WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! turn back now if you haven’t seen this week’s episode of The Walking Dead.
“I don’t know what the hell’s going on, in the most wonderful way.”
In “The Well” we got the episode I feared we would get for the Season Premiere: the Carol/Morgan update. Episode 2 is a much more appropriate place considering the nonsense cliffhanger games the show has played on its viewers of late. One day those wounds will heal, but they have to stop inflicting them first.
“The Well” introduced The Kingdom to the Walking Dead Universe. Sort of like Hilltop, The Kingdom is a relatively safe and flourishing community. Also like Hilltop, they are under the thumb of Negan’s Saviors.
How Carol Continued to Not Get Her Groove Back
The centerpiece of the episode was Carol’s ongoing struggle to find a reason to keep on fighting. Her conflict/camaraderie with Morgan also continues. Amidst Negan’s shock and awe, it’s difficult to remember why Carol is in such a funk. It’s not like she’s recently had to put a child down for becoming a merciless killer. That was, like, two seasons ago. What the hell’s the problem, Carol?
Make no mistake: I love Carol. I think she’s one of the strongest characters on the show. That probably increases my angst at her seemingly nihilistic dilemma. She’s usually so strong in the face of incredible awfulness: including murdering two sick people and burning the bodies to protect the prison population and faking Ms. Homemaker to lull her captors into complacency before brutally dispatching them. Her sanity appears to have taken a toll, and maybe the on-the-surface absurdity of the Kingdom jabs at that wound.
Speaking of which, our new character this week is King Ezekiel, and he rules over his Kingdom as an enlightened despot with his tiger Shiva serving as the talisman of his authority. I mean, their stage presence together is intimidating. Carol’s first meeting with the good King again showcases her bullshitting skills (the King’s words, not mine). She was so happy and surprised. Oh my goodness, it’s all so amazing! It was a fun cut to see her then immediately tear into Morgan with her actual feelings on the stupidity of it all once they were out of earshot.
The good King, however, sees something of himself in Carol. Mostly the putting up a good front part. As she manipulates her way around town setting herself up to escape (which she tells Morgan straight-up that’s what she’s going to do the moment he isn’t looking), she stumbles into the King: he’s setup a trap for her in his orchard. At this forced meeting, he deals directly with Carol, telling her his whole back story in very expositional fashion. Interestingly, he never asks Carol how she got to where she is. Come on, Your Majesty, practice some listening skills. To her credit, she tells him straight away: I don’t care. Then she takes off.
The episode ends with Carol settling into the house with the zombie she pictured as a kindly old woman. Speaking of which, that sequence early on in the episode with the juxtaposed shots of the zombies getting slaughtered with their former human selves (or imagined selves, as it was all in Carol’s dazed head) was fantastic: some of the best and most disturbing zombie-horror the show has come up with in awhile. There’s only so many ways to decapitate a walker, after all.
Anyway, back to the future: what was Carol’s plan, exactly? She kills/buries the old woman zombie. Starts a fire. Plans to live there? Plans to spend the night there? Is she more comfortable among the dead than the living? Is that the point?
Well, whatever, it doesn’t matter because a mighty roar heralds the presence of King Ezekiel on her doorstep. He presents her once again with a pomegranate. She really must try it, he insists. A metaphor for buying into the silly surface of the Kingdom as a coping mechanism for this awful reality? Yeah, probably. Anyway, the show ends with Carol cracking a smile. Is she going to take the fruit? I think so, but once again the show ends on a cliffhanger (albeit a small one). Can we just get a little closure? We promise to be a good audience and still come back next week, okay? Just show her taking the fruit. Show something to resolve the story. Please! Again, I promise the wounds will heal, but only when you stop re-opening them each week.
Morgan Likes the Kingdom Better
While Carol’s arch was primary this week, Morgan had his own adventures in The Kingdom. He was almost immediately made privy to King Ezekiel’s secret of zombie-munching pigs. They’re feeding them up and giving them as tribute to the Saviors. Is that making the Saviors sick, or is it just spite? The Saviors seem to keep coming back for more, so I guess not? Hey, way to go, circle of life: you’ve turned zombie rot into fresh meat!
Morgan is also given training custody over one of King Ezekiel’s chosen disciples. A great warrior and knight, he will one day be. Morgan teaches the boy kendo and lends him his judo philosophy book. This jived nicely with the image early on in the episode of the children sitting in an outdoor patio and eagerly listening to a pregnant teacher. This is what Alexandria wanted to be: a place where adults would want to have children and they could grow up without turning into one-eyed psychopaths (sorry, Carl). Maggie, you should start looking for an apartment at The Kingdom.
Morgan is much more at peace with The Kingdom than Carol, and it isn’t hard to imagine him wanting to stay. It sure beats the violence-heavy philosophy of Rick’s leadership (remember blood-soaked Rick addressing the crowd in Alexandria?). Blood begets blood. Maybe Rick is wrong. That would be an interesting theme I hope they continue to explore. Is the answer to the Saviors fighting back, or would that be a terrible mistake? Is there some middle way between appeasement and ambushes/massacres? Time will tell.
“The Well” successfully introduced what is one of the silliest elements of The Walking Dead: King Ezekiel ruling over his people with a tiger by his side. It did so with enough self-awareness to make it work. The storytelling was pretty heavy-handed this week, with lots of expositional back story and immediate reveals of true motives and underlying realities (note that this is different than a cliffhanger). Maybe with so many moving parts, The Walking Dead didn’t have enough time to dedicate to a slower development of The Kingdom. It’s becoming a crowded universe, after all. What’s going on in the Hilltop, anyway? Or back at Alexandria? Hmm, much like the show, guess we’ll have to leave it off on a…
Photos by Gene Page/AMC.