I know a lot of you were seriously traumatized after last week’s The Walking Dead. It was a rough one. Probably the most brutal episode we’ve seen. Rick and his crew were broken, literally and figuratively. Those of us along for the ride were collateral damage. But there’s always hope. Hope for a new day. Hope for revenge. Hope for Maggie’s baby. Whatever it is that gets you out of bed every morning. And tonight is when The Walking Dead universe starts rebuilding their fractured hope. I, for one, am looking forward to going on that journey.
It looks like we’re starting with Carol and Morgan. Last season, Carol had run away from home. She couldn’t kill anymore and she knew that if she stayed she’d end up fighting to protect someone she loved. Morgan promised Rick he’d find her and bring her home. In typical Walking Dead fashion, Morgan ends up killing a Savior to protect Carol, proving her point better than she ever could. The last we saw, two men on horseback rescued them. Is it possible there are still good people in the zombie apocalypse or is this another trap? Carol weaves in and out of consciousness. Voices and images don’t quite make sense. The carriage she’s riding in is knocked over. Morgan and the knights (for lack of a better word) fight walkers. Carol’s having visions. She sees the walkers as the people they were before they turned. Not in the “look at the flowers, Lizzie” way. More like “now I can’t even kill walkers anymore.” Luckily, more knights on horseback ride in and take care of it for her. On the other hand, she feels like she’s watching people being slaughtered. Carol is having a rough go of things.
After two days of sleep, Carol wakes up to find Morgan watching over her. He wheels her around the Kingdom, a compound of happy families, growing gardens and horses. Lots of horses. Morgan has been participating in community life. He’s already recognized around town. Now he wants Carol to join in, at least until she’s well enough to return to Alexandria. And part of that is meeting the person in charge. “Does this person have a name?” Carol asks. You can tell Morgan is holding something back. She asks again. “Yeah, um… he’s called King Ezekiel.” Even Morgan can’t say it with a straight face. “And, uh, he does his own thing.” Carol doesn’t have patience for his reticence. She wants to know what kind of craziness he’s gotten her into. And then she finds out. King Ezekiel is sitting on a theatre stage, perfectly lit and accompanied by his pet. “Yeah. I, uh, I forgot to say that Ezekiel has a tiger.” Just one little detail, Morgan. Shiva the tiger growls at Carol. She is a magnificent beast. King Ezekiel calms her down. He sounds like a Shakespearean actor doing a monologue. And he speaks in the third person. Curiouser and curiouser. Carol scowls at Morgan. Out of all the situations she’s been in since the world collapsed, this is probably the strangest.
Morgan plays along but King Ezekiel isn’t so sure about Carol. “Do I detect skepticism? Perhaps you think me mad. Perhaps you see this place as nothing more than a mirage. So, tell me, what do you think of the Kingdom, Carol? What do you think of the King?” She launches into an amped up version of her Alexandrian Suzie Homemaker mode. “I think you’re amazing. It’s amazing. And your Sheba…” Ezekiel’s adorable guard corrects the name. “…Shiva. Amazing. I would be speechless if I wasn’t already speaking. I don’t know what the hell’s going on in the most wonderful way.” Morgan tries not to laugh at the absurdity of the opposing performances. Ezekiel explains that he welcomes any and all as long as they contribute. “Drink from the well, replenish the well.” He has his guard, Jerry, bring Carol a fruit basket. “It’s fruit time,” Jerry informs her. But Carol turns him down. Ezekiel encourages her to at least take a pomegranate. “Sweet fruit surrounded by bitter. That’s something of a contradiction but heaven for the effort.” This Ezekiel is a trip. Carol turns him down again. All she needs is more rest, and maybe a hairbrush. “No one told me I’d be meeting royalty.”
As soon as they’re alone again Morgan starts apologizing. Carol stops him. “This place is a damn circus. All of it. These people… this is make-believe. It’s play time.” It’s definitely not for her. She warns him that she’s going to leave as soon as she gets a chance, as soon as his back is turned. He tries to argue but she won’t hear it. She points out that it’s not up to him, it never has been.
Morgan joins King Ezekiel and some knights on a hunting trip. They find pigs wandering abandoned towns, feasting on walkers. As Ezekiel explains, “What was once captive to the farm now runs free in the city.” They herd the pigs into rooms with captive walkers. They’re fattening the pigs on zombie flesh? Talk about tainted meat. Morgan uses his stick on some walkers. Ezekiel notices. He’s a watcher, that King. As they’re leaving, Ezekiel gives a monologue to the walkers. “May we one day cease you all from this curse. ‘Til then know that we live on in your place, full, festive, faithful and free!” One of his knights mutters, “only halfway free.” Hmmm, something is rotten in the state of Denmark (and it’s not just the pig meat). Back at the Kingdom, Ezekiel asks Morgan to train a young knight. I told you he was watching. Morgan tries to say no but Ezekiel is convincing. Especially with flattery. Morgan gives in and Ezekiel beams. “The Kingdom is favored by your presence once more!” He is one charismatic crazy person. Not a bad recipe for a King, I guess.
While Morgan is getting further entrenched in the Kingdom, Carol is stewing and plotting her escape. She wheels around, stealing knives and chocolate where she can. She even uses fake excitement over “breakfast cobbler” to distract people so she can steal clothes. She’s a sneaky sneak, that one.
Ezekiel interrupts Morgan’s training session for an important mission. Jerry reminds him to bring his gun. They end up in an empty parking lot with a truck full of slaughtered pigs. Ezekiel informs Morgan that what they’re doing is a secret from the rest of the Kingdom. Then more trucks drive up. These guys don’t look like knights. Ezekiel talks about their arrangement and his obligations. He’s paying off the Saviors! With pigs fattened on walkers! My estimation just went up a few notches but I’m also super bummed they’re in Negan’s clutches. I guess that’s why they’re only half free. One of the knights starts to explain who they are but Morgan cuts her off. “I know who they are.” And now he sees that the Alexandrians didn’t change anything by attacking the Savior bunker.
Carol is sneaking away but she’s caught by Ezekiel. He seems upset she’s leaving. She tries to make excuses about not being worthy of the Kingdom but it’s only half-hearted. Ezekiel lights a fire and says, “What’s that saying? Never bullshit a bullshitter.” Ooh, this is going to be good. Carol is a little stunned that he sees through her. She laughs. He wants to know what’s so funny. “You’re a joke. This place is. That’s what you do with jokes. You laugh at them.” She accuses him of selling his people a fairy tale. “Maybe they need the fairy tale. Maybe the contradiction is the point.” She isn’t buying it. “Ruling over people and having your ass kissed by everyone is just a perk?” Oh, snap. Ezekiel looks like no one has been this honest with him in a long time. And suddenly he’s just a normal guy. His voice and demeanor completely change. He thinks that people want someone to follow. It makes them feel safe. And people who feel safe are less dangerous. “They see a dude with a tiger, shoooot. They start telling stories about finding it in the wild. Wrestling it into submission. Turning it into his pet. They make the guy larger than life. A hero. Who am I to burst their bubble?” In actuality, he was a zookeeper before things turned. Shiva got injured at the zoo. He knew it would take a while for the vets to show up so he jumped in and helped her, even though she could have killed him for it. Ever since then, she’s loved him. He went back and got her once things turned. “She was the last thing left in this world that I loved. And she protected me. She got me here.”
Carol still wants to leave. “I’m sorry,” Ezekiel tells her. “For whatever bad you’ve been through. So much of it out there now, you know?” He tries to tell her that it’s not all bad. “Where there is life there’s hope. Heroism. Grace. And love. Where there’s life there’s life. I hope that’s not what you’re walking away from.” Ezekiel acknowledges that he deals with the bad by going overboard with the good. He embraces the contradiction. “Maybe you could too, in your own way. Like maybe you could go and not go.” Carol is confused and intrigued. “Why do you care?” she asks. “Because it makes me feel good.”
Morgan takes Carol to a house just outside of the Kingdom gates. He wants to know if this is what she really wants. “It’s up to you. It should have always been up to you.” They have a sweet farewell. She says she’s almost sorry for all the times she tried to shoot and stab him. He says she’s might be his favorite people he’s ever knocked out. “Definitely top two or three.” He heads back to the Kingdom and she goes into the house. She found a way to go and not go. Later that evening, as she’s stoking her fire, there’s a knock on the door. She’s scared and surprised. This kind of thing doesn’t happen in the zombie apocalypse. Then she hears Shiva growl. Ezekiel stands there, pomegranate in hand. “You’ve really got to try one of these.” Kitty went a courtin’…
Next week: It’s going to be another rough one. We get to see what’s going on with Daryl since the Saviors took him.