The Walking Dead star Khary Payton, whose character on the zombie drama was accompanied by a tiger rescued from a zoo exhibit, recalls visiting Big Cat Rescue before the animal sanctuary and founder Carole Baskin were featured in Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Payton's theatrical King Ezekiel — a former zookeeper and amateur theater actor who role played royalty as the ruler of the Kingdom, a community of zombie apocalypse survivors — was the owner of protective pet tiger Shiva until she died saving Ezekiel and companions Carol (Melissa McBride) and Jerry (Cooper Andrews) from zombies in a Season 8 episode of The Walking Dead.
During an appearance on the 4d Xperience podcast, hosted by his Walking Dead co-star Dan Fogler, Payton recalled visiting Big Cat Rescue at the recommendation of fans while attending a convention in Tampa, Florida, some time after joining the AMC series.
"They were like, 'You should go to this tiger sanctuary, this big cat sanctuary where they rescue these tigers that have been mistreated.' I was like, 'Sure, sure, let's go down there.' It's Carole Baskin's place, man," Payton exclaimed. "Yes, I did, yes, I did. I didn't meet Carole, but I went there, and that's as close to tigers as I had gotten."
Unlike the Oklahoma zoo established by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as the infamous Joe Exotic, Baskin's Big Cat Rescue does not allow contact with the cats. Tiger King documented Exotic charging customers to hold and pose for photos with tiger cubs, which Baskin calls "cruel" and "dangerous" for the animals.
"I've never been in the cage," Payton added. "They say it's probably not best for the animals for people to be interacting with the tigers, so I myself have never held a baby tiger, I haven't walked with a tiger or anything like that. I'm trying to do what's best for the animals, and me having a photo op with a baby tiger, I don't know that that's the best thing for them, so I don't do that and I haven't done that. But I have been to the Carole Baskin sanctuary."
On The Walking Dead, Shiva was a computer-generated creation sometimes portrayed by a motion capture performer.
"When I got the job, I just assumed they were gonna get a real tiger," added Payton, who joined the show in its seventh season in 2016. "I was like, 'Maybe they'll do CG,' but I don't know. 'They're gonna show up and figure out how to put a tiger in this [show].'"
"But I feel like that was probably a good idea that we didn't get a real tiger," he said later. "We shoot way too fast on The Walking Dead … that would have stopped everything, bringing a tiger onto the set."
Disclosure: ComicBook is owned by CBS Interactive, a division of ViacomCBS.