The Walking Dead brought out a new side of Ezekiel in Sunday night's Splinter episode. The character who is typically a beacon of hope and inspiration in this post-apocalyptic zombie world was a bit more of a savage when he was aiding his new friend Princess after he and the group were detained but what we are left to presume are Commonwealth soldiers. As it turns out, Ezekiel's change in behavior was all due to the fact that Khary Payton was not really playing Ezekiel at all in this episode. The Ezekiel throwing punches at soldiers and refusing to offer a shred of trust was actually a projection of Princess' imagination, giving Payton a bit more to play with and deliver as he always does.
"Halfway through the script, I was angry. I was pissed. I was like, 'What the hell are they doing? Why would Ezekiel say this? Why would he just pop off on somebody like this? That's not the way that he would react.' I was so mad," Payton tells ComicBook.com in an exclusive interview. "Then I get to the end of the script and realize that it's not as Ezekiel at all. And at that point I was just in love. I just was absolutely in love with the script."
Sunday night's Season 10 bonus episode (the 20th episode of the show's longest season until Season 11 serves as the extended final season with a 24-episode journey to wrap things up) was Payton's first time back on the show's Georgia set since Season originally wrapped in late 2019. The episode was filmed in the late parts of 2020, bringing together a limited cast with new measures in place to maintain health and safety standards in the midst of a global pandemic.
Payton is currently at home, enjoying a small break from work on the show's final season, which he has already begun working on. "We've got a year to go," the actor notes. He joined in the show's seventh season, making his debut in 2016, first being announced at San Diego Comic-Con and debuting in Season 7's second episode.
"We've just scratched the surface of Season 11," Payton says. "I feel like this last season, it really is going to be a journey because we're starting off still in this world of pandemic and COVID. And eventually we're going to find our way out of it during this shooting season. And so it's going to feel very different by the end of it. And I don't know, I guess I've always felt like I've been living on borrowed time anyway because Ezekiel was supposed to die a couple of years ago. And so every year that I get another reprieve, I feel like I'm just going to enjoy the moment, but I also know that at any moment over the last three years or so, it could have been taken away so the end is always close."
Read our full interview with Khary Payton below!
Back to Work
ComicBook.com: What was the experience like to be one of the first productions to get back to work?
Khary Payton: It was surreal man, because we were getting back to work, but we hardly saw anyone, you only saw the people that you absolutely had to see, there was no getting together just to catch up and say, hello. I pretty much went to work and came straight home. And even when I went to work, even the trailers that we work in, normally it's kind of a communal thing where we all go into hair and makeup and there's a long row of people and somebody's playing music and it's really this incredible finding time if we have early in the morning before we start. And I think it kind of sets the tone for the day.
And so you didn't have any of that. It's these people that you're used to being incredibly intimate with not just personally, but in the work environment, you're kind of all on top of each other. You got like 15 people sometimes in a tiny room making a scene happen. And so all of that goes out the window and it's only essential people. And we're trying to make sure that we never are in a situation where you're actually in a tiny room with a whole bunch of people. So yeah. It was a weird, surreal kind of existence because you're back at work, but you can't love on everybody the way that you're used to doing it.prevnext
CB: Ezekiel in this episode turns out to be a figment of Princess's imagination. I want to hear, when you read the script, how was that delivered to you and what was your reaction?
KP: They just gave it to me cold and just had me read the script. So halfway through the script, I was angry. I was pissed. I was like, "What the hell are they doing? Why would Ezekiel say this? Why would he just pop off on somebody like this? That's not the way that he would react." I was so mad. I was like, "They've totally forgotten how to write this character. I got to write an email to Angela. I'm going to put my foot down." And then I get to the end of the script and realize that it's not as Ezekiel at all. And at that point I was just in love. I just was absolutely in love with the script.
CB: I was like, "Man, Ezekiel really stopped giving a damn!"
KP: Exactly. I was like, "What is going on? What weird alternate universe am I living in?" And then it was like, oh, it's the alternate universe of Princess's brain. That's where he's living.prevnext
A World of Imagination
CB: If Ezekiel did know that Princess had a Fight Club moment with him, what would he think of Princess after something like that?
KP: I don't know. I think Ezekiel has a lovely way of understanding the weirdness of people. He brought a freaking Renaissance festival to the apocalypse. He knows that he's cut from a different cloth. And I feel like Princess, he kind of understands where Princess is coming from, that we all have to navigate this crazy dark world in the best way that we can and the truth is, is that all the contrivances and the rules that we make to live by, they're all just games that we're playing in our mind. It's all just stuff that we've all decided that these are the rules. It's just sh-t we all made up.
A long time ago somebody said that this paper money is worth something. If we all decided that, you know what, that's not the rule anymore, and we're going to change it, all we have to do is change our minds and then everything changes. So the way that we cope is literally, always just a game. And I think Ezekiel knows that and recognizes the games that people play in their own mind. And I think he kind of appreciates Princess because of the way that her mind works.
CB: You've played this character in so many different ways now. A version who is a leader, a version who broken down, the heartbroken version, and a version where he's accepted death to some extent. What's been your favorite part of this whole ride with Ezekiel so far and tapping into so many different facets of Ezekiel?
KP: I think the fun part and the most challenging part is always trying to find a way to fight your way back towards the light. I think in a show like this we can easily fall into trap of getting more and more kind of morose about our situation and the darker that it gets. And I think the fight for me is always to try and find some little crack of light, some crack in the wall, some light at the end of the tunnel. And this was another way of doing that. Even when the manifestation of Ezekiel gets really dark in that train car, once Princess jumps out of the train car and is running down the road, then you see the light of this Ezekiel character. He's hanging out with the walkers and being like, you know what? You're out, you're out. Live your life. Run for it.prevnext
CB: Have you filmed anything for the final season yet? Has it set in that the show is ending?
KP: We've got a year to go and so we've never shot for this long. So it really does feel like that's kind off in the future. And I just feel like I'm putting my head down and thinking, okay, we've done just the first couple of episodes so far. So we've started, but we've just scratched the surface of season 11. And I feel like this last season, it really is going to be a journey because we're starting off still in this world of pandemic and COVID. And eventually we're going to find our way out of it during this shooting season. And so it's going to feel very different by the end of it. And I don't know, I guess I've always felt like I've been living on borrowed time anyway because Ezekiel was supposed to die a couple of years ago. And so every year that I get another reprieve, I feel like I'm just going to enjoy the moment, but I also know that at any moment over the last three years or so, it could have been taken away so the end is always close.
CB: If it were up to Khary Payton, how would you have Ezekiel's story wrap up?
KP: Oh man, I'm not going to say that. I'm not going to say that because if it gets printed that what I actually wanted is what they're planning, they'll be like Khary, why did you do that man? Why did you put that out there? So I do not want to put it out, but I absolutely have a glorious sort of a epilogue in mind for Ezekiel.
CB: We'll revisit that in 2022.
KP: Let's do that. Let's do that. Let's talk about it. Because if nothing else, however Ezekiel goes out, I want him to go out with sunshine on his face, you know what I mean?prevnext
Comic Book Destiny
CB: As The Walking Dead nears its end and the cast gets ready to spread their wings, some have gone on to comic book movies. You have experience in the DC worlds. Might we see you down the line in another comic book world like the MCU or the DCEU?
KP: Listen, I love comic books. Comic books have been the thing that spurred my career for 20 something years now with the animated stuff and then with The Walking Dead. So it's funny. I always kind of just wanted to be a storyteller and I was always in love with comics and I've had this weird, I don't know, weird relationship that I just walk along with comic books and they seem to sweep me up and take me with them. So I don't know man, when I got in The Walking Dead, I just knew a little bit about Ezekiel. I hadn't even gotten to that point in the comic books for The Walking Dead, but I was aware of him.
But he wasn't what I was thinking of being when the show called. I was hoping that I could be like Falcon in the MCU or something. It was so funny. I was literally like, I told my manager, I was like, "You know what?"" This is way back when Captain America: First Avenger came out and I was like, "You know what, I bet they're going to have Falcon in the next one man. We should try and do that." And then literally three days later, they were like, Anthony Mackie was cast. I was like, 'G-d d-mnit!' But I knew that I wanted to do something having to do with comics because I love them and people like me who love comics are just rabid about it.
And I thought that that's the kind of relationship I wanted to have with people. And even though it didn't turn out to be Falcon and I kind of love watching Falcon and not actually being him, I kind of love watching Anthony Mackie be Falcon anyway.
But to be given this character that I think is even more well suited for me. It just makes me think that there's a comic book character already waiting out there. I'm just not aware that it's waiting for me. You know what I mean?prev