“The Well” is the kind of episode I want out of The Walking Dead. Now that we’re away from building up anticipation over hammy performances and learning whose death would be served up in an attempt to make a big season premiere impact, we can get back to a show that does well when it thinks smaller. Now in the case of “The Well,” thinking smaller may mean including a wild new character and his pet tiger, but it also means getting a lot of juicy material for The Walking Dead’s two best characters.
Picking up where the other side of last season’s finale left off, “The Well” follows Carol and Morgan, after being saved by a couple guys wearing football pads. It leads us to an entirely new location, which we soon learn is known as The Kingdom. A lot of this reminded me of our season 3 introduction to Woodbury, which was ran by the Governor. Allowing The Walking Dead to put other things on hold and have a couple characters explore a completely new land is exciting stuff. Rather than dwell on a weekly revisit with whether or not there is still hope in the world, we get something new like this. The best factor of all is King Ezekiel, played wonderfully by Khary Payton.
Remember when the show first introduced Michonne at the end of a lackluster second season? That was a point where I wanted to see more of the show embracing its out-there qualities that remind you it’s based on a comic book. Ezekiel is another example of just that and the show is clearly in a place where we seem ready to take that head on. This genius creation is a man who speaks with a regal accent fit for a man who acted in community theater (which turns out to actually be the case). He also has a pet tiger, which is introduced to Carol by Morgan in what has to be this series’ best laugh in like…ever.
Right there you have enough material to enjoy this departure from the stern seriousness of Rick and all his business, but “The Well” is happy to proceed further. Even if this episode is short on subtext and leans heavily on presenting everything in a fairly straightforward manner, it is a joy to see the writers step up and continue to explore Morgan and Carol’s psyches, in addition to giving us plenty to learn about Ezekiel.
The addition of Morgan to the cast, last year, allowed for both one of the series best episodes and a frustrating acceptance of his moral code. This week we get to see Lennie James act out the struggle Morgan has in continuing to go his route of treating life as a precious thing, no matter what. Watch Morgan raise his gun as a response to a threat, then question that reflex moments later. After attempting to get through to others, we now see where his head is at and it finds the character back to being a challenging individual to properly assess at all times, while still being quite likable.
Carol is back to being interesting as well. The back half of last season saw the fan-favorite character suddenly develop some unconvincing feelings about her actions and we watched as that played out to irritating degrees, no thanks to the writers handling of her. This week’s episode gives us a refresher of what Carol is going through, but practically serves as a restart to our understanding of her current state. Add to that the continued excellence of Melissa McBride, as she plays the phony side of Carol, pretending to be naïve and innocent around new people, and you have both of our key Walking Dead characters back on track as far as providing this series with more than just the same old stuff in new locations.
Yes, I may be a little bit down on Rick, but I can only hope he bounces back from his latest mess and handles Negan in a way that is fresh, compared to the last time he and his group dealt with a terrifying evil threat (Cannibals, one-eyed Governor, the Claimed crew, etc.). In the meantime, I am more than glad to see the writers step up their game and provide meaty conversation scenes, like the one between Carol and Ezekiel. Even Morgan and the warrior-in-training dad who is sure to die in an upcoming episode allowed for some good screentime.
Also welcome is the additional angle on what Negan’s power means to others. For The Kingdom, Ezekiel apparently keeps the presence of the Saviors under close guard, so the residents mostly don’t know about their one-sided deal. That doesn’t stop a fun bit of rebellion in the form of offering up pigs that have feasted on walker meat, but it does mean Negan’s intimidation has other forms beyond blunt force. But why focus back on him when we can talk about Shiva?
Yes, the show now has a CGI tiger and I’m sure AMC was thrilled about that when Robert Kirkman first added it to the comics. Well, for now it works, but it also allows for Ezekiel to open up and be real with Carol late in the episode. Credit goes to Payton for doing a great job in bringing this character to life so effectively and making me feel wrapped up in what he has to say so easily. It can be a fine line to walk, but hearing him drop the act and be real is a fine moment that pays off again by the end of this episode, as some implied romantic sparks start to take further shape.
All of this worked well. Yes, I was down on last week’s premiere for what I felt was a mishandling of the whole scenario, but it’s not hard to get over these things. It especially helps when you have an episode stripped of responsibilities to tell the whole story and keep a tight focus. “The Well” does that. It provides us with a new setting, keeps the important character count low and does a fine job of getting us up to speed with things. We’ll see what happens next, but this is some solid course correction to move us past all the grief Negan swung away at last week.