Be warned! This review will cover aspects of the episode. Spoilers will lurk like groaning walkers..
After last week's cavalcade of horrors on a human level, this week's episode offers more of a light-hearted story, albeit one with the darkness still lurking at its core. We're back with Carol and Morgan, with the former still feeling the burden of guilt – and in her injured state, having visions of walkers as the people they once were, which is a surprisingly humane touch for the series, and feels right for her – as they reach The Kingdom.
And what a fascinating place this is, ruled over by a man who at first seems to be a drama club president handed ultimate power. Who also has a tiger named Shiva. Khary Payton's King Ezekiel is a great creation, and a complicated man. Unless you've read the comics and know more about him, you don't learn until later in the episode that his grandeur is an act, one designed specifically to give his "subjects" a feeling of hopefulness for their security and the future. Carol, being Carol, doesn't buy it from the start, and there's scope for Melissa McBride to switch from the hard-nosed character we've come to know and often love to her faux-helpless version. And kudos to the team (the episode was written by Matthew Negrete and directed by Greg Nicotero) for having Ezekiel figure her out in one episode. His scene later with Carol, where he reveals his true nature (former zookeeper, much more pragmatic and plainspoken) was a great one, sketching in character without having to ladle on exposition. And is there the merest hint of sparks between these two.
But this being The Walking Dead, trouble still lurks and right now, that means Saviours. Turns out Ezekiel's big secret, which he keeps from most of the people at the Kingdom (bet that will bite him in the bum faster than a walker in the future) is that he is also forced to deliver food and supplies to Negan's goons. Unlike Rick and co., he's found a way to make it work, even if the situation is uneasy. It's good to see someone who has apparently figured out leadership, though we can't help thinking that more doom is around the corner. For now, though, it was enjoyable to be able to wander this community, with its plants sprouting from old filing cabinets and its cheery choirs covering Bob Dylan tunes. It can't last, but this was a much more entertaining hour than the unrelenting terror of last week, no matter how effective it was. As Ezekiel himself says, "It's not all bad. It can't be. Life isn't. Where there's life, there's hope. Heroism, light, grace."
And even Morgan seems to have found something to believe in here, even if, as he admits that he's still not sure of his own philosophy and place in life. We're worried by his seeming bonding with young Benjamin (Logan Miller), mostly because it probably means the guy might not be long for this world. As for Carol... Even with Ezekiel laying on the charm and revealing the truth of the Kingdom to her can't stop her from listening to her inner Littlest Hobo (or Incredible Hulk) and she still feels compelled to leave. He has her compromise by heading to a little house on the very edge of his territory (complete with every family's dream of a rusty picket fence and a walker to welcome you home) where she can "leave but not leave." Well, it's a start.
There's nothing of Rick and his tortured, terrified team tonight and while that might be frustrating for some after the knife-edge tension of last week, it's actually a relief to see something else. If the show can maintain the balance between the sheer brutality it can often devolve into and something more approaching hopefulness, then Season 7 may lure some turned off by the Negan splat-athon back into the fold. Not that a show with this big a ratings base needs to worry about that...
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9pm on AMC in the States and Mondays at 9pm on Fox.