Hope was the message of this week’s Walking Dead, and it is refreshing one given the borderline vulgar hopelessness of last week’s “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” “The Well” pleasingly picks up Carol and Morgan respective threads, leaving the group who has recently survived Negan for another night. The pair finds themselves welcomed to The Kingdom, the idyllic community overseen by fun new character King Ezekiel, who holds court in a high school auditorium and is guarded by a tiger named Shiva. Things are looking up on The Walking Dead; there is a tiger now.
The Walking Dead is best when during the phases of its cycle when it’s building and expanding its world, not tearing it down. The Kingdom, as with the show’s previous safe havens, represents hope and safety, the possibility of a peaceful future, but, unlike those other oases, its leadership is not blind to the reality of the world; Ezekiel’s people are properly militarized (without being conquerors) and the King has acquiesced to the demands of The Saviors, a deal he keeps secret from the majority of The Kingdom’s citizenry for fear that they would demand revolution. Ezekiel’s vision is not uncompromised, but it is working; and they are even afforded a small revolt in feeding the pigs they offer up to the Saviors on walkers, a passive-aggressive plan fomented by new character Richard, who has “awful death” written all over him.
Naturally, Carol is distrustful of the situation, falling back on her naive act (and demonstrating why Melissa McCarthy is best actor on the show), while pilfering weapons and supplies in case she makes a move. But even Carol has her “everything is awful all the time” worldview challenged by Ezekiel’s “Where there is life there is hope, where there is life there is life” attitude, moreso when Ezekiel confides in her his backstory: he was a zookeeper in his pre-apocalypse life (hence the awesome tiger), who adopted a the air of a king for people who needed a leader. Ezekiel is a life-force, the roaring, brightly-colored tiger at his side a stark contrast to the grey-hued shambling walkers. Carol, and the audience by proxy, is allowing herself to hope again (and, perhaps, love? There’s a real vibe between these two). While there will certainly, obviously, be challenges presented by Negan to come, The Kingdom feels more real and permanent than previous communities.
Morgan is into The Kingdom from the get-go. His peaceful warrior fits right in with Ezekiel’s philosophy of violence for defense rather than offense. He is pressed (gently) into service as aikido instructor to Ben (also marked for death, for sure), and seems to have found his place in the world. Knowing this show, having found his niche could mean it will be curtains before too long, but, for now, things are looking up. There is a tiger now.