Ezekiel’s worst fear has come to pass.
The ruler of The Kingdom remained submissive to The Saviors for as long as he did out of fear of losing his people. Through his relationship with Carol and Morgan, further fueled by the loss of Benjamin, he put that aside to do right by those who’ve put their trust in him — put trust in the image of King Ezekiel he projected. Now he lies on the battlefield, just outside a Sanctuary outpost, with the bodies of his people littered around him. These men and women threw themselves on top of Ezekiel to protect their king from the heavy machine gun fire that took their squadron by surprise.
At this point, it’s practically a right of passage for the characters on The Walking Dead to virtually lose themselves, only to rise from the ashes of loss as someone new. We’ve seen it with Rick, Carol, and Morgan, but Ezekiel’s downward spiral is a more contained story within the overarching narrative of the attack on the Saviors — and it’s more layered and deliberate.
We see a glimpse of Ezekiel’s true self through his daily regimen. Remember, the real Ezekiel was just a friendly zookeeper with a fondness for the theater, and it takes time to transform into the King Ezekiel persona. As he explained last season, it’s a character the people wanted to believe in, and so he played the part.
When Ezekiel wakes under a pile of dead bodies after the surprise attack, it seems he’s the only survivor, maimed by the fresh bullet wound in his leg. He’s forced to inch his way along the ground as members of his kingdom now turn on him as walkers. One, as we see in a flashback, is a mother whose son offered flowers as a goodbye good luck charm. Another is a man who kissed his wife and newborn baby before picking up arms. Another is Daniel, the redheaded soldier who remained by his king’s side. Each, with their now scarred faces and lifeless eyes, haunts Ezekiel as an undead reminder of the people he led to slaughter.
He’s forced to drag himself along the ground as the dead encroach, unable to stand or walk on the injured leg long enough to escape or attack. Alvaro, who managed to survive the onslaught, emerges to protect his king, despite Ezekiel’s commands to leave him and save himself. But as Alvaro said, he can’t do that, which makes his death a deeper wound. Alvaro is supporting his limping leader away from the dead when a bullet tears through his chest. A Savior, a cruel Southern fellow with glasses, reveals himself and takes Ezekiel at gunpoint, with plans to cart him back to The Sanctuary to be chained alongside the walkers linked to its fence.
Ezekiel tries to get away, but his captor delights in his own wicked ways. He relieves Ezekiel of the knife in his cane, reclaims the weapon when Ezekiel attempts an escape, laughs as he paints lines of blood across Ezekiel’s face, and mentally beats the king by calling him a false prophet who fooled his followers. Viewers’ thirst for vengeance is finally satiated, at least, when the pair reach an impasse: a locked gate trapping them with the walkers. As the Savior goes to kill Ezekiel so the walkers will have something to snack on while he flees, the Savior’s body is violently severed down the middle by Jerry, who comes crashing in from behind with a giant axe.
Again, Ezekiel tells Jerry to leave him behind — but again, this is not something his loyal subject can do. So together they turn to face the walkers.
(Recap continues on the next page.)