If I’ve made one thing perfectly clear over the last few weeks, it’s that I have a dislike for certain things: season eight of The Walking Dead, and the character Ezekiel therein. The novelty has worn off, the bloom is off the rose, and last week I even found him to be comical, as he is the only dipshit in the Kingdom to talk the way he does. So how the hell did The Walking Dead come up with “Some Guy,” the season’s best episode and one that manages to humanize and build sympathy for Ezekiel?
Khary Payton’s performance doesn’t hurt matters. For all the scorn I’ve directed Ezekiel’s way, Payton has always been adept at delivering his flowery, circuitous dialogue. He has a compelling intensity that I was resistant to; when he gives his big speech at the episode’s beginning, I wanted to ridicule, but through the sheer force of Payton’s charisma I found myself more engaged with the show than I have been in quite a while. Then comes one of the best cuts in Walking Dead history, from Ezekiel’s rousing speech, ending with him being embraced by the Kingdom, to the aftermath of the Saviors’ machine-gun attack. Director Dan Liu, a Walking Dead editor making his directorial debut, stages this grisly tableau just how it should be: like a war movie. The carnage is ugly and confrontational; what works best about this is that on TWD we’re inured to the image of shambling corpses, but even for a show this violent it’s rare to see a man cut in half by machine gun fire.
It’s a longstanding trope of this show that when a character is about to die, they’ll get a big sendoff episode. That’s not the case here. “Some Guy” has the misfortune of living in the shadow of Glenn’s fake-out death, which did irreparable damage to the show’s stakes. We longer fear for main characters, and when I heard about a big death in this episode, I never once thought it might be someone significant. The sad fact is, public perception of TWD changed forever after Dumpstergate, which robs episodes of this of their potential power.
Payton does the best with what he’s given, though; even if Ezekiel doesn’t literally die in this episode, he’s certainly broken down. It’s absolutely a figurative death. Nearly all of his warriors are killed, and while trying to escape he finds himself the captive of a Savior who sprang out of nowhere (a running theme, unfortunately; I think Ezekiel gets his ass saved no less than three times in this fashion). Although this particular Savior is prone to overacting – and has a weird Stranger Things wardrobe – he begins the process of tearing Ezekiel down.
After calling Ezekiel a “meaningless con man in a costume,” the Savior gestures to the crowd of walkers following them, much of which is comprised of Ezekiel’s slain followers. “You got ’em killed and they’re still following you!” This is said with both scorn and incredulity. And Ezekiel sees this. Payton is not afraid to show Ezekiel as weak or scared – to wit, he spends most of the episode limping, and is unable to even climb a fence; the Savior, frustrated, decides to cut off his head and return it to Negan. Ezekiel is, unsurprisingly, saved (by Jerry, who justifies his snarky internet “fandom” by cleaving the Savior in half), but for a moment The Walking Dead is able to achieve something which has been out of reach for a long time: a palpable feeling that a character might actually die.
There’s some good work with Jerry here as well. Cooper Andrews has always played Jerry as one of the less intense members of the Kingdom, but that gets flipped on its head as he and Ezekiel have to stave off a horde of walkers. The nice moment, though, is a human one. Ezekiel, frustrated and ashamed, tells Jerry he doesn’t need to call him “Your majesty.” Jerry drops the act and regards Ezekiel as an equal, and tells him: “Dude? Yes I do.” Andrews packs so much empathy and conviction into those four words that I hope we never get more Jerry backstory. Jerry serves his king, and without his king he has nothing.
Although I wish “Some Guy” had focused solely on Ezekiel – not a sentence I’d ever thought I’d write – seeing the resurgence of Carol in guerrilla mode is never a bad thing. Since this show’s second season, Melissa McBride has delivered the only performance that is genuinely award-worthy. The Walking Dead‘s greatest coup was taking a meek, abused wife and turning her into an action star. On paper, it’s a ludicrous, unbelievable turn, but McBride is so watchable and sympathetic that she makes you look past all that. The fact that she doesn’t have a shelf full of Emmys is a goddamn travesty.
Rick and Daryl get a little A-Team adventure, which is fun because Andrew Lincoln and Norman Reedus work well together, and do a lot with just a glance. They have good chemistry, even if Reedus has absolutely checked out of this role. “Some Guy” is a pretty dour episode, but it knows when to get fun. There’s something giddy about the casual way Rick just jumps out of his jeep and into a Savior’s, before stabbing the guy and rolling the car.
At the end of “Some Guy,” Ezekiel has lost everything. His troops are dead, as is Shiva. He returns to the Kingdom, beaten; Carol and Jerry wouldn’t even allow him to sacrifice himself for them. He limps sadly to his quarters; there will be no speech. The king is dead, and it’s the most exciting thing to happen on The Walking Dead in a long time. “Some Guy” had its flaws, but more than that it had hope, that there is still passion and imagination behind this show. The first three episodes of this season were pretty lackluster, but this is an episode to actually get you excited to watch the show again.
A Few Thoughts
- I realize it’s weird – dare I say “problematic”? – to have a picture of Andrew Lincoln as the banner image for an episode all about Ezekiel in which Khary Payton took center stage. I won’t go into too much detail, but generally the banner image has to be 1200×800 and I couldn’t find any pictures of Payton that would fit. Get off my ass.