“Drink from the well, replenish the well.”
The Walking Dead is not a funny show, so it’s not a good sign that I was on the verge of laughter for the majority of the seventh season’s second episode. “The Well” is the most exaggerated, far reaching episode of the series to date. While we’re all well acquainted to the rehashed “perfect refuge too good to be true” storyline, this episode’s take on the idea surpasses ”different” and is instead a lifeless tableau of former iterations.
After the premiere that rattled both diehard fans and passive viewers alike, switching the narrative focus off Rick and the others to reveal what Carol and Morgan have been up to creates an immediate discomfort. It’s also a move that feels desperate on the writers’ behalf and is a prime example of the “emotional manipulation” that viewers have repeatedly accused them of on social media. Instead of giving us what we want, they branch off to a boring storyline that none of us would even bother watching if we weren’t already so emotionally invested.
Sure, we could have flipped the channel and waited until next week when the show undoubtedly returns to Rick and Co., but doing so takes away from the entire season’s viewing experience. It’s easier to just sit and tolerate the episode, which was, by the way, incredibly misleading given the sneak peaks that featured Rick renouncing his leadership over the group and letting them know that Negan is officially the boss.
The biggest flaw of “The Well” is its transparency; it follows a predictable format that most series tend to fall back on when they’re out of ideas. The fill-in-the-blank template chugs along at a dull pace, breaking up the tedium with predictable fights and attempts at heartfelt revelations. Before each scuffle and tender moment, you could point at the screen and say exactly what was coming and what the end result would be.
The gist of the story this week is that Carol and Morgan are now in The Kingdom, run by a man who calls himself King Ezekiel, who is played by series newcomer Khary Payton. I would say that he is the most ridiculous thing about this episode thanks to his dreadlocks-equivalent of a powdered wig and purposefully (but poorly) embroidered manner of speaking, but there’s his pet tiger, Shiva.
There is no place for CGI in a show that has grounded its success in its gruesomely realistic depictions of the zombie apocalypse. A tiger is absurd and displaced in a show like this, but one that is so clearly fake destroys any authority and mystique that the writers hoped to imbue Ezekiel with.
He is a character that simply misses the mark on every level. Although his appearance correlates with the comics, it is far too overdone and looks more like a concept than a final design. He constantly speaks like someone playing Jesus in a Christmas pageant, except when he goes all Game of Thrones by addressing Carol only as “fair maiden.”
The entire episode revolves around him, his position as leader of The Kingdom, and Carol and Morgan’s response to it. Morgan is working for Ezekiel because they helped save Carol’s life while he was transporting her and they were hit by a pack of walkers. Carol, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with Ezekiel or his sanctuary.
While it’s always a delight to watch the once shy and helpless Carol scheming, the way her character was portrayed felt just as incongruous as the episode itself. Her attempts at nativity just made her appear like a senile old woman; she spent most of her screen time in a wheelchair and giggled, pretended to cry over cobbler so she could steal some clothes off a table, and dropped some horribly written lines like, “I’d be speechless if I wasn’t already talking,” and “I just need some rest. And maybe a hairbrush.”
Morgan’s integration into The Kingdom is explored. He’s present during a meeting between Ezekiel, his followers, and some of the Saviors, who they supply with meat and produce in exchange for Negan’s “protection.” However, it’s quickly revealed through a fistfight between two characters no one knows or cares about that the Saviors are far more trouble than anything else. Morgan questions whether he was only brought into The Kingdom because he’s killed Saviors before and “would do it again if I had to.”
He also teaches a new character named Benjamin how to fight and the two have a short talk about the Saviors and The Kingdom. We discover that Benjamin’s raising his younger brother after his father was killed. He’s a character that you can’t help but like right off the bat, which, on this show, pretty much guarantees an incredibly painful and morbid death.
All of Carol’s sweet and innocent act goes to pieces when she tries to escape and Ezekiel catches her. A literal fire erupts beneath his voice as soon as he speaks, and I couldn’t tell if this was just for effect or an attempt at symbolism.
In the fastest character arc ever, Ezekiel drops all pretenses and his ridiculous vernacular to give Carol his full backstory. He was a zookeeper who saved Shiva after she was wounded in her enclosure, and back in the early days of The Kingdom, people were desperate for direction, so he stepped up as leader “faked it” till he made it. Clearly.
After questioning why she wants to leave and telling her she can “go but not go,” Carol eventually winds up in a cabin near The Kingdom and is getting all nice and cozy when there’s a knock at the door. The first thing I saw when she opened it was the ridiculous CGI tiger. Then there was Ezekiel, holding out one of the pomegranates that he’d insisted she try earlier in the episode. They smile, and we can only imagine that this moment represents a relationship that will prove integral to the defeat of Negan and the rest of the Saviors down the line.
Overall, I think this episode was a testament of why storylines derived from print need to be adjusted in order to work on-screen. I actually like the premise of The Kingdom, Ezekiel, and Shiva. However, given the execution of the character design and the major leap in tone and pacing from the past two seasons, “The Well” never stood a chance of being a homerun.
It was underwhelming from start to finish, and I think it would have done much better had we been introduced to the concept of The Kingdom through Saviors’ perspective. But cést la vie. All we can do now is hope that Ezekiel continues to be the chill guy he revealed himself to be rather than a bad Shakespeare knockoff, and that Morgan and Carol’s storylines manage to be engaging in its own right rather than just a means to an end for Rick and the others.