Before joining The Walking Dead as the regal King Ezekiel, ruler of the Kingdom, star Khary Payton auditioned to play a character who would have opposed the group of apocalypse survivors led by Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). Since his first appearance in Season 7 episode "The Well," also the debut appearance of Ezekiel's loyal adviser Jerry (Cooper Andrews), Ezekiel became a close ally of the Alexandria community and formed a romance with future wife Carol (Melissa McBride) after helping end the reign of Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors. On the latest episode of Walking Dead co-star Dan Fogler's 4d Xperience podcast, Payton revealed the role he almost played:
"I got an audition to play someone in Woodbury," Payton said, referring to the community that neighbored the Georgia prison claimed by Rick's people in The Walking Dead's third season. "I can't even remember who the person was. Actually, I probably wouldn't know, because they really don't make the audition sides have anything to do with what the character actually is. But I obviously didn't get that one."
Woodbury went to war with the prison under the charge of the Governor (David Morrissey), whose high-ranking soldiers included Martinez (Jose Pablo Cantillo) and Shumpert (Travis Love).
Payton later read for the role of "Augustus," who the actor remembers having "a pet lion named Nala." The fake name and description hid the identity of King Ezekiel, who in creator Robert Kirkman's comic book series is accompanied by pet tiger Shiva.
"That was really easy for me to figure out," Payton said. "I was like, 'You know what? You're not fooling nobody!' I know this is for Ezekiel right now."
Not a fan of the comic book before joining the television show, Payton recalled first watching The Walking Dead sometime around its third season in 2012.
"I was like, 'You know what, I don't know if this zombie thing is for me,'" Payton said. "And finally, someone was like, 'You know what, you need to just sit down and watch this.' And man, from the first thirty seconds of the series, that first episode, just the quiet got to me. And I absolutely just fell head over heels for it."
Payton next reappears in The Walking Dead's Season 10 finale, "A Certain Doom," as King Ezekiel and travelling companions Eugene (Josh McDermitt), Yumiko (Eleanor Matsuura) and Princess (Paola Lázaro) race against time for a fateful meeting with a new community.