And it’s the double act of Carol and Morgan who take the reins following last week’s mixed bag of misery at the hands of Negan and Lucille. Following her near-death experience at the hands of the Saviours and Morgan finally beginning to question his No-Kill rule, the Odd Couple are picked up on the road and brought for recuperation to The Kingdom, under the watchful eye of King Ezekiel, and his pet tiger. Really.
How to top the relentless misery of The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be? The Walking Dead has a rocky road ahead, not only in terms of the fight its characters face, but now in retaining viewer interest – for this reader, the comic books peaked with Issue 100 (also turning Glenn’s head into mush), the shark irrevocably jumped with an act of violence and sadism that surely nothing could top. By going even harder, nastier and with double the body count, the show faces the same problem. But still, the larger-than-life King Ezekiel and his pet tiger may certainly offer some stay of execution. It at least kept the books interesting for another trade or so, before I finally gave up.
Those who complained of the relentless nihilism in Season Seven’s debut episode will be relieved by what is largely a cheerier, more upbeat and positively funny follow-up (at least, by The Walking Dead standards). Ezekiel’s grandiose reveal is played for subtle laughs, the incredulous Carol barely being able to contain herself at Ezekiel and his theatrical ridiculousness. It certainly works better than the books’ completely po-faced introduction to the character. The Well leans into Ezekiel’s silliness, and it’s a refreshing change of pace. Filmed almost entirely during the daylight amidst a sea of generally smiling, content faces, and featuring the music of an actual choir, it’s the complete antithesis of The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be, even culminating with a hopeful, heroic speech from the good King Ezekiel (essentially the anti-Negan).
No longer stuck with trying to wrong-foot the audience or play stupid tricks on them, The Well also lets the show get on with some good old-fashioned world-building, establishing another community beyond Alexandria and The Hilltop. We get to go on another supply run, hunting wild pigs in the city (using Walkers as bait!) and see Ezekiel’s men and the Saviours do business. No Negan, though, the show-stealing loudmouth absent for the entirety of this episode. How will he react if/when he discovers that Ezekiel and his men have been feeding their livestock with tainted walker meat? We sense a Negansplaining to come. And also, if the outbreak of slight violence between the two camps is anything to go by, violence.
Best of all, The Well also gets us the best of Carol: both fake dippy housewife Carol, and steely cynical “I don’t give a shit” Carol. The latter comes out to play during the episode’s final moments, where Ezekiel reveals the truth – he’s but a zookeeper and amateur dramatics fan come good – where the optimism of Ezekiel and Morgan is undercut by Carol and the show’s traditional nihilism. We’ve no doubt that the doom and gloom will win out in the end (this is The Walking Dead, after all) but it’s fun to spend time with characters like Morgan and Ezekiel, who haven’t all of their faith in humanity yet – and Carol, who is maybe starting to regain some of it. And, after almost an hour of Andrew Lincoln’s vacant trauma face and Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s (admittedly entertaining) grandstanding, it’s a relief to see the more pensive Lennie James, always nuanced Melissa McBride and charismatic newcomer Khary Payton as Ezekiel.
Next week threatens a return to the misery and brutality (with the adventures of a captive Daryl Dixon in Negan’s camp) so The Well is to be savoured (no pun intended). Eye-popping violence and cruelty are all fine and well (and if you’re watching The Walking Dead, what did you expect?!), but sometimes we all need the relief of a dreadlock King called Ezekiel and his massive CGI tiger.