Things were going so well for The Walking Dead allies. They’d brought war right to Negan’s doorstep. They’d cleared scores of his outposts. They’d even taken numerous Savior captives. And they did it, as King Ezekiel loudly proclaimed, without losing a single soldier. But endless winning isn’t sustainable. First Aaron lost Eric to Savior gunfire. Then the weapons cache Rick and Daryl were desperate to locate slipped through their grasp. And finally, King Ezekiel saw his entire army mowed down in a matter of seconds. There was no joy in Mudville (and this time it didn’t have anything to do with a bat).
We begin with a flashback of the Kingdom preparing for battle. In near silence, King Ezekiel oils his dreads, gets dressed and, most importantly, dons his King persona. His soldiers say goodbye to their loved ones: an aged father, a young son, a baby girl. They are no longer just faces in a crowd. They are individuals with vibrant lives and bright futures. King Ezekiel gathers his subjects for a rousing speech. His words give them courage and unite them in their mission. They will win. They will return victorious. They converge on their King and we’re gifted with an aerial shot of a jubilant group embrace. And then we’re back on the battlefield. The group embrace is now a pile of dead bodies. These individuals, with lives and backstories, are now pieces of meat, their futures extinguished.
A hand reaches out from the bottom of the pile. King Ezekiel survived! He looks around the battle zone, his heart breaking with each lifeless body he discovers. He did’t lose a single soldier. He lost them all. As the corpses of his people reanimate, the King fights his own internal battle. He did this. He tricked these people into believing a zookeeper was a King. His hubris led to this carnage. Wounded, all he can do is crawl from body to body, each death an additional burden on his soul. Just as Ezekiel is ready to give up, Alvaro arrives to protect his King. Ezekiel doesn’t thinks he’s worthy. To him, the King is dead. Luckily, Alvaro doesn’t see it that way.
Inside the compound, a group of Saviors disengage the weapon that wiped out the Kingdom army. They’re in a frenzy. The Sanctuary has put out an alert: Negan needs help. Unfortunately, none of them scheduled a visit from Carol. Hiding in the ceiling panels, she takes out a foursome with one swipe of her automatic. Her cover blown, Carol races through empty hallways, one step ahead of the remaining Saviors. She watches them load the weapon cache Rick and Daryl were searching for into a Jeep. Now it’s on her to keep those weapons from reaching the Sanctuary. She starts a five on one gun battle. The noise draws walkers that bounce against the fence.
Alvaro guides a limping King away from the Kingdom walkers. A shot rings out and Ezekiel loses his last remaining soldier. A grinning Jeffrey Dahmer takes Alvaro’s place. Negan has put a bounty on King Ezekiel’s head. The serial killer Savior is downright gleeful over his lucky find. After trudging along just ahead of the walker horde, King Ezekiel drops to the ground. He’d rather be eaten by walkers than let Negan use him against his people. Jeffrey Dahmer scoffs. He hits the grieving King where it hurts, calling him a meaningless con man in a costume. He vocalizes all of the fears that have been plaguing Ezekiel since the Kingdom massacre. A lifeless shell of a man, he allows Dahmer to lead him away. They reach the fence of the outpost in time to hear Carol’s shootout. When Dahmer can’t open the gate, he decides getting King Ezekiel’s head over the fence will be easier than his whole body. Ezekiel braces for the killshot. Instead, Dahmer splits in half. It’s Jerry and his battle axe to the rescue!
Jerry is intent on protecting his King. Ezekiel tells him he doesn’t have to call him that anymore. Jerry, looking more serious than we’ve ever seen him, Disagrees. “Dude, yes I do.” The war isn’t over. The Kingdom still needs it’s King. Jerry tries to break the gate chains to no avail. He even uses his battle axe as a lever but only manages to snap the head off. Now they’re trapped and down a weapon. As the approaching horde stumbles closer, Jerry and Ezekiel stand side by side, with sword and axe handle raised to fight as long as they can.
Getting low on ammo, Carol concocts a plan. She gives herself up, playing weak and scared. A Savior advances to take her into custody and she grabs him. With a knife to his neck, she orders the other guns down. The problem is, Saviors only have loyalty to Negan so they shoot at both of them. Carol uses the Savior’s body as a shield and manages to hit the switch that opens an automatic gate. The Saviors are so focused on Carol, they don’t see the walkers lurching behind them until it’s too late. The last two Saviors hide behind their Jeep. Carol warns them they’re not leaving with the guns. And she means it, until she sees Jerry and Ezekiel trapped against the fence. Now she has to decide: save her friends or keep weapons of mass destruction away from Negan. As Carol runs to Jerry and Ezekiel’s aid, the Saviors drive away with the weapons. Ezekiel is terrified that the guns will get to Negan. Carol hears the familiar whine of a motorcycle and knows those weapons aren’t going anywhere.
Rick and Daryl chase the Saviors in the Jeep. The back drops down and a Savior has a machine gun pointed straight at them. Daryl slides off the side of the road but Rick continues. He grits his teeth, flares his nostrils and drives in a zigzag pattern. The Jeep hits some walkers and the impact sends the shooter sliding. Rick sees his opening and speeds up. His truck engine gets hit but Daryl is right behind him to shoot the gunner. Now it’s Rick versus the driver. Rick jumps from his truck into the Jeep. He stabs the driver, sends the Jeep off course and jumps out just in time. Daryl finds him climbing up the embankment. Mission accomplished: they got the guns.
Carol and Jerry lug a wounded King Ezekiel along the train tracks. The King is broken in body and spirit and he wants them to abandon him to his fate. They refuse to even consider it. They enter the forest and come upon a creek full of walkers. Ezekiel doesn’t see how they can get through it carrying him and begs them to save themselves. At this point, they’re not even listening to his protestations anymore. When it looks like they’re going to be swarmed, Ezekiel offers to distract the walkers so they can get away. Jerry refuses. Ezekiel is his King, after all. “No I’m not!” Ezekiel screams. The Kingdom is just a fantasy. The gully full of walkers, that’s reality. Ezekiel has lost everything that mattered to him. He can’t fake it any longer. “I ain’t no King. I ain’t nothing. I’m just some guy. Some guy who found…” He’s interrupted by Shiva, jumping into the gully. She does the job that Ezekiel wanted to do: she distracts the walkers so the others can escape. And just like Ezekiel was going to, she does it by offering her life. As Ezekiel howls in pain, the walkers devour Shiva. Now the King has lost everything.
The Kingdom gates swing wide to welcome Ezekiel, Jerry and Carol home. A crowd gathers, desperate for news of their loved ones. Ezekiel looks at them silently. For the first time since they’ve known him, The King doesn’t have the words to comfort his people.
Next week: With war raging all around him, we get a close look at Negan and the lives of the Saviors during the conflict through a familiar set of eyes.