Dalton Ross
November 12, 2017 AT 10:00 PM EST

SPOILER ALERT: Read on only if you’ve watched Sunday night’s “Some Guy” episode of The Walking Dead.

What started with one of the most rousing, inspirational speeches in The Walking Dead history ended in massive death and misery. We saw King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) rally his troops at the beginning of Sunday’s episode, “Some Guy,” but then reality hit and we finally witnessed the aftermath of the gunner in the tower from last week’s installment.

The aftermath was not good, as practically every Kingdom soldier was shot dead. Things did not look much better for the king himself, as he was about to be struck down by a Savior when his right-hand man, Jerry (Cooper Andrews) came to the rescue. (The two of them were then in turn saved by Melissa McBride’s Carol.) But the most painful moment was yet to come. With Ezekiel on the verge of giving up hope and succumbing to a group of super-gnarly toxic-sludge zombies, it was his pet tiger, Shiva, who jumped in to to protect him, sacrificing herself in the process.

We spoke to Payton to get the inside scoop on the emotional episode, as well as what it all means moving forward.

Gene Page/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s talk about the very start of the episode, as we see Ezekiel waking up and getting ready, and the last thing he does is look in that mirror and put his smile on. Is that an actor slipping into character right before he steps onstage?
KHARY PAYTON: Well, I’d say it’s something like that. I think it’s an actor putting on his character, but I think it’s also a player putting on their game face. To say that it’s an actor playing a part, I think Ezekiel’s gone far beyond that at this point. It’s something deeper, it’s something that’s become a part of who he is, and even when he goes to sleep at night, I don’t know if he totally takes it off anymore. There’s a certain amount of that that I think has to be stripped away from him, and it takes out of everything that happened to him over the course of this episode for that to happen.

But what’s interesting about this is that there are certain people who are sort of living a lie, like we saw with Eugene (Josh McDermitt) for a while, who were doing it for their own selfish purposes. But as we’ve seen with Ezekiel — and we’ve seen him tell this to Carol — this is leadership. He knows this is what these people need, so to me when he puts that smile on it’s not just faking it to survive, it’s more, like “I know what these people need and what they need is to see this smile.” It’s leadership.
Yeah, it’s true, and the truth is, “Fake it till you make” it works, you know? The thing is, is that you don’t know what you’re capable of until you push past your limits, and “Fake it till you make it” is another way of saying you go for it and trust that you had what it takes and you learn along the way. And that’s how most of us get through life, is trusting our instincts and pushing a little further than maybe some might think we’re capable of doing.

But that’s how you break those barriers and that’s how you move forward, and so, yeah, to him it’s more about like you said, the way you lead is by example. It’s by stepping out on faith a little bit and having faith in yourself and your ability, and it’s no longer an act, it’s more of a modus operandi.

Let’s talk about that rousing speech he makes to the Kingdom before leading them into battle, culminating with shouts of “We are one!” How much fun was that scene to shoot?
It was an incredible day. That entire day was incredible because it is such an amazing speech that they wrote for me. David Leslie Johnson is a writer on this episode, and he just killed it. I’m still kind of reeling from it because I remember the moment and just how fired up everybody was. We shot this as one of the first scenes of the day and we were all so fired up, and you can’t help but reciting that speech over and over again; everybody gets kind of hyped.

We actually shot that scene, and at the very end of the day did the last scene of the episode, where Ezekiel comes walking back to the Kingdom with just Jerry and Carol and totally defeated, and he sees what’s left of his Kingdom. And the first time we shot that, they actually shot it behind me, that big wide shot was the first shot we shot, and the first time I saw what was left of the Kingdom, I bawled like a baby because it was just like, “What have I done?” We went from that incredible, rousing, wonderful time of feeling together and feeling this oneness, and then I had to go inside and kind of get myself all beat up and walk back out.

I’m so proud of all of the actors that have been with me in the Kingdom. Some didn’t have lines and they maybe didn’t even have a name on the show, they’ve been in the Kingdom for as long as I have, and they did an amazing job of just supporting me and supporting Cooper Andrews and Melissa McBride. The looks on their faces absolutely broke me down in that moment. It was such a roller coaster of a day that day, and I could not be more proud of every single member of my Kingdom crew.

Gene Page/AMC

You’re talking about the juxtaposition of that day, which is really what happens in the episode. The rousing highs of that speech come crashing down really quickly. So let’s just talk about everything that happens to Ezekiel after this. What is it that gets him into this total crisis of confidence? Is it because he does feel like a “con man in a costume,” as he captor calls him, who led all these people to their death?
I think so. I think that he first of all convinces himself before he can convince anyone else of his truth, that they can fight this battle and they can walk through the fire unscathed. In order for him to feel good about going into war, I don’t think he could feel good about it if he was sacrificing their lives. So he talked himself into, “We’re not sacrificing, we’re going to somehow make this. Through the power of positivity, I’m going to make this war come out the way that I want it to.” And when it totally turns on its head, I think he starts really listening to the Savior who drug him across the field all day, and it really seeps into him. And yeah, he really starts to falter at that moment.

NEXT PAGE: Payton on playing that big Shiva death scene, and what happens next

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