Separated from his queen (Melissa McBride) in the wake of son Henry's (Matt Lintz) murder, and forced to relocate his people to Hilltop following the shuttering of the Kingdom, the mindful Ezekiel is weighing his options for a strike against Alpha (Samantha Morton) and the Whisperers.
"Of course he wants revenge. He's always been the guy who acts after thought," Payton said on The Walking Dead Season 10 Preview Special.
"When Rick and the gang came to meet him, he didn't rush into the fight with Negan. When Carol said 'It's time to fight,' [he said], 'Yes, but not today.' He's always thinking about action, but wanting to think his way through it. I think dealing with his whole guilt thing on top of that, he's not gonna rush in. He's not Carol, who's just like, 'Let me find something flammable and throw it on somebody.'"
Who does the king blame most for the death of his son? "I think that, like so many times when bad times happen, you blame yourself," Payton said. "I think Ezekiel blames himself, I think Carol blames herself."
While Ezekiel oversees "Kingtop," Carol has put distance between herself by taking to the sea. But that shared trauma remains.
"[They feel] that they should have been more vigilant, they should have been better protectors, better parents, somehow they should have seen three steps ahead of where Alpha was going. I think that's what happens with their relationship, is that you turn that turmoil, sometimes you turn it outwardly, but both of them are very guilt ridden about what's happened," Payton said.
"When you think about Ezekiel losing the Kingdom, all of the people that were in the Kingdom, Shiva, the actual structure itself, not to mention his adopted sons — both Benjamin and Henry — it's a lot for a guy who tries to look on the bright side. I think people who tend to look on the bright side are really trying to force that darkness back down, but the truth is, it's still there, it's brewing. It's been no walk in the park."
Asked at San Diego Comic-Con what's in store for Ezekiel in Season 10, showrunner Angela Kang said, "I don't want to say too much about it, because I think it will be a surprise left turn for people, but a lot of deep and touching work by our wonderful Khary Payton."
The Walking Dead returns to AMC with its Season 10 premiere Sunday, October 6.