That season 7 trailer for The Walking Dead re-confirmed for the zillionth time that one of Rick's gang won't make it past the first episode. Sure, Negan's brutality has commanded most of the marketing spotlight, but it's not all doom and gloom for the show's upcoming season. A comic book favorite is headed to the series, offering an olive branch of hope to an otherwise grim world.
Ezekiel is the leader of a community called The Kingdom. We kinda suspected that he'd appear onscreen at some point and the trailer confirmed those suspicions, revealing Khary Payton in the role. Taking on a well-loved figure from the page is always a challenge for actors as there's a lot of expectation from fans. But Payton's happy to make the character his own:
"I looked at the comics, but more to just kind of get a feel for the world and everything," he tells EW. "I don’t feel like I need follow it exactly. I don’t worry about being affected by it too much. I feel like I live in the moment enough that a little bit of information here or there isn’t going to kill me if they totally go off the rails and Ezekiel becomes a very different version than he is in the comic books. It’s just another reason why I love to do this job, man. It’s awesome."
With Payton open to whatever showrunners throw at him, he's in a similar boat to practically every actor who's appeared in the series. Hardly any character arcs and plots have stayed completely loyal to the source.
But we can still expect some of Ezekiel's trademark cool to make the transition. This is definitely a good thing: he's a breath of fresh air, a welcome contrast to the 'kill or be killed' ethics of most of the series' leaders shown so far. "I love even his relationship with the zombies themselves. He’s a guy who doesn’t think of them as having a physical disease. It’s more that their joy was robbed from them, and that he’s one of the few people left on earth whose joy hasn’t been robbed, and to him, that’s the difference between the living and the dead."
"If you’re still human, but you’re letting your joy be taken away from you, you might as well be one of those mindless creatures walking all over. So to him, it’s kind of a weird philosophy of life that he’s developed living in this apocalypse that you don’t let this world turn you into something that you’re not."
The Walking Dead season 7 will premiere on AMC on October 23, 2016 in the US, and a day later on FOX UK in the UK.