The Walking Dead 10x05, "What It Always Is," exposed the closely guarded secret held by King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Following suspicions Ezekiel is secretly sick after it was noticed he's masking a cough, doctor Siddiq (Avi Nash) was first to learn Ezekiel has been hiding what he expects to be a fatal affliction: thyroid cancer. Pre-apocalypse, Ezekiel might have had a chance fighting off the same disease that affected his grandmother and his father. Now without modern medicine, Ezekiel admits, "We both know what it means." Despite this apparent death sentence, showrunner Angela Kang says it's not yet over for the king.
"We had a lot of conversations about what are some things that we wanted to explore further with Ezekiel, because he's been through so much and he's such a strong character. We had been talking for a while in our room about the reality of the world is that people get terminal and chronic illnesses," Kang told EW. "We live in a wondrous time, and yet cancer is always scary, but there are cancers that are much more treatable than others, particularly the one that he has, being one of those. We wanted to explore what it means for a character to get that kind of a diagnosis in this world, and especially with a character who is so joyful and such a strong leader, and so optimistic, and to have to grapple with something like that."
Ezekiel has already been placed through the ringer in Season 10. Following the murder of son Henry (Matt Lintz) at the hands of the Whisperers, the Kingdom was forced to shutter and its royal couple went their separate ways when wife Carol (Melissa McBride) ended their fairy tale marriage.
"In talking with Khary Payton, what was really beautiful is that he said that he connected so hard with him, because his history and his family, and many fans who are dealing with cancer or with other illnesses come up to him. He said the line from a few years ago, 'And yet I smile,'" Kang said. "A lot of them really took that on as a source of personal strength, and that feeling that, in spite of hardship and in spite of these things that bring us down, wanting to find the hope in their lives. So he really connected very strongly with that story. Khary is doing beautiful work this season. Maybe we are monsters, but we really want to talk about the human condition, and this is a part of life."
Does Ezekiel's diagnosis mean it's only a matter of time before he succumbs to his illness and dies?
"I mean, we'll see," Kang said. "Breaking Bad was a story about a guy with cancer, and he made it for many years, so it could go many directions, is what I'll say."