Like many Walking Dead episodes before it, ‘The Well’ draws away from the main plot to focus on something else entirely. After last week’s premiere, I was frightened of such an episode cropping up. The audience is no doubt still reeling from the deaths of Glenn and Abraham in the season opener, wondering how the group will process the loss of two integral characters and accept Negan as their new leader. After the intense drama of last week’s season premiere, The Walking Dead took a sideways step in dramatic momentum with this week’s episode, asking the audience to immerse themselves in another set of characters and put aside the trauma of last week’s episode.
In ‘The Well’, we pick up with Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) where we last left them in season six. Up until now, Carol and Morgan have been like two sides of the same coin – Carol has become a key defender in Rick’s group, murdering to save her friends while Morgan lives by the ethos that all life is precious and murdering humans is inexcusable. In the season six finale, Morgan was forced to kill a man to save Carol out on the road. Then, two men on horseback discovered Morgan and Carol, and it is in today’s episode that we learn who those men are and where they are from.
The men are from The Kingdom, a secure compound ruled by the eccentric King Ezekiel (Khary Payton). Ezekiel is larger than life, speaks as though he’s hopped out of a Fairy Tale and has a roaring pet tiger named Shiva. His quotes adorn the walls at The Kingdom—home-spun prophecies such as: “Hope is the north star. Let is guide you.” Carol meets him after two days recovering in bed, and is floored by how absurd he is. In a series so grim by nature, Carol’s bewildered reaction to Ezekiel was some enjoyable comic relief, as it’s not a lens that we ever get to see Carol through. Later, when she tries to sneak away, Ezekiel lets his guard down – his accent and demeanor relaxes and suddenly he is a person rather than a King. In this scene, there is a true chemistry between the actors as Ezekiel confides in Carol, who listens but refuses to stay. This interaction between the two of them is enough to make me believe that, while Carol wants to leave The Kingdom, she will definitely be back. My suspicions were confirmed at the end of the episode: Carol makes a home in a cottage just outside of The Kingdom and Ezekiel and Shiva come to visit. I suspect that this is the beginning of a long and curious relationship between the two characters.
The title of the episode, “The Well”, comes from a quote of Ezekiel’s – “drink from the well, replenish the well.” When Carol wakes from her two days resting, Morgan tells her, “They’ve been helping you, so I’ve been helping them.” This is a system that we have seen at work in The Walking Dead before, with disastrous results time and time again as groups offer an individual help, only to reveal afterwards that the help comes with strings attached. Admittedly, Morgan’s character has never experienced this kind of blackmail, but Carol certainly has. The concepts of debt and payment are murky ones in a post-apocalyptic world, riddled with violence and subjective grades of morality.
There was a small moment of connective tissue between this episode and the last, and it came in the form of an exchange between The Kingdom and Negan’s group, The Saviours. It appears that The Kingdom has the same deal with The Saviours that Rick’s group now does—The Kingdom must hand over half their wealth to Negan’s violent gang. I must admit, after six whole seasons, it is exciting to see the beginning of a new world economy, even if it is at the hands of a psychotic warlord like Negan. Ezekiel admits to Morgan that the deal with The Saviours is not public knowledge in The Kingdom, which makes me question how Negan subjugated him in the first place, considering Negan’s very public defeat of Rick in last week’s episode. This week’s encounter with the Saviours was a reminder that there are members of Rick’s group such as Morgan and Carol who still don’t know about the loss of Glenn and Abraham, and who will be confronted with it in the weeks to come. That’s the real story that I look forward to getting back to next week, however, as The Walking Dead continue to introduce new locations and characters, I fear that it may be a few weeks until I find the answers I’m seeking.