'The Walking Dead': Khary Payton On 'Emotional' And 'Bittersweet' King Ezekiel Episode

Spoilers for The Walking Dead 8x04.7x02, 'The Well,' introduced the Kingdom and its theatrical and [...]

Spoilers for The Walking Dead 8x04.

7x02, "The Well," introduced the Kingdom and its theatrical and regal leader, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), whose court included Shiva, his beloved pet tiger. 8x04, "Some Guy," tore it all down: a handful of Saviors gunned down Ezekiel's loyal soldiers, most of them throwing themselves on Ezekiel to protect their majesty, with Jerry (Cooper Andrews) and Alvaro (Carlos Navarro) the only subjects not massacred by the .50 cal machine gun.

A distraught and hobbled Ezekiel faced certain doom as his own followers, now reanimated, sought to eat his flesh. Alvaro helped the king before being shot and killed by Gunther (Whitmer Thomas), a bespectacled Savior who took Ezekiel hostage with aims of delivering his prize to Negan, where he would be chained to the Sanctuary's fence.

Rescued again by Jerry and helped along by Carol (Melissa McBride), a bloodied Ezekiel ordered the two to leave him behind as the undead closed in, but the three saw a timely rescue by Shiva — who pounced into battle only to be overtaken and killed by a pack of walkers. It was a hard loss for Ezekiel, who once upon a time rescued Shiva, and was a particularly devastating blow following the brutal deaths of nearly his entire guard.

Though the episode was a rough one for the pretend king, Payton told The Hollywood Reporter the events of the episode will only strengthen Ezekiel's story moving forward.

It was one of my favorite experiences. And also one of my most bittersweet journeys to take, as far as just telling a journey. I said goodbye to so many people. At the same time, I was given this wonderful episode and character to play. It tore my heart out. Some of the guys we lost ... because we lost pretty much everybody [from the Kingdom]. That's the thing about The Walking Dead. You get very close to these people, and then you end up having to say goodbye, and not knowing when you're going to see them again. Carlos Navarro, who plays Alvaro [one of the last knights of the Kingdom still standing, before he's also gunned down by a Savior], is one of my favorite people in the world. Besides Shiva, letting Carlos go was one of the hardest things that I've done on this show. It really did feel like all my people got ripped away from me. It was more emotional than I was expecting it to be. I've already had that feeling when Karl Makinen, who played Richard, and Logan Miller, who played Ben [died on the show]. You think it would get easier, but it doesn't. (Laughs.)

The episode saw Ezekiel's acknowledgement that his role as royal ruler is a facade, Ezekiel admitting to Jerry, "I ain't no king. I ain't nothing. I'm just some guy." Despite Ezekiel's self-deprecation — and the episode's title — Payton said Ezekiel is more than just "some guy."

It definitely affects him in a strong way. I know with the title, "Some Guy," he's talking about how he's just some guy ... but I would harken back to Charlotte's Web. Charlotte wrote it up there: "He's some pig." And everybody else is like, "That is some pig." You know what I mean? Ezekiel is still some guy. That is some guy! (Laughs.) He's not just some guy, no matter how he feels about it. He's f—king King Ezekiel, and there's nobody quite like him, whether you think he's too over the top or not. There's just nobody like that guy. No matter what happens, he'll never be just some guy. He just has to find his way back. That's what this show is about. It's about how much of yourself can you keep in the most dire of circumstances? We're about to find out with Ezekiel.

Payton also spoke on the gut-wrenching loss of Shiva, a reaction that was mirrored by the internet at large in response to losing the fan-favorite CGI tiger. It's not all bad for Ezekiel, however: a blossoming Carol and Ezekiel romance is very much in the cards.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.

The Walking DeadSunday at 9PM EST on AMC

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