Let me first apologize for the title of this post. It’s as vague as can be an a bland tease because I know a lot of people do not want Walking Dead spoilers. So this is your warning. Stop reading here, and do not watch the trailer if you want to be completely and utterly surprised when Season Seven debuts on October 23.
AMC released the trailer today at Comic Con in San Diego, and, as reported by the Hollywood Reporter, announced the casting of Khary Payton as Ezekiel, the charismatic leader of the Kingdom, one of the most idiosyncratic creations in the comic series’ “All Out War” story arc. And his pet tiger Shiva. (Note for international fans – the AMC Web site has a link for you if the above video doesn’t work).
There was no way to avoid presenting this story arc as anything short of completely insane. There will be new communities, hinted at last season, joining the fight against Negan and his followers, and that is going to be hard to pace. There are some more personal moments that happen between characters, but there’s that “All Out” part of “All Out War” to deal with. Those who criticized the show for it’s slower moments will be likely be happy with the action on its way.
Then there’s the tiger. Shiva. I was wondering if they would go through with that choice or choose to take Ezekiel in a different direction. It was a fantastic and fantastical invention in the comics. And after all that had already happened in print, it must have been hard to figure out how to show the audience something they hadn’t seen before. But in comics, there’s more of an expectation for fulfilling the wildest parts of a writer’s imagination. The bar is a bit lower for the suspension of disbelief than on a television show.
Walking Dead is asking its audience to believe in the supernatural, in the undead. And it has to show them, well, walking. And moaning and biting and tearing. One way to do that is to make everything else feel gritty and real. Do that for six seasons. Then add a dude with a tiger. Ezekiel rules the Kingdom, a chivalrous community of warriors that frequently appear on horseback. He has a special bond with Shiva, his friend and protector. He feels a little like a James Bond villain in his eccentricities, except he is a good guy. And the Kingdom is it’s own strange world within an already strange world.
I know there is some hair-splitting going on here, but only because I think the balance between that supernatural element and that gritty world is delicate, and how the writers handle Ezekiel and Shiva could be enough to throw it out of whack. You could make the argument that a dude with a tiger is more easily believed than thousands of zombies threatening humanity. Or English actors pulling off southern accents. Fair play to you. But anyone following the show should have worked out their problems with those points by season six.
But my biggest question after seeing this trailer is, will the presence of Ezekiel and Shiva in all their majesty be the one detail in an already crazy plotline that puts it over the top? Will it be too much for casual fans?
Don’t mistake my skepticism for a lack of excitement. I am gleeful, child-like in my enthusiasm to see Ezekiel and Shiva on screen. And maybe an over-the-top villain like Negan demands an over-the-top hero for balance (although we shouldn’t forget Jesus in that equation). I love the comics, and I have followed the show since its early development. And I wondered back then how they would make the books into compelling television. And they succeeded then. And I hope they succeed now.