After a gruesome season opener, The Walking Dead allows viewers a moment of hope. In Season 7 Episode 2, “The Well,” we’re introduced to a new community called the Kingdom. Since the onset of the zombie apocalypse we’ve seen a handful of communities that have managed to survive for a time, including Woodbury, Terminus, Grandy Memorial Hospital, Alexandria, and the Hilltop, but the Kingdom is far more prosperous than anything we’ve seen before. At first glance, the Kingdom appears to be a bountiful and secure society, but Carol’s experience with new groups leaves her suspicious and she describes it as a “fairy tale.”
Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?
In fact, the Kingdom is a fairy tale of sorts. Its leader calls himself King Ezekiel and keeps a tiger named Shiva by his side. He speaks as though he’s in a Shakespearean play and his court is set in an auditorium with a castle backdrop. In the Kingdom there are gardens, an orchard, a choir, and a school, among other signs of civilization. Ezekiel invites Carol to “Drink from the well; replenish the well.” It seems idyllic, but Carol still has no intention of staying. She warns Morgan that she will leave the first opportunity she has.
In “Last Day on Earth,” Carol told Morgan that there’s a price to be paid for belonging to a group: “If you care about people, there are people to protect, there are people you will kill for. If you don’t want to kill … or you can’t … then you have to get away from them. You do not get both.” Carol is still struggling with this dilemma, and since she doesn’t want to kill anymore, she believes that the only alternative is to be away from other people.
The Cost of Peace in The Kingdom
Ezekiel is quick to see that Morgan is an asset. He includes Morgan in their run outside the Kingdom to hunt pigs. The pigs aren’t brought back to the Kingdom, giving us a hint of what’s to come. Later, Ezekiel asks Morgan to train Benjamin with the staff, since young Ben is pretty useless with other weapons. Morgan is reluctant to agree to become Ben’s mentor, but Ezekiel is persuasive, telling Morgan, “Young Benjamin will become an important part of my court. I need the boy to … I need him to live. Please.”
When Morgan is included on another run outside the Kingdom, he learns what the pigs are being used for. They’re an offering to the Saviors. One of the men from the Kingdom, Richard, can’t ignore the taunting by a Savior and they get into a scuffle. What would normally seem like a minor fracas takes on new significance for the audience, now that we’ve seen Negan’s brutality. Ezekiel is able to stop the fight, but gets a warning from the Saviors. Things at the Kingdom aren’t quite as idyllic as they first seemed.
Morgan affirms that it was one of the Saviors that he killed to save Carol. He asks if his ability to kill was the reason Ezekiel wanted him at the exchange, but it appears that Ezekiel values Morgan for his peaceful practice, not his skill with violence. Back at the Kingdom, Benjamin confides to Morgan that Ezekiel is keeping the deal with the Saviors a secret because he fears his people would want to fight. Unlike Rick, Ezekiel doesn’t underestimate the Saviors. Ezekiel recognizes that the Kingdom would lose too many people if they were to get into a violent confrontation with the Saviors.
Has Morgan finally found a leader aligned with his own values? When Benjamin questions Morgan about the Aikido philosophy of not killing, Morgan tells young Benjamin that he’ll need to find his own way. Morgan admits he’s just fumbling through himself, adding, “Sometimes we change our minds.” Maybe Morgan won’t be so quick to indoctrinate newbies into the Aikido philosophy now that he’s broken Carol. Of course, these experiences are bound to change Morgan in some ways as well.
Fake It ‘Til You Make It
Carol has been playing her sweet and helpless role as she gathers everything she needs in order to leave. Not everyone has been taken in by her act, and Ezekiel confronts Carol at the orchard. He realized how dangerous Carol was when he found that she arrived with a cache of Savior weapons.
When Carol calls him a joke and the Kingdom a fairy tale, Ezekiel drops his own act. He explains, “People want someone to follow. It’s human nature. They want someone to make them feel safe. People that feel safe are less dangerous. They’re more productive ” King Ezekiel was once a zookeeper who acted in community theater on the side. When the apocalypse came he rescued Shiva, making him a legend of sorts. He eventually came to be seen as a leader, a role he embraced in order to sustain people’s hope.
Ezekiel took on the emblems and affectations of a leader, in this case royalty, giving people hope in what he represented. Symbolic representations of authority abound in The Walking Dead, from the title taken on by the Governor, to the uniforms worn by Rick and the officers at Grandy Hospital, to Deanna’s former position as a US Senator.
Ezekiel’s final appeal to Carol appears to be aimed at The Walking Dead audience still recovering from the season premiere:
“Out there it feels like it’s all bad, especially when you’re alone. The thing is, though, it’s not all bad. It can’t be, it isn’t. Life isn’t. Where there’s life, there’s hope—heroism, grace and love.”
When Carol makes it clear there’s nothing he can say to prevent her from leaving the Kingdom, Ezekiel suggests she find a way to “go and not go.”
Embracing the Contradiction
The following day Morgan walks Carol to the gates of the Kingdom, acknowledging he never should’ve impeded her choice to be on her own. It feels as though the anger and tension between these two frenemies has dissipated.
Carol: “Another ten minutes and I might start to regret all the times I tried to shoot and stab you.”
Morgan: “I think you’re my favorite person I ever knocked out. Definitely top two or three.”
Carol manages to give us a final surprise when she embraces the contradiction of leaving, but not leaving, by clearing the house outside the gate and making it a place where she can live on her own. Ezekiel and Shiva come to visit and Ezekiel offers her a pomegranate—a fruit he described as “sweet fruit surrounded by bitter, but heaven for the effort.” Ezekiel has the ability to see past Carol’s layers, and her slow smile indicates she’s allowing herself to open up as well.
Focusing the entire episode on the Kingdom gave us a good preliminary understanding of the community and its leader. “The Well” was a character study of some pretty interesting figures—Ezekiel, Morgan, and Carol. The acting skill of Khary Payton (Ezekiel), Lennie James (Morgan), and Melissa McBride (Carol) takes what could be seen as a slow episode and makes it thoroughly engaging.
We’ve had a glimpse of a happy and healthy community, though one living in the shadow of the Saviors. It helped us to believe that in the world of The Walking Dead, “it’s not all bad.” Lest we get too comfortable, the next episode of The Walking Dead will be introducing the Sanctuary, the home of Negan and his crew of Saviors. For this week, at least, “The Well” gives us a glimpse of hope and joy to hold onto during what has been a pretty bleak apocalypse.