- INSIDER spoke with Khary Payton, who has played King Ezekiel, the leader of the Kingdom, on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” since season seven.
- Payton said Ezekiel is probably not aware of who the Whisperers are yet and that there’s probably little chance of talking things through with them after what they did to his son, Henry.
- Ezekiel probably isn’t aware his wife, Carol, killed a bunch of Saviors earlier in the season, though he may suspect something happened.
- Payton said the story behind Michonne and Daryl’s “X” marks is “creepy and amazing.”
King Ezekiel has spent the majority of “The Walking Dead’s” ninth season working to bring the communities together for a giant trade fair, but, as he learns on Sunday’s episode, there are groups out there threatening it from coming together like the Highwaymen.
Khary Payton told INSIDER about the show’s new Highwaymen group, the looming Whisperer threat, whether or not King Ezekiel is aware Carol lit a group of the Saviors on fire earlier this season, and the member of Ezekiel’s security he considers the Kingdom’s hardcore secret weapon.
Who are the Highwaymen?
Payton: They were first described to me when I read the script. They’re a ragtag band like every apocalypse gang is a ragtag band. You find people and they’re not living dead who walk around wanting to eat your flesh, so you like, “I guess you’ll do.” That’s what happens.
Does King Ezekiel know Carol lit a group of Saviors on fire? Probably not.
Acuna: I don’t know if a lot of people will catch this, but there’s a brief moment on Sunday’s episode where Diane brings up that she thinks the Highwaymen could possibly be some rogue Saviors. Carol says that’s not possible. Of course the audience knows that. We saw her light them all on fire, and she watched them burn. Ezekiel doesn’t question Carol when she states it’s not the Saviors. He just says, ‘Oh yeah, Saviors don’t write letters.’ Is he aware of what Carol did?
Payton: That’s a great question. They didn’t show all of it, and there’s a chance that maybe he knows a little more, or he suspects more. I feel like there’s a chance that he suspects something from that when she said, but I don’t think she divulged everything that happened to Jed and all of that with them. I think she kept that to herself.
Acuna: OK. I thought that he might know something was up since her ring is missing the stone.
Payton: Yeah, she might’ve lost that some kind of way, but I don’t think that she told him the way that she actually lost it.
Acuna: What do you think Ezekiel would think if he knew about that? Would that concern him a little bit, knowing that one moment Carol can be bright and sunshiny but the next, she could become this warrior assassin?
Payton: I think he knows that that’s the woman that she is, but I think that despite doing that, I still think that there’s enough of Carol the reluctant killer, that she feels a little weird about sharing that. Like maybe, a little bit of shame that it was so easy. Because in her life, although she’s been a killer, it hasn’t always been that easy.
Acuna: Definitely not.
Payton: When she took those guys out, she was not feeling any remorse. All she was feeling was f— you.
Acuna: Well they messed with her son.
Payton: Exactly, exactly.
Does Ezekiel know about the Whisperers? It doesn’t seem like it.
Acuna: Does King Ezekiel know about the Whisperers at all, or how do you think his reaction is going to be when and if he learns about this group of people wearing skins over their faces?
Payton: I don’t think he knows about the Whisperers yet, but I think he’s going to be horrified just like anybody who comes across the Whisperers. I keep saying it, but they take people’s faces and put ’em on their faces. That is just nasty. That is just freaking nasty, and I don’t think there’s any way else to react to that except some sort of revulsion.
But as far as how to deal with them, I think we’ve learned from Ezekiel he’s a thoughtful ruler and he doesn’t like to lash out without thinking things through. And I think him freaking out at what the Whisperers are and how they operate, is probably gonna give him some pause.
Acuna: Right, because like you said, everyone does what they have to do to survive. But when do you get to the point where you’re like, “Oh yeah, this seems like this is what we should do. This is how we should go about this,” in regards to the Whisperers.
Payton: Yeah, I’m sorry. I know that it’s the apocalypse and we all have to figure out how to survive somehow. That doesn’t mean that every way people figure it out isn’t f—ed up as sh–. I’m sorry man, I have no feeling of, “Well, they really were trying to figure it out and this is the best that they could come up with.” No. It can just be f—ed up. The Whisperers are a fucked up group of people! Sometimes there are communities that are not so f—-ed up, and then you get crazy cult nonsense. That’s what the Whisperers are, and I’m not sugar coating that sh–.
Acuna: Well, I’m going to take it that King Ezekiel and Carol would probably not be inclined to try and talk things through with them like they did with the Highwaymen.
Payton: I don’t know about talking things through, but I feel like they just need to figure out how to deal with them and it’s anybody’s guess at this point how they’re gonna do that.
Acuna: Well I don’t think the Whisperers are going to win over any points with them after they find out that they hurt Henry.
Payton: Yeah, that’s not going to help at all. We saw what happened when somebody messed with Henry before.
Acuna: People got lit on fire.
The Kingdom has a secret weapon in one of the background actors: Stoker.
Payton: The funniest thing that nobody really knows about about this episode, is there was the King and Carol and Jerry walking into that warehouse with the Highwaymen, and the Highwaymen ambush them, and then the Kingdom ambushes the Highwaymen. You don’t see it in the episode, actually you do see it but it’s blurred. Behind Ozzy, the main Highwayman, is one of my Kingdom guys, one of my background actors. His name’s [Brandon] Stoker.
Stoker is huge. Stoker is like this really big dude who’s always hanging back like the King’s security force. When we ambush the Highwaymen, Stoker comes and accosts about five of them all at once. And it was all I could do not to laugh, because I was like, “OK, How are we gonna take out all of these Highwaymen?” and my boy Stoker literally took out five or six all by himself, and I was just like, “You know what? We’re going to be just fine. I got Jerry and I got Stoker.” I just want you to know that in the background of the Kingdom, we got some hardcore dudes.
Acuna: The Whisperers better watch out.
Payton: Exactly. Not to mention the fact that Stoker is the great-great-great grandson of [author] Bram Stoker. So we got vampire blood in the Kingdom man.
Does Ezekiel have a last name?
Acuna: I asked fans if they had any questions for you, and there were two that popped up a lot. One is that, we know Ezekiel doesn’t have a last name on the show, but is that something you’ve ever inquired Angela Kang about that or did you ever come up with something that you call yourself, or you just refer to yourself as King Ezekiel?
Payton: I refer to him as Ezekiel, and I refer to him as Zeke. I don’t really refer to him as a king, except in the context of how his people refer to him and think of him. He uses it as a defense mechanism, but I don’t think he sees himself as a king as in someone who’s ruling over people so much as serving people.
Can we expect to see a Carol and Ezekiel wedding? Anything’s possible.
Payton: “That’s entirely possible, but you won’t get that from me.”
What does Ezekiel make of the “X” marks on Daryl and Michonne’s backs?
Acuna: Well [executive producer] Greg Nicotero and Ryan Hurst told me there’s some crazy stuff coming for the rest of the season. What can you tease about the season’s final three episodes? What are you excited for? I know we’re supposed to finally get some answers about these “X” marks on Michonne and Daryl, and how the communities became splintered.
Payton: That is so creepy and amazing and awesome and I’m excited for everybody to see the journey that got both Daryl and Michonne to the place where they are. Trusting and untrusting. Why they made the decisions that they’ve made.
As far as anything else, I am pumped, I’m so excited for you to see more but I won’t tell you why, you just won’t hear it from me. I am not that guy.
Acuna: All right.
Payton: If my boss Nicotero wants to tell you something, then you can hit him up.
Acuna: He told me to get strapped, and that it’s some pretty insane sh– basically.
Payton: You can never be comfortable on this show.
Acuna: Well we’ve gone this whole back half of the season with no one dying yet, so I’m extremely concerned.
Payton: Yeah, you should be. I think extreme concern is a nice spot to be living in.
“The Walking Dead” airs Sundays on AMC at 9 p.m. You can follow along with our coverage of the show here.