The Walking Dead star Khary Payton says the embattled King Ezekiel is looking for a fresh start despite the ticking clock placed on him by a grim diagnosis, revealed earlier this season to be thyroid cancer, and the former Kingdom leader is filled with hope as he races towards what could be a life-changing encounter with a new community. In the Season 10 finale, "A Certain Doom," Ezekiel and allies Eugene (Josh McDermitt) and Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) use bicycles supplied by new friend Princess (Paola Lázaro) to continue their journey to Charleston, West Virginia, where Eugene's radio contact Stephanie (Margot Bingham) has arranged a meeting with survivors from the Commonwealth.
"There are definitely aspects of his life that he wants to leave behind. He's got failed relationships, he's got memories of loved ones that have come and gone, he's built a community and seen it all get kind of toppled," Payton explained during The Walking Dead's virtual Comic-Con panel. "I think he is looking for a fresh start, and he's also a guy who's got a clock on him. He's got that tick tock in his brain that says he's not long for this world."
He continued, "In a world where nobody ever seems to have much time, he feels like he's got even less because he's dealing with this cancer."
Ezekiel's grandmother and father both survived thyroid cancer when it carried a 98% survival rate, the king told Siddiq (Avi Nash) when revealing his secret illness in episode 1005, "What It Always Is." But that was pre-apocalypse, when such battles could be fought with chemotherapy, iodine, radiation therapy, and thyroidectomies.
If Ezekiel is doomed, he's "going to fit his bucket list in someway, somehow, and part of a bucket list being in the apocalypse is to take a dive into the unknown and see what's out there," Payton said. "Because sometimes there's no planning it. They say, 'You never know how far the road stretches in front of you, you've just got to start driving, you've just got to start going.' And in his case, he started peddling. We'll see where he goes."
Following the loss of son Henry (Matt Lintz) and his subsequent separation from wife Carol (Melissa McBride), Ezekiel considered suicide but instead commiserated with Michonne (Danai Gurira).
Asked by panel host Chris Hardwick to explain what keeps Ezekiel hopeful, Payton answered, "I think that the adversity is what gives him hope."
"Maybe even that thing on his neck gives him some hope, because it's one more thing that hasn't stopped him yet," Payton said. "I think you can get beaten down by an avalanche of things that come your way, and you can let them fall on top of you, or you can let them fall, you can get out of the way, and then you can climb on top. You can start using all of that crap to stand up on top of it and take you higher."
The cancer could be the thing that kills Ezekiel, Payton admits, or it could be what makes him live.
"For me, I see Ezekiel looking at all of this that's happened in his life, and all of this loss, and all of these times that he was supposed to die, and it hasn't gotten him yet," he said. "I think that everything moving forward, every obstacle that's in his path, he can point to his neck and say, 'What are you going to do to me? I'm already gone, get out of my way. What else are you gonna do to me? I could drop dead right now, what else are you going to do to me? I might as well keep climbing.'"
Payton continued, "To me, that's Ezekiel in a nutshell. He started off as a guy who was positive in his searching for the light, and I think he's becoming more aggressive now in his search for the light. The Kingdom was this thing that he radiated out to the world for someone to come and find some light, and now he's grasping for it."
For all things TWD, follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter. The Walking Dead Season 10 finale, “A Certain Doom,” premieres Sunday, October 4 on AMC.