Warning: The following contains spoilers for the second episode of The Walking Dead's seventh season.
Last week we survived the horrible trauma of Negan's arrival. This week we sharply pivot to a whole different setting, as Morgan and Carol meet the armored, horse-riding people of the Kingdom.
And their King.
When we left off last season, Morgan had just tracked down Carol and the two met some scouts from a placed called "The Kingdom." Now, Carol's hurt and they agree to go there to seek reruge.
Carol appears to be suffering from some very serious injuries that are affecting her mental status. Shot and weakened, she begins to see zombies as regular people being murdered. She wanders off disoriented before being rescued by more Kingdom folks — with some rather impressive face-lift kills.
When Carol wakes up next, she's in the Kingdom, a fully functioning society with their own intricate agricultural system, horses and a school. Morgan introduces her to their boisterous leader, King Ezekiel; a man who sits on a chair, which he deems his throne, in an empty auditorium. His loyal bodyguard wields an axe, ready to protect the King at any second, but the more ferocious character is the CGI tiger named Shiva that sits beside Ezekiel.
"I forgot to say," Morgan awkwardly whispers. "Ezekiel has a tiger."
This episode, Morgan gets to flex some genuinely enjoyable comedic chops. This is what we needed after everything that occurred last week, although Morgan and Carol still aren't seeing eye-to-eye. She wants to leave as soon as they're able to, and Morgan considers her his responsibility. To be frank, I'm irritated with both of them.
But Morgan gets to showcase a different side of himself when Ezekiel asks him to mentor a young boy in the Kingdom. Benjamin, a character that fits in well with the anachronistic setting of the Kingdom, is lousy with a sword. Ezekiel asks Morgan to train him, and he reluctantly agrees. Like any good student-mentor relationship, Morgan ends up learning just as much from Benjamin as he can teach the young boy.
We also learn a little bit about Benjamin's father. He was a member of an earlier scouting team for the Kingdom, killed while clearing a building during one of their outings. It's because of the accident that Ezekiel decides to play it safe now, not wanting to risk the lives of anymore of his people. It's an interesting juxtaposition to Rick and his team, who will fight and go to war at the drop of a hat.
To keep his people safe from the dangers that exist outside of their small utopia, King Ezekiel has made a secret deal with Negan's group, the Saviors. Morgan goes with Ezekiel and a few others to meet with the Saviors, only to find Negan's gang demanding tribute from the Kingdom. In this case, the pigs.
Tensions flare and a fight breaks out, but Ezekiel calms everyone down. The Kingdom may get the last laugh, however, as we know the pigs Negan's crew wants are carrying tainted walker meat.
Once back in the Kingdom, Morgan continues to spend time with the young boy he's been assigned to mentor. It's through his training sessions with Benjamin that Morgan realizes everyone needs to find their own path. He seems to come to a revelation of some kind in regards to his relationship with Carol, but when he visits her, she's already gone. She'd been using her guise as weak and wheelchair-bound to steal supplies and plan her escape.
But she didn't count on Ezekiel.
The King is far craftier than he appears. Carol finds him waiting in the gardens, and the two share an intimate heart-to-heart talk. We learn about Ezekiel's past and how he acquired Shiva. He saved her life, and later found her after the world had ended. It's super sweet in a very goofy way, and it's just what this show needed.
Carol is surprised at the King's pragmatism. He admits to doing local plays in a community theater — and the royal position seems to fit him naturally. He also admits that people need a leader, and when they see him with a tiger, it demands a certain level of respect. Ezekiel is instantly likable for his charm, optimism and willingness to open up to Carol, saving her from a potentially fatal decision.
Frustratingly, Carol still wants out, but they seem to come to an agreement. Morgan leads her out to a creepy house with gravestones in the yard. She moves right in. We don't know how far it is until a knock at the door, followed by a tiger growl, clues us in. Ezekiel has arrived to offer an apple to his new neighbor.
Last week's episode was an emotional punch to the gut. This week was the slow burn that introduced us to the wider post-apocalyptic world of The Walking Dead. A little slow and boring, but after last week, I'll allow it.
Khary Payton: Veteran voice actor Khary Payton was fantastic as King Ezekiel. He was charming, witty and delightfully silly. He was also incredibly likable while tell Ezekiel's story about Shiva with Carol. His presence really saved this episode from being a total slog while we wait to rejoin Rick and company.
Horses: Horses haven't exactly fared well in The Walking Dead, dating all the way back to Rick's ill-fated journey to Atlanta in season one. It's nice to see people actually using horses effectively and creating some pretty awesome walker kills.
Carol: I just don't get where we're going with Carol. Her role is obviously way different than the comics, thankfully. But she went from being the hero that broke everyone out of Terminus to suddenly deciding enough's enough and bailing on everyone? Even when faced with a nice group of people she still wants out. Carol, your group needs you now more than ever!