Now that last seasons massive cliffhanger has been resolved, for better or worse, the newest season of The Walking Dead is looking forward to a fresh slew of new storylines. One such storyline will deal with the mysterious newcomer Ezekiel, played by Khary Payton, and his community.
We originally caught a glimpse of the elusive character in the season 7 trailer that debuted at Comic Con in July. In a clip, only a few seconds long, Payton (sporting grey dreadlocks and a tiger) proclaims, "I am King Ezekiel, welcome to the Kingdom". While comic fans no doubt know exactly who this iconic character is, others were left wondering...who the hell is that?
Before season 7 begins answering this question, we take a look at what you need to know before you meet this new, eccentric character. So whether you've never heard of him or you just want a refresher course on the King, here are 15 Things You Need To Know About Ezekiel.
15 He's The King Of His Kingdom
By now, any Walking Dead fan who hasn't been living under a rock should know that this new guy refers to himself as King Ezekiel. But what does that actually mean? Well, unsurprisingly, he's not actually royalty of any kind, but rather a self-proclaimed ruler of his community, The Kingdom.
The Kingdom used to be a high school in Washington DC before zombies started roaming the earth. Now it's being used as a stronghold, surrounded by school buses and a wall of metal sheeting. During an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Executive Producer Greg Nicotero noted that The Kingdom is the biggest community we've seen so far.
Realizing the community needs a leader, Ezekiel creates this larger-than-life persona for people to look up to and follow. While his theatrics are a little arrogant -- he sits on his own throne and refers to the colony as "my kingdom" -- he is also a fair and benevolent leader to his subjects. Nevertheless, it's a tactic that works, considering how well the Kingdom is doing (more on that later).
14 He Has A Pet Tiger
As mentioned before, unless you've been living under a rock, chances are you've seen a glimpse of Ezekiel's most prominent feature. No, not that killer hairdo, but rather the massive, terrifying tiger he has at his side. The tiger, Shiva, is Ezekiel's closest and most trusted companion.
The two go way back -- Ezekiel was a zookeeper before the outbreak, and has had a close relationship with the animal since she was born. After she fell into the moat surrounding her enclosure, Ezekiel saved her life, and the two have been inseparable ever since. Shiva has stayed with Ezekiel, acting as his loyal protector during the apocalypse. (Although he does admit the decision to keep her is a little foolish, and more than a little dangerous.) She is obedient to his commands and is pretty docile...until he commands her otherwise. In which case, you'd better start running.
The show's creators had expressed concerns in the past over the idea of bringing a tiger onto the series, admitting that there is a real possibility the idea wouldn't work on screen. But of course, he just wouldn't be Ezekiel without Shiva. The tiger is being bought to life by a combination of CGI and animatronics, to ensure that no tigers, or crew members, are harmed in the making of season 7.
13 He Hates Negan
After last week's premiere, it's safe to say we all hate the vile Negan, and we're not alone either; King Ezekiel also despises the baseball bat wielding madman. And considering the actions he took against our group of survivors, it's not hard to see why.
When we meet Ezekiel in the comics, he's already entered into a truce with The Saviors much like the Hilltop has -- a deal he only barely tolerated. But as we quickly find out, he never truly accepted the terms of the truce and has been biding his time until he can throw off this "tyrant" and his "devils".
Ezekiel has a deep burning hatred for Negan and his cronies after seeing exactly how vicious and violent they are, and he welcomes the chance to team up with Rick and co. to take him down. He should probably get in line first, though, because after what happened in the season 7 premiere, there's a long list of people who want him dead.
12 Romantic Rival For Rick?
While Rick and Michonne may be everyone's favorite couple on the TV series (especially now with one half of the Maggie/Glenn combo out of the picture), the two never actually show any romantic interest in each other in the comics. Rick is with the still-alive Andrea in the comics, and Michonne actually strikes up a relationship with Ezekiel. The two connect romantically when the survivors of Alexandria and The Kingdom cross paths and engage in a war against Negan.
When the two characters first meet, Michonne can't stand the showy Ezekiel, so much so that they almost come to blows. But he eventually drops the act around her, and she warms up to him after he shares the reasoning behind his flashy public persona. The two are together for quite a while, and Michonne even moves to The Kingdom to be with him after several major conflicts are resolved.
With the Rick and Michonne relationship already well-established in the series, it seems unlikely they will go down this route. But of course, that might not stop Ezekiel from trying. Might there be some sort of love triangle brewing? If we were Ezekiel, we'd reconsider, especially when you remember how Rick's previous love triangle ended.
11 He's Wise And Will Act As An Advisor
Since the deaths of Dale in season 2 and Hershel in season 4, The Walking Dead hasn't gifted Rick's group (or viewers) with a wise, advice-giving character to take their place. While Morgan comes close, no one really takes his pacifist views seriously enough to listen to any insight he might have. This absence of worldly intelligence is probably why the characters have been doing things like rushing into conflict and underestimating their enemies in recent years. But that might all change this season with the introduction of Ezekiel.
When we first meet him in the comics, Ezekiel often functions in an advisory role to Rick and Jesus (who is acting on behalf of Hilltop's leader, Gregory). He is the one who formulates the original battle plan against Negan, as well as having the good sense to place a spy inside Negan's camp. He keeps a cool head even when our fearless hero Rick does not, and often doles out sage advice to the other characters. Though to be honest, he could say anything in that ye old way of speaking and we'd think it sounds wise and regal.
Hopefully, with the arrival of this calm and collected character, Rick will once again have a trusted adviser to help rein in his crazy.
10 He Carries A Concealed Sword
The Walking Dead is no stranger to giving signature weapons to its characters. Who would Rick be without his Colt Python? Or Michonne without her katana? Daryl without his crossbow? Fans of awesome weaponry rejoice, as it looks like we've got another one to add to the list. And this one is pretty damn cool.
As actor Khary Payton confirmed when he tweeted a picture of the head of his sceptre, Ezekiel will carry his own signature weapon. In the comics, the sceptre he always carries (aside from having a really cool bird-shaped topper) also has another awesome feature: there's a sword concealed inside.
Ezekiel is rarely seen without the blade -- a Japanese sword called a Shikomizue -- which is perfect for dispatching both the living and the dead. The flashy weaponry is the perfect match for such a flamboyant character, and we can't wait to see him pull it on unsuspecting foes.
Honestly, did you expect someone called King Ezekiel to use something as passé as a knife or a machete? Please.
9 He Might Be The Smartest Character In The Series
A lot of audience members might think the bar for intelligence isn't set very high in the Walking Dead universe, considering the world is full of rednecks, bullies, and perhaps worst of all, Spencer. But still, when creator Robert Kirkman says this guy might be the most intelligent character of the lot, we take notice.
When responding to fan mail in the back of issue #113, Kirkman responded to one letter that called Ezekiel a clown, telling readers not to be fooled by his eccentric demeanor, because he might be the smartest character in the whole book. This seems pretty accurate, considering he is one of the driving forces in the planning of their revenge against Negan, and as previously mentioned, he often finds himself in the role as adviser to Rick and the others.
To be honest, our characters could use all the brains they can get (was that a zombie pun?) when they go up against the cunning and calculating Negan. Ezekiel should hopefully be a welcome ally in the dangerous world of this post-apocalyptic wasteland. Especially since the smartest guy they've had in their midst so far thinks a mullet is an acceptable hairstyle.
8 He Wants To Go To War
In the comics, Jesus takes Rick to The Kingdom to ask for Ezekiel's help in the fight against Negan. Ezekiel, who wishes nothing more than to be rid of the Saviors, is more than happy to help launch an assault. He grants Rick his help in the conflict almost immediately and prepares his people for war. Ezekiel is more than ready to commit to all out war with Negan. He even expresses how much he dislikes Hilltop leader Gregory for not standing up to him sooner, since he has such vast numbers at Hilltop. Now that Ezekiel has access to an army, he's not about to cower the same way.
Between the three colonies (Alexandria, Hilltop, and The Kingdom) they devise a plan to launch their attack on Negan. It's Ezekiel himself who plans their strategy, suggesting they take out Negan's outposts first before turning their attention to the main stronghold.
We don't know how war-hungry he'll be in the TV show (especially considering #6 on our list) but we hope we'll at least get to see him join forces with Rick in the much-anticipated war to come. Bonus points if we get to see the above iconic comic panel come to life: Ezekiel at an feast with the combined forces, proclaiming, "Eat and be merry! For tomorrow we go to war!"
7 He Takes Losses Personally
There's one big problem with going to war, though -- you're going to lose a ton of people in the conflict. (Especially when you consider the terrifying opponents they're going up against.) Unfortunately for Ezekiel, he doesn't handle losses so well. What could be seen as a sign of how good of a leader he is is how very attached and protective Ezekiel is towards his people. He's very hard on himself when one of his own is lost.
After one disastrous campaign against Negan's forces, Ezekiel witnesses the deaths of many of his followers, including a close friend, and is dismayed at the failure. He breaks down and is "comforted" by Michonne. He tells her that he wished he had died instead and that he feels embarrassed and ashamed of the defeat, but Michonne is so disgusted that he would give up so easily that she socks him in the face. She basically tells him to man up.
He spirals into a depression when faced with the reality that more lives will be lost before the war is over, but he does find it within himself to soldier on. While King Ezekiel covers his insecurities with his colorful flair, it's obvious that the leader truly cares about his subjects and is deeply affected by putting them in any danger. That probably doesn't bode well for his mental health in the upcoming seasons, since if the premiere is anything to go by, things are going to get real bloody, real fast.
6 He's All About Positive Vibes
It seems as the seasons go on, every piece of hope or positivity has been stripped away from our characters; even once they reach the safe zone of Alexandria, their joy doesn't last long. But finally we might have met the only character left on Earth that remains in bright spirits.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, actor Khary Payton told readers that Ezekiel was in the hope business, and that he fights to hold on to his positivity with everything he's got:
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.
In the same interview he said that it's always a party when Ezekiel's around, since he brightens everything around him. It would certainly be a nice change to have a happier character among all the other sorrowful souls, especially after losing the ever-optimistic Glenn. We do wonder how life-of-the-party Ezekiel will get on with the ultra serious Rick, though.
5 His Community Is Thriving
During Greg Nicotero's EW interview, he gave fans some interesting insight into the secretive community that Ezekiel runs, and it seems like the settlement might be unlike any we've seen before. He explains that the community is just as unique as its flamboyant leader:
Carol and Morgan show up there and it’s thriving, and it’s alive, and it’s vibrant. And even when I directed the episode, when I was editing it, it was The Walking Dead version of The Wizard of Oz. If the outside is a black and white, dull, dead world, the inside is vibrant and colourful and whimsical and alive, and it’s all led by a dude with a sceptre and a f—ing tiger named Ezekiel.
It seems like King Ezekiel is certainly doing something right.
Actor Logan Miller, who'll be playing a member of the new community, has also described the place as "Mad Max-ish or like living in the realm of the Thunder Dome", whatever that means. We're looking forward to seeing how they differentiate between this new settlement and others we've seen before, but by the sounds of those descriptions, it sounds like it will be very different indeed. Either way, we can't wait to see this vibrant and expansive community come to life on the screen.
4 Actor Khary Payton Has Some Experience With Comic Characters
Khary Payton landed the coveted role of Ezekiel after beating out hundreds of other actors vying to play the iconic part. Perhaps it was his previous experience that gave him a leg up over the competition, since this is far from the first comic book character he's bought to life.
Payton has actually made a career in the world of comics and their adaptations. While the nerd world might not recognize his face, they've likely heard his voice at some point over the years. He has voiced a number of famous comic book characters in TV, movies and video games over the course of his career. He portrayed both Aqualad and Black Manta in Young Justice, and various Arkham inmates in Batman: Assault On Arkham. He voiced John Henry Irons aka Steel in Justice League: Gods And Monsters and Throne Of Atlantis, Azrael and Killer Croc in the Batman Arkham City, Arkham Knight and Arkham Origins games, as well as Bishop and Nick Fury in the X-Men Legends: Rise Of Apocalypse game and Grimlock in Transformers: Robots In Disguise. But that's not all; we've saved his most famous role for last...
3 Payton Was A Teen Titan
Before you freak out about that title, no, Ezekiel isn't going to fight walkers with superpowers. It's actually actor Khary Payton who was a member of the Teen Titans. Fans of the animated series and its spinoff Teen Titans Go! will definitely recognize Ezekiel's voice, since the actor played the heroic Cyborg in both series.
Cyborg was one of the main characters of the titular team, and he appeared in all 5 seasons of the original series as well as the 4 seasons off the spinoff. Khary voiced the popular DC Comics superhero in over 200 episodes of the animated series, and he even provided vocal work for a few different guest starring roles like the Herald and one of the Wonder Twins.
On top of that, he's also voiced the half-human/half-machine character in DC Super Hero Girls, Lego DC Comics: Batman Be-Leaguered, Batman Unlimited: Monster Mayhem, four Lego DC Comics Super Heroes movies, and the upcoming Justice League Action animated series, slated to air in November. It turns out that if you're looking to bring Cyborg into your animated film, Payton is the go-to guy.
2 He Sees 'Potential' In Carol And Morgan
In the previously mentioned Entertainment Weekly interview with Khary Payton, the actor also talked about the mysterious connection between the Kingdom's leader and our very own Carol and Morgan. As we saw at the end of season 6, Carol and Morgan are approached by some unknown men after a confrontation with some of Negan's Saviours. The men tell them that they can help them (since Carol has been injured), and that's the last we see of them.
All these months later, we now know, as most people suspected, these men were members of The Kingdom, and have likely taken Carol and Morgan to meet Ezekiel. Payton has said that the colorful character sees 'potential' in the two of them, and that he hopes they will help spread his philosophy of hope and joy.
Certainly, if anyone in the group could be swayed to Ezekiel's way of thinking, it would be the pacifist monk-like Morgan and the repenting Carol. What exactly he wants them to do with this 'potential' is still a mystery of course, one that will hopefully be solved in the coming weeks.
1 The Show Went To Great Lengths To Keep Him A Secret
As with everything Walking Dead, the plot points and characters of season 7 have been kept tightly under wraps. The show's creators didn't want anything spoiling their Ezekiel reveal at Comic Con, and Payton has told some pretty crazy tales about the lengths to which the showrunners went in order to keep his character a mystery around the Atlanta set.
Payton joked with reporters that he felt nervous even just talking to them, considering how much secrecy he's had to endure. The actor told Entertainment Weekly that he'd been "diving in the backs of vans and having blankets thrown over [his] head", just so that no one would see him in between filming. He didn't even tell family members who lived in Georgia that he was working in the area.
The show has definitely had a problem with spoilers leaking from on-set photographs in the past (an unfortunately growing trend nowadays), so it's not hard to see why they'd go to so much trouble to keep their newest character under wraps. Thankfully, they won't have to keep it up much longer, since it seems we'll finally lay eyes on the elusive King when he makes his live-action debut next week in "The Well".
What do you want to see from King Ezekiel this season? How insanely awesome does Shiva look? Sound off in the comments.
Season 7 of The Walking Dead continues Sunday night at 9pm on AMC.