Well, I hope all those outraged ‘fans’ who didn’t swear off the show after last week’s gory premiere are happy this week. Before I get to the actual recap, allow me to rant a little bit (or just skip this part entirely and go here):

This is a show about people in the zombie apocalypse. We’ve seen countless disgusting walkers, we’ve seen plenty of them unceremoniously dispatched, and we’ve even seen a couple of our own turn into zombies.

More to the point, we’ve seen enough of our people get killed off before. People we actually cared about and grown to love.

Have we forgotten about Dale watching a walker eat his guts before being mercy-killed by Daryl?
Merle having turned into a Walker only to get his face bashed in by his own brother?
Hershel’s head getting chopped off by the Governor, not even in the GoT, one-fell-swoop way?
Bob watching his own leg get eaten, not by walkers, but by actual human cannibals?
Noah getting his faced eaten by walkers as Glenn helplessly watched on?

The list goes on and on.

We’ve even seen our own group perform quite a number of vile acts.

Michonne took the Governor’s eye out. Rick killed a man by biting off his neck. Our group orchestrated a mass assassination plot just a couple of episodes before running into the terror that is Negan. Hell, the Carol kills alone could make this a pretty long list, but let’s just point out the a couple of extra awful ones: she barbecued two of their own back in the prison. She executed a little girl. A sociopath, yes, but no less shocking. Look at the flowers, Lizzie.

Hell, last season alone an entire family, including a child, got eaten by walkers as Rick chopped HIS GIRLFRIEND’S HAND OFF to save his own family, and an instant later his son had a gaping bullet hole where his eye used to be.

The point is, we’ve had our share of the gruesome and the horrible on this show, and no one seemed to complain before. We all knew what we were in for when we started watching a zombie show. We also know that the comic series it’s based on is just as gory, with the added bonus of foul language on top.

And yes, the psychological violence in the season 7 premiere was just as cruel and horrific as the physical violence. Not that we haven’t had our share of that before, either. But pair that with the consecutive deaths of two favorite characters PLUS the very real threat of maiming an already traumatized (again, both physically and mentally) teenager, and cue all those sensitive souls who suddently find the violence gratuitous and too much to handle.

My take on that? Boo.

Bottom line is, no one’s forcing anyone to watch TWD. It’s a show about the zombie apocalypse, not a freaking documentary. If you’re down with the zombie guts and terrible deaths and all the stuff that makes this show what it is, then great. You’re my kind of people. If you just want to be a baby about it, go watch Pretty Little Liars. Maybe psychological and physical torture of a bunch of teenagers is more up your alley. <insert eye roll>

/end rant.

On to last night’s episode:

We finally get to see the Kingdom, and boy is that a whole new world!

But let’s take it from the top: as was the case with last week’s bloodbath, this episode also picks up where we left off last season, with Carol being carried to safety by the oddly armor-clad nice people who came to her and Morgan’s rescue. After a bit of a scuffle with a few walkers (and the most amazing head-slicing scene ever on this show), which thankfully were the only actual deaths we got this week, Morgan and Carol are taken inside the Kingdom gates, but not before Carol does her usual thing and breaks off from the group.

Was it unrealistic that she was weak enough to have to be carried in a cart one minute and then almost running towards that abandoned house the next? Sure, but the double vision scene made up for the little plot hole. Also, you just have to admire the dedication of this show, having cast sets of twins to serve as the before-and-after hallucinations; probably unnecessary, given the amount of make-up transformation these guys undergo to become walkers. Still, pretty impressive. We also got a nice callback to Morgan’s former habit of marking his path on the road to Rick & co. back in season 4.

By the way, was I the only one getting serious Game of Thrones vibes watching those those Kingdom men on horseback and in full armor decimating walkers? On one hand I can’t wait for the inevitable battle with the white walkers coming up in GoT’s final seasons, but on the other I can’t help but wish for a GoT/TWD mashup, because how freaking awesome would that be?

Or, rather, amazing, to use Carol’s phrasing. We knew what was coming from that ComiCon preview, but Carol sure as hell didn’t know what hit her, as Morgan wheeled her into the auditorium to meet the guy who runs the place. Morgan’s hesitation before telling her King Ezekiel’s name was right on the money.

The GoT vibes are even stronger as Carol makes the king’s acquaintance. Everything, from the castle backdrop to Ezekiel’s awesome sidekick Jerry, right down to their pompous language and their referring to their community as ‘the realm’ was so reminiscent of GoT – or, if you want to be a bit more dismissive about it, of a renaissance fair. With a tiger.

And what a tiger it was! In the words of Carol, Shiva was amazing. I didn’t expect her to come off so realistic, but I gotta give props to Nicotero and the rest of the crew for bringing Shiva to life.

Still, as incredible as watching a self-proclaimed king sitting in a throne on stage, petting his tiger might be, what stole the scene was Carol’s hilarious reaction. Her awkward grin, that evolved into honest-to-god GIGGLES, was only second to her delightful proclamation:

I don’t know what the hell is going on in the most wonderful way!

Even the way Jerry and Ezekiel present the fruit was awesome. Locally grown, because apparently the Kingdom is all about farm-to-table dining. And they serve cobbler with every meal!

Her one-on-one with Morgan was just as hilarious, and we got cynical Carol back: “You’re shitting me right? This place is a circus!“. Yes it is, dear Carol, but Morgan seems to be going along with it just fine. I’m sure I didn’t catch every single detail of the Kingdom, but the ones I did were pure perfection, from the colander wind chimes to Ezekiel’s catchphrase about replenishing the well stenciled on Carol’s room wall.

By the way, are they saying ‘shit‘ a lot this season or is it just me?

The pig-hoarding scene was funny, not so much because of what was happening on screen (I mean, that Richard guy just let the pigs feast on a walker, after all), but because you just knew how hilarious it must have been to film. Lennie James pretty much confirmed that with his peanut butter story on Talking Dead, and I’m starting to think the rest of the cast must be resenting the Kingdom group by now: these guys get the fun scenes while our Alexandrians keep getting beaten and killed off left and right!

Also, was it just me or did that kid Ben look a bit like Loras? It was mostly the hair, but damn if I’m not getting GoT vibes throughout this entire episode!

Anyhoo, Carol’s back to her usual shenanigans, putting on the Suzie Homemaker act and stealing weapons and clothes, while Morgan agrees to take Benjamin under his wing and teach him Aikido. And just when you start to believe that Carol’s right about this entire community being nuts – I mean, a CHOIR? – you get Ezekiel’s speech about the pessimist, the optimist and the realist and you start to realize there’s much more to this guy than meets the eye.

We also get our second obvious callback of the episode: Morgan training Ben in the gazebo is a painful reminder of Noah asking Reg to teach him architecture, in a similar gazebo back in Alexandria.

Things start to get serious when Ezekiel summons Morgan to join him for a ‘matter of great import’. The disgusting pig-feeding scene makes complete sense now, and it’s downright brilliant: Ezekiel has a little arrangement with the Saviors just like everyone else in the vicinity, it seems. But instead of just giving them the agreed upon number of pigs as their weekly tribute, they give Negan’s men pigs that just gorged on walker flesh. Was this supposed to be yet another callback, this time to the ‘tainted meat’ scene back when the Termites ate Bob’s leg?

By now it’s pretty obvious that Ezekiel really is a character; not so much quirky-wannabe-royalty, but rather a smart, capable leader. He may be pompous and a bit flamboyant, but he sees right through Carol’s sweet and innocent act and immediately calls her out on it. Not only that, but we also get his back story, and the guy is even more likable when he’s not wearing his King mask – and his Shiva story was pretty damn moving.

When Carol challenges him, calling him a joke, he doesn’t get defensive or angry; he opens up and seems to genuinely want her to understand and stay in the Kingdom. Yes, he might be selling these people the fairy tale, but his reasoning is sound: people want to feel safe. People who feel safe are less dangerous, more productive. He showed up with a tiger, people treated him like royalty, made him larger than life, and he acted the part. Faked it till he made it, in fact. He found a way to deal with the bad by going a little overboard with the good and embraced the contradiction.

His little speech was quite effective, but our skeptical ninja housewife still has doubts: Why do you care? Ezekiel’s answer is simply disarming: Because it makes me feel good. Anyone but our stubborn Carol would have just accepted his invitation to stay in a New York minute. Could this guy really be this freaking NICE?

Apparently, yes: he gives her the space she needs by letting her move to the abandoned house next to the Kingdom… and then shows up at her door bearing fruit. Oh, and his pet tiger. What a guy! Who’s rooting for a Carol/Ezekiel romance? Are the Daryl fangirls rioting yet?

Final thoughts:

I thoroughly enjoyed the episode overall. As promised, it was a much welcome respite from all the heartbreak of the season premiere. Still, as much as I loved this first look at the Kingdom, I couldn’t help wondering how our group of survivors are doing back in Alexandria.

More importantly, how will Morgan and Carol react when they find out what happened to Glenn and Abraham? Ninja-Carol might be temporarily on hiatus, but these are surely special circumstances. She’s slaughtered bad guys before over a lot less. On the other hand, peace-loving Morgan seems to be re-evaluating his philosophy as of late.

But back on the subject at hand: what do we think of Ezekiel? 

Call me naïve, but I love this guy already. I had pretty much the same reaction about Jesus last season and he hasn’t exactly lived up to my expectations just yet, but I feel like we got a much better look in Ezekiel this week.

Was it strange that he put so much trust in Morgan right away? Yes and no. It was a bit suspect, initially, when Ezekiel instantly invited him into his inner circle, making him privy to his secret deal with Negan’s people and asking him to train a young man he obviously cares about a great deal. But then again, here are a couple of new people, who don’t look at him in awe or call him ‘your Majesty’ and treat him like a god. He can be himself with them more than he could ever be with his… royal subjects. His people need the fairy tale, he needs to put on the show for them; not for Morgan, though, and definitely not for Carol.

For me, however, what is more fascinating is how he’s portrayed as a leader. Sure, he probably hasn’t been through as much as Rick, but at first glance he wins the contest, hands down.

Look how he treats newcomers Morgan and Carol; now contrast that with the hostile way Rick treated Aaron and the Alexandrians when they were first recruited.

He’s the undisputed head of his community, but he hasn’t gotten cocky enough to assume he can take on Negan’s group. Instead of displaying outright defiance (and then paying the price), he opts for a more cunning method to get back at the saviors, by way of walker-infected pork.

He gives his people what they want, but also takes great pains to train them to become effective warriors, rather than the tactless Grimes way of ‘how many of you do I have to kill to save your lives‘.

Right off the bat (ha, get it?), Ezekiel seems to be a much smarter leader than Rick, who has now been reduced to a cowering, submissive servant of Negan, much like the cowardly Hilltop leader, Gregory.

To top it off, Khary Peyton seems to be having the time of his life with his character, and it definitely translates on screen! It’ll be interesting to see how the two communities come together eventually, and how these two vastly different personalities see eye to eye (if at all). For now, I’m thoroughly enjoying King Ezekiel and I hope he doesn’t let me down.