Last week, AMC's The Walking Dead returned to San Diego Comic-Con, where they revealed the first Season 7 trailer along with the Sunday, October 23 premiere date. This footage gave us our first look at one of the new characters surfacing this fall, King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Today we have more details about this important Kingdom leader, along with six photos featuring The King, Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Morgan (Lennie James), Carol (Melissa McBride) and Jesus (Tom Payne). We also have more details about how Khary Payton ended up winning the role of King Ezekiel.
Many had assumed that King Ezekiel would surface this season, since, in the original comics created by Robert Kirkman, this character and his group known as The Kingdom are first showcased a few issues after Negan's debut. It has already been confirmed that Lennie James' Morgan and Carol will make it to The Kingdom this season, which is essentially a fortified college campus in the comic books. Khary Payton spoke to Entertainment Weekly about portraying this iconic character, revealing the lengths he had to go to in order to hide in plain sight while on set.
"Yeah, man. I'm honestly a little freaked out just talking to you. I've been diving in the backs of vans and having blankets thrown over my head so that nobody catches a glimpse of me and getting in and out of Georgia. I've got a lot of family in Georgia and I didn't even tell them that I was there, so to have an interview with a reporter is a little unnerving. The process was relatively simple, honestly. It was essentially a four or five-page monologue that they gave me, so I spent a good 72 hours pretty much by myself cloistered in a cave trying to get everything down. I didn't audition in front of producers or directors or anything. It was all on tape, so it was just myself and the casting director. I feel like I had a connection with this character in a weird way. I always say that when you're in this acting business, you get a lot of rejection. You get a lot of people telling you no and you've got to get up, dust yourself off, and try again, and I feel like in a way Ezekiel fits that same mold where he's in the hope business. I always say I'm in the hope business. You've got to stay hopeful. You've got to get up off your behind and try again no matter how many times they tell you it's not going to work out. Your opinion's got to overshadow whatever negativity might come your way. In a zombie apocalypse one can find themselves getting down about their situation, but Ezekiel's not one of those people. He fights with all he's got to make sure he stays positive and stays joyful. That's what I love about him."
Khary Payton, who is perhaps best known for his work as a voice actor on Transformers: Robots In Disguise (Grimlock), Teen Titans Go (Cyborg) and The Lion Guard (Rafiki), revealed that he did delve into the comic books for some research into Ezekiel, but he also said that he doesn't plan to "follow it exactly." He also teased that the TV version of Ezekiel will be much different than the comics version. Here's what he had to say below.
"He's in the business of not losing himself to his surroundings. I don't let things get me down. I brighten the things around me in that it's a party when you're going to be around him, and whether it was a party there before it'll be a party by the time he leaves. I love even his relationship with the zombies themselves. He's a guy who doesn't think of them as having a physical disease. It's more that their joy was robbed from them, and that he's one of the few people left on earth whose joy hasn't been robbed, and to him, that's the difference between the living and the dead. If you're still human, but you're letting your joy be taken away from you, you might as well be one of those mindless creatures walking all over. So to him, it's kind of a weird philosophy of life that he's developed living in this apocalypse that you don't let this world turn you into something that you're not. You first come upon him and you think he's a little bit out there, and he is a little bit out there. But the truth is that everything about this world is a little bit out there, and if you want to survive in it and if you want to survive on your own terms, you need to preach your philosophy and preach it loudly so that it doesn't get drowned out by all the crazy."
At the end of Season 6, both Morgan and Carol came across unnamed characters who, judging by their costumes, most assumed were members of The Kingdom. Morgan and Carol will become the first characters to set foot in The Kingdom this season, but we're not sure exactly when that may take place. When asked what Ezekiel thinks of both Morgan and Carol, Khary Payton had this to say.
"That's a good question. I think he sees potential in them. He sees potential in them for understanding his way of living and spreading this gospel of joy and light in a dark situation. I think he considers his Kingdom a lighthouse, and if you use it the right way, it'll keep you from crashing on the rocks."
The trailer also gave fans their first look at Ezekiel's massive tiger named Shiva. EW has confirmed previous rumors that the show will portray this tiger through a mixture of CGI and animatronics. When asked what it's like to work alongside a CGI/animatronic tiger, Khary Payton had this to say.
It's just another beautiful way that I get to use my imagination. As far as I'm concerned, Shiva's as real as the people standing next to me - as Morgan or Carol or any of the other people who move among the Kingdom itself. So I really don't think of it as CG or mechanic. All I know is that she's real to me. I've done a lot of video games where there's literally nothing standing in front of me. I've done, you know, a lot of voiceovers where there's literally nothing standing in front of me, I've got to make it all up, so this is just another situation where my imagination gets to be used in another context, so no matter how good they bring it to life, it's already alive in my head. Shiva is the beginning and the end for Ezekiel. She's one of the reasons that he didn't lose hope when this whole thing started. She's this beautiful unique creature in the middle of this dark, dark time, and so she's beloved, and she's also a symbol to him of what it means to be different in the context of the world that you're living in. It's like she's a constant reminder every time he looks at her that there's beauty in the world. She started off as his protector and now he feels like that relationship is reversed and she's this giant, powerful symbol that he feels a real kinship with and a need to protect. So she's kind of the end all, be all for him. I think Shiva's a really appropriate name for her because she's hallowed in his eyes. She's holy in his eyes."
Of course, the biggest question about this season is who will be the character killed by Negan's bat in the season finale back in April. We likely won't know until the Season 7 premiere, but there have been several theories floating around online. We still have a few months left before the show returns, so we'll continue to give you the latest updates regarding The Walking Dead Season 7 as soon as we have them. Until then, take a look at these new photos below.