The Walking Dead season 7’s first order of business might be to unmask the victim of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan)’s Lucille swing – and that list may have just been narrowed down in a big way by the actor himself – but there’s another big development on the rise for the Alexandrian survivors in the new season: the introduction of King Ezekiel and his followers in The Kingdom.
The first trailer for season 7, which debuted at Comic-Con, confirmed fan suspicions that Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) would be making acquaintances/allies of the tiger-touting community outside of Hilltop after they’d been rescued by a group of armor-clad dudes on horseback at the tail end of season 6.
Now the actor who’s portraying the self-proclaimed monarch, Khary Payton, has spoken up about what we can expect to see from his take on the beloved comic book character in an interview with EW, and it sounds like Ezekiel fans are in for exactly the kind of existential wisdom the character is known for in its literary iteration. Payton, who admitted to being a fan of the series before auditioning (and figuring out which character he was trying out for, based on the descriptions in the spec scripts), told EW that we can all look forward to a fresh new attitude about the apocalypse from Ezekiel.
“He’s in the business of not losing himself to his surroundings… He’s a guy who doesn’t think of [zombies] as having a physical disease. It’s more that their joy was robbed from them, and that’s he’s one of the few people left on earth whose joy hasn’t been robbed, and to him, that’s the difference between the living and the dead. If you’re still human, but you’re letting your joy be taken away from you, you might as well be one of those mindless creatures walking all over. So, to him, it’s kind of a weird philosophy of life that he’s developed living in this apocalypse that you don’t let this world turn you into something that you’re not.”
Payton, who is best-known for his animated voiceover work in shows like Teen Titans Go!, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, and The Lion Guard, also hinted that the character’s four-legged friend, a tiger named Shiva, will be a prominent fixture in his new reality, because she’s part and parcel of his outlook on surviving such a damaged world.
“Shiva is the beginning and the end for Ezekiel. She’s one of the reasons that he didn’t lose hope when this whole thing started. She’s this beautiful unique creature in the middle of this dark, dark time, and so she’s beloved, and she’s also a symbol to him of what it means to be different in the context of the world that you’re living in. It’s like she’s a constant reminder every time he looks at her that there’s beauty in the world. She started off as a protector and now he feels like that relationship is reversed and she’s this giant, powerful symbol that he feels a real kinship with and needs to protect. So she’s kind of the end all, be all for him. I think Shiva’s a really appropriate name for her because she’s hallowed in his eyes. She’s holy in his eyes.”
In the comics, Shiva was born in captivity and was rescued by Ezekiel (a zookeeper) after she originally attacked him, after which they formed a strong bond. She’s instrumental in the Kingdom and the Alexandrians’ battle back against the Saviors and subsists on zombie flesh. Ezekiel, meanwhile, has a shared hatred of Negan and the Saviors and becomes friends with Rick Grimes and his group, even becoming intimate with Michonne (note: in the comics, Rick and Michonne were not romantically involved).
The Walking Dead season 7 will debut on AMC on Oct. 23rd at 9/8c.