Carol faces off with Ezekiel and finds an Eden of her own.
After an especially gut-wrenching season premiere, The Walking Dead offered a palate cleanser with “The Well,” which gave us quirky look at Ezekiel and The Kingdom, as well as some much needed smiles. But while the pacing was different and the plot much quieter than last week, it was hardly a throwaway episode but instead grounded us back in one of the strongest elements the show can offer, the complexities of hope when humanity has become unrecognizable and innocence has been forever lost.
We finally pick back up with Carol and Morgan, who were last seen being encountered by men on horseback. As Morgan and the strangers ward off an attack, Carol watches everything in a fog. As each walker is decapitated, impaled or has their face sliced clean off, Carol begins to see their faces change. Instead of ravenous undead, we begin to see the walkers as they once were – people, running scared from the weapons being wielded against them. It’s an interesting insight into Carol’s state of mind, where after years of altering her own morality for the sake of survival, we see how muddled that can be. Carol isn’t that far removed from the walkers and the humanity they have lost. Although she hasn’t turned, she’s also given up a lot of who she used to be. There are no clear winners between the living and the undead, innocence has been lost on both sides.
Carol wakes up two days later with Morgan by her side. He has brought her to The Kingdom, an idyllic community run by an eccentric leader who calls himself King Ezekiel. Carol is wheeled into an auditorium to finally meet the king. Ezekiel is on stage, backdropped by an old school play set and flanked by his gargantuan pet tiger, Shiva. The meeting is farcical and Carol can barely keep it together, nodding at platitudes about drinking from the well and replenishing the well and turning down nectarines and pomegranates. Once they are outside, she turns to Morgan and let’s him know in no uncertain terms that she isn’t going to be sticking around. The Kingdom likely would’ve appealed to Carol after the collapse of Herschel’s farm but she’s a much different woman now.
On the surface, The Kingdom seems idyllic but, as this show has shown us time and time again, appearances can often be deceiving. As we drift through the enclosure, listening to a glee club rendition of a certain Pulitzer Prize winner’s “Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright),” life almost seems normal if not simple. There is harvesting to be done, breakfast cobbler to be eaten and laundry to be folded. Eventually, through Morgan, we discover The Kingdom’s secret. Wild pigs have taken over the city and Ezekiel and his followers capture them, fatten them on walkers (which seems a bit dubious, could you turn from ingesting them?) and sell the carcasses to The Saviors. The Kingdom’s quiet and peaceful existence hasn’t been forged on its own, despite Ezekiel’s charisma and his men being skilled fighters. Instead, they’ve made a deal with the devil, sending peace offerings of pork and produce to Negan in exchange for their existence.
As expected, Carol isn’t interested in sticking around and contributing to The Kingdom’s success. As she attempts to sneak out at night, plucking an apple from a tree branch, Ezekiel interrupts her. Rather than try and stop her, Ezekiel comes clean. Of course, The Kingdom is an elaborate stage play, and yes, Ezekiel is putting on airs, but people need a leader to follow and a fantasy to believe in. And that’s the sinister secret that lies beneath, superficiality. As Ezekiel opens up to Carol, losing his lilting cadence in the process, he explains just how he faked it until he made it. Before the outbreak he was a zookeeper who once saved Shiva’s life, thereby earning the majestic feline’s trust. But, not dissimilar to his own tenuous truce with The Saviors, Ezekiel is aware that while he is able to put on airs, earning respect and awe by wielding the great cat on a chain, the power balance between the two does not lie in his favor.
There was a subtle but interesting Paradise Lost allegory running throughout the episode, where knowledge offers disillusion more than it does power. Ezekiel initially offers Carol a pomegranate, a fruit sometimes replaces the apple in the temptation tale. Although Carol turns it down, she later steals an apple and in return is able to peer behind the curtain and receive the truth behind Ezekiel and The Kingdom. Though it is certainly a less sinister reveal than expected, the smoke and mirrors behind The Kingdom paired with the knowledge that residents are willing to be duped in order to feign safety feels like a disappointment. If Eden is a sham, what is there to believe in anymore?
In the end, Carol and Ezekiel come up with a compromise. She is able to live on the outskirts of the community, in a home she has claimed as her own. Here, Carol does not have to play into The Kingdom’s great charade nor does she have to start out again on her own; she is connected but on her own terms.
Carol’s small slice of happiness will likely feel like a distant memory next week, as we check in on the fate of Daryl, who was taken prisoner by Negan during the premiere last week. But perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for Rick to be found in Ezekiel, who has managed to find a way to serve Negan and still eke out a peace and safe existence for his people. The question to be answered now is has Rick gone past the point of no return or could he begin again once more?
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