sneak peak, courtesy of AMC's YouTube channel.
[Featured Image by AMC]