Seven years later, The Walking Dead still has tricks up its sleeve to make the show feel brand new. In the second episode of the show's seventh season, showrunner Scott Gimple took audiences to the Kingdom with the return of Carol and Morgan following their absence from the Season 7 premiere.
The premiere of Season 7 was brutal. It was so violent that some fans of the traditionally gory series were in an uproar, saying they were done with the series and they can't handle so much from television. It was even scarier when the follow up hour started out with what felt like more of the same. Morgan escorted Carol to the Kingdom with the help of new faces, gunning down zombies along the way. The sequence blurred in and out of focus as Carol struggled to survive her gunshots only to eventually rise up and run on her own two feet not much later.
The opening felt a little flat.
Then came King Ezekiel - the best thing to happen to The Walking Dead in who knows how many years. Khary Payton's extravagant character breathed all new life into the series as its fans searched for a sense of levity following the horrific premiere. The man trots around flaunting positivity, cheer, and honor, all the while keeping a pet tiger named Shiva by his side. Ezekiel believed in his kingly act so much so that the show felt The Walking Dead: Middle Earth for a few welcome moments.
Ezekiel should not be overlooked but failing to give proper attention to his jungle cat Shiva would be foolish. The Greg Nicotero directed episode could have easily lost all of its viewers with such a stunt but the tiger look great. The Walking Dead is not exactly known for impressive special effects but its mixing of computer graphics with an animatronic on set tiger was wildly entertaining.
The Kingdom as whole is a welcome addition to the show. Nicotero masterfully displayed that The Walking Dead is capable of more than violence. Rarely has the show seen characters laugh and even more rarely does the audience laugh. The addition of Ezekiel and his buddy Jerry were refreshing. Some of the humor, such a Jerry's "Deuces!" towards the end or his puns on stage may have felt a bit out of place but the new style is certainly welcome - and necessary - but needs not to get carried away going forward.
Perhaps the best moment of the episode was Carol and Ezekiel showing their cards to one another. It seems as though Carol's arc is finally paying off. After a few episodes of, "What the hell is going on with her?" we may finally see the story come full circle. Ezekiel may be just what Carol needs to bounce back. He is the most outlandish type of person imaginable, keeping a zoo animal as a pet, yet instilling positivity on those around him and opening up to Carol in a way which his own community has not experienced. Not to mention, Payton's transformation from extravagant king to relatable, troubled leader with a slouch on the couch could not have been better. Payton's Ezekiels is very disarming for both Carol and viewers.
While we only saw the Kingdom in the episode, the ties to the larger story were not absent. The Saviors have been oppressing Ezekiel's world, we learned. However, the crafty King is filling his deliveries with zombie guts as the pigs are feeding on undead prior to becoming bacon. Most importantly, the ties to Negan's Saviors felt organic to the story and also furthered one key point: Morgan is still struggling. While the well-disciplined man who has lost it all did not pull the trigger, he recently broke his "all life is precious" cree and took a hard look at himself after almost doing the same to the Saviors who were hungry to fight. There's something dark in Morgan.
The Well was a welcome stark contrast to the brutal Season 7 premiere but on the heels of such a massacre, we are hungry to see Rick Grimes again. For some reason, The Walking Dead can't seem to master the fact that audiences like to see multiple perspectives in each episode. It might make for a slower week to week burn but it is often more satisfying to know see each storyline week to week than every three weeks (see: Game of Thrones).
All things considered, faith in The Walking Dead should be fully restored for long time fans at this point. They wanted to see the brutal kill from Negan, they got it last weekend. They want a change of pace with Carol and Morgan, they got it on Sunday night. The show, which has been built on the premise of survival and violence, has finally shown a good side to post-apocalyptic humans. The Well was something completely different from any episode before it and goes to show that The Walking Dead is not even close to dead yet.