What The Walking Dead?
Out of all our heroes this season, King Ezekiel has been an unrelenting source of inspiration, stability, and light for The Kingdom, Alexandria, and The Hill Top. A determined optimist and leader, he has responded to the call of benevolent authority and confidently accepted that challenge. As a part of his kingly command, he is naturally a diplomat and peacekeeper at heart, but he at first was reluctant to escalate his precarious deal with the Saviors. Rick's impassioned appeal using the fairy tale about the rock in the road, though, finally awakened King Ezekiel to his potential role of responsibility in the war, and he seemed more regal and empowered than ever. How has the king sustained the momentum and potency of his leadership, and are the trials of this episode exactly what it would take to break the king's sense of identity as well as his very spirit? Since Ezekiel is a man of mighty language, perhaps his personal journey in "Some Guy" can be understood by analyzing the power of his words.
Rallying The Kingdom
"We will leave our loved ones to traverse a dangerous road, rushing out of peace into war. And yet I smile, for we will mine glory from the rock of struggle this day. We will honor and protect this bastion of life in the land of dead, and we will win, you trust the king. I smile, I laugh, I rejoice this day, for on this day we are joined in purpose and vision. We are of a singular heart and mind. On this day, we are one!"
- King Ezekiel
Coming from a show filled with expressive, catalyzing monologues, the speech Ezekiel delivers to his soldiers is one of the most striking and empowering yet witnessed, and with it, he brings a force of solidarity to his group's cause. His faith and confidence in his people and their endeavor seems driven by utter sincerity and an unshakable force of will. But, much to the shock and dismay of viewers, this pre-battle rally jump-cuts from a scene of him surrounded by inspired soldiers to him surrounded by the dead -- his dead, his people he had just carried into battle. It is another instance of the rug being pulled out from under these characters, but this time it is done with a new level of drama and heartbreak. This scene will belong with the other particularly iconic gut-wrenching moments of the show during which viewers can't help but gasp and even shout in protest. Seeing Ezekiel emerge from under the dead wreckage of his people to find himself alone would have been the most dispiriting moment until he let out a wordless, guttural, and primal cry of pain and sorrow, echoing emptily across a scene of destruction. This tortured cry, along with the wound in Ezekiel's leg, mirrors the experiences of Shiva when Ezekiel originally saved her. Who is left to hear his cries, and will Ezekiel, quite literally, be able to stand up on his own and continue?
What Is A King Without His Soldiers?
"I will not let you use me to hurt my people"
"Your people? You mean all those sheep you rooked into thinking you're a king? I heard your story. We all did...That cat just loves you. It gave you everything, didn't it? Gave you an angle, a story. Got to hand it to you, you played your cards good. You played your people good. They ate that horseshit right up. They grew food for you, built those walls for you. You got them all killed -- they're still following you. But take away that tiger? And what's left? Just some meaningless con man in a costume."
As if the loss of his soldiers and a missing Shiva were not devastating enough, he continues to have each shred of hope torn away as he attempts to reorient himself in the midst of such a perilous situation. His soldier Alvaro is discovered to be alive when he comes to Ezekiel's aid, but that small moment of hope is also ripped away from him when a strange, rogue savior kills Alvaro to take the king hostage. This Savior may not have lasted long (thanks to the ever dependable, loyal, and apparently savage Jerry), but the words he speaks to Ezekiel have an immediate and possibly long lasting effect on the king. He brings into question King Ezekiel's persona, methods of authority, and his intentions as a leader, and this Savior's reconstruction of the king sounds strikingly similar to the persona, methods of authority, and intentions as a leader as Negan. Both Ezekiel and Negan have created larger-than-life identities by carefully crafting their images and deriving as well as exuding power through Shiva and Lucille. No doubt tainted by the negative and brutal mentality of Negan's modus operandi, the Savior assumes the king's methods must also be the same. His success at sewing these seeds of doubt within Ezekiel is clear as we watch the king's face grow more sorrowful with each word. Even if the Savior is wrong about the king, will he able to destroy Ezekiel's faith in himself and ultimately his mission?
The Tragic Fall Of Shiva
"You're my king!"
"No! I'm not! I'm not your king! I'm not 'You're Majesty!' Look at what's in front of us! That's what's real! Go. I ain't no king. I ain't nothing. I'm just some guy who found [a tiger]..."
This heart-rending exchange between the king and Jerry at first seems like the only option left as the climax to this grievous episode, but Ezekiel is interrupted by the sudden arrival and soon-to-follow demise of Shiva (an iconic moment that many readers of the comic were woefully anticipating). And, the tragedy and trauma are pushed further by the fact that Shiva is taken down by the very walkers from which she was attempting to save Ezekiel. Shiva has finally repaid him for being able "to be the one who leapt" to save her so long ago. In the reeling of his grief, he is ready to die trying to save her. To paraphrase show runner Scott M. Gimple, King Ezekiel is like a captain ready to go down with what's left of his doomed ship. But, Carol and Jerry, the only of his cohorts left, will not allow him to sacrifice himself for her and carry him off to the safety of The Kingdom. They understand that without the king and everything in which he believes, losing the war against Negan could be inevitable. Will their faith in him anchor him to the faith in himself he has had all along? Or, will the emotionally bludgeoned, silently limping Ezekiel, stripped of his spirit animal, most of his ranks, and possibly his will to fight, trudge back to the kingdom in defeat? If so, could this war possibly still be won without him?
Though episode four was nothing short of an onslaught of horrors for King Ezekiel, there are moments of hope and fight in characters such as Jerry and Carol and Rick and Daryl (let's not forget the explosive attack they unleash on the Saviors on the road). If their determination (and Daryl's get-right-back-up-and-keep-riding attitude) are an indicator of what they are all still capable of doing, it's safe to say the war is far from over for Ezekiel and for everyone.
"If you are asked to be the hero, be the hero" - King Ezekiel
Ciara Cerrato was a projectionist and curator at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, and she currently is a poet and freelance writer in New York.
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