For fans of The Walking Dead who aren't familiar with the comic books, it might have come as a bit of a surprise when season 7 introduced Shiva — a tiger — loyal companion to the theatrical King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), regal ruler of the aptly named Kingdom community.
While the show explained how Ezekiel came to be in possession of his feline bodyguard back in episode 7x02, "The Well," it was issue #110 of Robert Kirkman's long running comic book that revealed the truth behind the monarchical Ezekiel and his unusual pet.
During a private moment with an unimpressed Michonne, the katana-wielding warrior tells Ezekiel to "cut the king shit act already." He does, dropping his Shakespearean method acting. "You're playing samurai the same way I'm playing king," he says, explaining the act isn't to trick people into treating him special like she thinks.
Ezekiel: People want someone to follow. Makes them feel safe. People who feel safe are more useful, less dangerous… more productive. They see a guy with a tiger, start spreading larger than life stories about him finding it in the wild, wrestling it to submission and turning it into his pet… who am I to burst their bubble? Next thing you know, they’re treating me like a king… how can I not act the part?
Michonne listens as Ezekiel admits how he really came to own Shiva, conceding who he really is.
Shiva fell out of her exhibit… down into the deep moat that protected her from the patrons. Vets were on their way, but I saw she’d ripped her leg open on the way down — it was really bad, she was going to bleed out. Poor thing thought I was what was causing all that pain… got me across the gut — but not before I got my shirt tied around her leg. I saved her life.
I was a zookeeper. I was there when Shiva was born. Held her in my hands when she was the size of a kitten. I knew the risks, but I had to do something. In the end, I lived… and after that, she never so much as showed a tooth in my direction… it was like she was sorry.
Ezekiel explains the deep bond he shares with Shiva, saying she saved him, too — in more ways than one.
I know it doesn’t seem practical keeping a tiger around. She eats nearly as much as ten men. Worse than that, she could yank that chain right out of my hand — or just jerk my damn arm clean off… but she doesn’t. I’ve been leading her around by the chain since she was a cub — it stopped her then, she thinks it stops her now… but still, big cats, they’re unpredictable.
Thing is, I lost a lot in the early days… very quickly… people I loved… they were just gone. When I made it to the zoo… she was one of the last animals left, trapped, starving… all alone… like me. Truth is, that cat’s the last thing left in this world that I loved. She protected me, helped me get here… brought me the respect… and fear needed to set up shop here. I used to act in community theater. The King Ezekiel bit comes as second nature to me. My name really is Ezekiel, though. That much is real.
The comic book's quiet moment between Ezekiel and Michonne was translated into the show as a no bullshit moment between Ezekiel and Carol (Melissa McBride), who may be the show's next romantic coupling.
Ezekiel and Carol feature in tonight's episode, "Some Guy," and it looks like Carol runs into some trouble. 8x04 airs tonight at 9/8c on AMC.