Huzzah, King Ezekiel arrives in the latest episode of The Walking Dead

Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's The Walking Dead Season 7 premiere, "The Well."

Contributing Editor Tara Bennett digs into this decidedly different episode from the premiere, also  directed by Greg Nicotero and written by Matt Negrete.

Overview:  There's no continuation of the season premiere pain; rather we pick up from the sixth season finale, catching up with an injured Carol being taken to a brand-new environment called The Kingdom. Morgan serves as her escort, and then tour guide, to the positively bucolic enclave that's bustling with children, gardens, well-adjusted residents and ... oh, yeah, a King named Ezekiel. He's got a pet tiger named Shiva too. Yes, all of it is basically a bonkers-town scenario to Carol,  but she doesn't care as she wants out of this place and back on the road anyway. Despite both Morgan and Ezekiel wanting her to stay, the two men know it's ultimately up to Carol to decide her own destiny.

Highlights

I'm extremely grateful to get an episode of The Walking Dead that brought it back to what I, personally, love about the show: exploring the humanity that the characters try to maintain in the bleakest of environments. I adore Lennie James and Melissa McBride as actors, and what they've been exploring as their embodiments of Morgan and Carol is exquisite.  Tonight's episode showcased their versatile talents as their characters tried to navigate the outward absurdity of The Kingdom. But even more important, the pair were able to start new chapters by choosing to move forward in ways that felt organic to themselves, which is  the best kind of characterization.

Morgan has been struggling with his "no kill" policy since he connected back with Rick. But going out with Ezekiel and training the eager Ben in Aikido allowed Morgan to understand that the black and white of his sensei's code is actually not his path. He adopted it, but it's never fit him as much as he wanted it to. It looks like we're now going to see a Morgan who forges his own path of tempered pacifism with practical executions (literally). I'm glad to see him get out of the often frustrating rut of boneheaded moral compass, and back to the man who believes in death as a last resort only when needed.

Meanwhile, Carol's been stewing in anger, self-loathing and barreling forward protecting her family since she made Lizzie look at the flowers. All of Season 6, she struggled to find a reason to live once the Wolves had their way with Alexandria. It was completely unexpected that the chance encounter with Ezekiel and his last act confessional was finally the sliver of light she needed to come back to hope. She's coming back to herself her own way now, alone in a house near the compound, but there's a clear tether back to peace in that choice, which is wonderful to see in such a complex and compelling character.

Also, it was pretty fabulous to see McBride's comedic side come out to play again. Her entire reaction to meeting Ezekiel for the first time was perfect. From her facial reactions to Shiva, to her reaction to Jerry's attempt to woo her with fruit (I'm with you Carol, give me chocolate ANY day over fruit), to afterward with Morgan, where she reacts incredulously, "You're sh-tting me, right? It's a circus!" All of it is executed with perfection.

And how about Khary Payton's Ezekiel? A truly masterful introduction to a purposefully over-the-top character that gained layers of humanity every second Payton was on-screen. If last week's premiere was a black hole to anything good in the world, this week via Ezekiel we got a hit of the sweet, sweet hope the show has been lacking for some time. Ezekiel shedding his bad community theater accent and pompous emoting to get 100 percent with Carol about who he really is, why he plays the game for his people and what it's all about for him was a genuine high-water mark for the series. I'm all in with the writer's use of the character in the show after that heart-to-heart in the orchard. The Kingdom is what the prison and Alexandria could have been without a lot of Rick's mistakes. But we know there's also a price to be paid for the peace, one that's likely not to be maintained once Ezekiel's secrets come out to his people. 

Lowlights

Man, those Saviors. It's hard not to see them as just moustache twirlers when so many of them are cartoon-like excessive. The dude going after Richard, Pig-Farmer in the City, was an eye-roller. I'm glad they at least showed some humanity with Savior Gavin, but even with that, it's hard to see any of Negan's crew as anything but two-dimensional at this point. 

Who first decided that walker-fed pigs was a good idea to try? And who was the guinea pig that took the first slice out of THAT pig roast? I know hunger makes people do crazy things (Terminus), but really?  That would be my "I'm going vegan" moment in life.

"Oh S--t!" Moment

The Ren Fest coordinated riders had quite some slices on horseback in the opener. That full facial slice was nasty yet creative.

Ezekiel's stage introduction was worthy of Carol's reaction because it was all of our reactions. For real?

Carol setting up her lonely house only to get interrupted by the tiger welcome wagon featuring the hunky neighbor bearing pomegranates. Someone has his eye on our Carol, for sure. 

Overall

I wasn't a fan of the season premiere for all of the reasons listed in my breakdown last week, but "The Well" reminded me that when the show is on point with its own longtime mandate of telling human stories against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, it can oftentimes be brilliant. I know a large contingent of the audience watches the show for the blood, the kills and the creative violence. I watch the show because I want to invest in and care about the characters. I think an episode like this that reminds us all about why we bother with humanity in the first place, and have invested in these characters for seven years, is far more powerful and affecting than what Lucille wrought last week.

What did you think of “The Well." Did you need it after last week? Are you onboard with Ezekiel?

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