I think it's safe to say fans went wild when iconic Walking Dead book character Ezekiel and his beloved pet tiger Shiva made their hotly anticipated debut in the first Season 7 trailer for AMC’s hit zombie drama during this weekend's San Diego Comic-Con.
The leader of The Kingdom, King Ezekiel was a former zookeeper who joins Rick's group in the fight against Negan and his Saviors in the comic book's “All Out War” storyline. The role will be played by voice actor Khary Payton (Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Teen Titans Go!), and the character will be introduced when Season 7 debuts in the fall.
In an extensive interview with Entertainment Weekly, Payton opened up about nabbing the part and Ezekiel’s relationship with Shiva. Oh, and in case you guys are wondering, no real tiger will be harmed used in the making of this TV show. Instead, The Walking Dead will be using a mix of CGI and animatronics to bring her to life. Here’s what he said about acting against, well, nothing:
“It’s just another beautiful way that I get to use my imagination. As far as I’m concerned, Shiva’s as real as the people standing next to me — as Morgan or Carol or any of the other people who move among the Kingdom itself. So I really don’t think of it as CG or mechanic. All I know is that she’s real to me. I’ve done a lot of video games where there’s literally nothing standing in front of me. I’ve done, you know, a lot of voiceovers where there’s literally nothing standing in front of me, I’ve got to make it all up, so this is just another situation where my imagination gets to be used in another context, so no matter how good they bring it to life, it’s already alive in my head.
Shiva is the beginning and the end for Ezekiel. She’s one of the reasons that he didn’t lose hope when this whole thing started. She’s this beautiful unique creature in the middle of this dark, dark time, and so she’s beloved, and she’s also a symbol to him of what it means to be different in the context of the world that you’re living in. It’s like she’s a constant reminder every time he looks at her that there’s beauty in the world. She started off as his protector and now he feels like that relationship is reversed and she’s this giant, powerful symbol that he feels a real kinship with and a need to protect. So she’s kind of the end all, be all for him. I think Shiva’s a really appropriate name for her because she’s hallowed in his eyes. She’s holy in his eyes.”
As far as how he sees Ezekiel in the grand scheme of the zombie apocalypse, Payton seems to have an intriguing grasp on the character (Ezekiel is a pretty flamboyant character in the pages of Robert Kirkman's comics):
“He’s in the business of not losing himself to his surroundings. I don’t let things get me down. I brighten the things around me in that it’s a party when you’re going to be around him, and whether it was a party there before it’ll be a party by the time he leaves. 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.
You first come upon him and you think he’s a little bit out there, and he is a little bit out there. But the truth is that everything about this world is a little bit out there, and if you want to survive in it and if you want to survive on your own terms, you need to preach your philosophy and preach it loudly so that it doesn’t get drowned out by all the crazy.”
Are you excited to meet Ezekiel and Shiva when The Walking Dead returns on Oct. 23 on AMC?