Just-released first footage from The Walking Dead season 9 shows Carol (Melissa McBride) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) cozying up together, suggesting their flirtation has blossomed into a full-blown romance.
In Robert Kirkman’s comic book series, Carol was an emotionally dependent and mentally unstable housewife who desperately clung to her lover, Tyreese, later committing suicide by walker after she caught him cheating with Michonne.
McBride’s Carol, once freed from the oppressive reign of her abusive husband Ed after his death, grew into her own and carried a brief flirtation with prison survivor Axel (Lew Temple), who was shot and killed by the Governor (David Morrissey).
Despite a close bond established with Daryl (Norman Reedus) in season 2 — and despite the rallying cries of ‘Caryl’ hopefuls — Carol and Daryl’s courtship never made it past the former’s teasing flirtation in season 3.
Carol’s first onscreen romantic relationship emerged with Alexandrian survivor Tobin (Jason Douglas), their weeks-long romance ending in tragedy in season 8 when he succumbed to a Saviors’ tainted arrow and was put down by Carol after he reanimated as a walker.
Theatrical Kingdom leader Ezekiel has long tried to court the usually stoic and distant Carol, who in season 9 has since relocated to the Kingdom.
Last season, McBride told ComicBook.com Carol is attracted to Ezekiel’s “genuine hopefulness.”
“I think she was just endeared by him at the beginning. Once he took his guard down, once he pulled the ‘Ezekiel the King’ mask off... You know, she wears her own masks, and her going into battle is the one she's wearing right now,” McBride said.
“And the King, he's putting it on in front of her when other people are around, so she understands that sometimes you have to play this character in order to survive the moment, and it's kind of what he falls back into. He feels powerful as the king. He feels a familiarity with who he was. It's what he holds onto. He was the actor in the theater, that piece of him, and she understands that, and of course she's endeared by that.”
“He clearly likes her,” Payton told EW. “He clearly has a thing for Carol. Now the question is, it takes two to tango, man. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, that Carol is a tough nut to crack.”
New showrunner Angela Kang confirmed The Walking Dead will have undergone a significant time jump in-between seasons 8 and 9, with the new season delving into character relationships deeper than ever before.
The Walking Dead drops its full season 9 trailer at its July 20 San Diego Comic-Con presentation ahead of its AMC return this October.