Khary Payton, who plays King Ezekiel on AMC’s The Walking Dead, talks about why Ezekiel and Carol work so well together and gives his no-holds-barred reaction to the Whisperers.
Q: The Kingdom has been preparing for this grand fair. What does an event like this represent?
A: To Ezekiel, it’s a way of coming together. Ezekiel is the kind of character that really does attract people to him. There are a lot of characters on The Walking Dead that are ultimately leaders because they have to be, but it’s not necessarily what they want to be. Daryl prefers to be alone. He turns out to be a great leader, but he prefers to be out there by himself. Carol and Michonne had solitary existences, too. For the king – and obviously having a tiger helps – maybe people don’t want to get too close, but they want to take a look. He gathered this community around him and built this thing and it means something to him. He’s building a safe place and a society. Right now, Michonne is trying to protect herself and her people by putting up walls. Ezekiel is sort of the opposite. If you put out a hand to have someone shake it rather than balled up in a fist, you bring more friends and allies to your cause. When bad things happen, you’ll have help. This fair is about reminding people that community is important. Walls shouldn’t hold your friends out.
Q: How cool was it to be on the set of a Renaissance Fair as king? Was it a nice break from the outside world of cell phones, internet, etc.?
A: I have loved this season, the horses and the lack of reliance on technology. We really are going back to medieval times and the old west. We’re definitely going back in time in a more basic and rustic fashion. I love horses. I ride every day that I can when I’m in Georgia and shooting… You want to feel comfortable on lots of different horses because you never know which one they’re going to throw at you and I don’t want to look stupid on a horse. I’m King Ezekiel. I can’t be falling off no horse! They took away my tiger, so I want some horses. I mean, come on. [Laughs]
Q: Of course, putting on this fair won’t come easy. What does Ezekiel make of these self-proclaimed “Highwaymen” who want travelers to pay them a toll?
A: I think we all get discouraged at times, but Ezekiel is still an incredibly optimistic guy. As upset as he was, he tries to see the bigger picture and remember that pulling them in is always an option. He may have forgotten it for a moment, but I love that he’s been rubbing off on Carol enough that she’s the one that decides to not use violence and pour a little honey on the situation.
Q: Can you say more on how Ezekiel and Carol work so well together as king and queen?
A: They call him the king and he makes decision for his people, but it’s a role and he doesn’t necessarily relish in being the one person in charge. He does it out of necessity, but he’s about community and bringing people together. One of the first things he saw in Carol was this steeling resistance. She was a woman on her own. When they first met, she stood up to the Saviors on her own and survived. He saw this strength in her from the beginning. They don’t see eye-to-eye on every decision and that’s what he loves about the relationship. She gives him a different perspective. A real leader wants to see more than their own perspective.
Q: How has the ideas of “enemy” and “us versus them” evolved at this point?
A: In a rush to survive, we can forget that surviving alone is a lonely existence. The beauty of the world is that we’re able to live in this age where we can sample so many cultures and meet so many different and unique people. The true magic of life is when all of these different personalities come together to make some beautiful music. I love a nice drum circle, but you add some strings and some brass and now we’re talking. That’s what Ezekiel sees in this world. Variety is a beautiful thing. You have to be wary in this world, but you can’t let it destroy your curiosity.
Q: Ezekiel hasn’t personally met a Whisperer just yet, but what are your thoughts?
A: Oh my God. My thoughts are, “These people are crazy!” [Laughs] Think about it: they’re putting people’s faces on their face. It takes losing a very serious part of yourself to skin somebody’s face and put it on your face. You’ve forgotten a whole lot. Hopefully, you can come back from that. Some sh-t you don’t need to sugar coat. We are not pouring any honey on this situation.
Read an interview with Matt Lintz, who plays Henry.
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