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SYFY WIRE The Walking Dead

'The Walking Dead' star Khary Payton 'not satisfied' with how Ezekiel's story wraps up in final season

The actor does hope to explore how the character founded The Kingdom.

By Josh Weiss
Khary Payton as Ezekiel in The Walking Dead Season 11 Episode 20

In just a few weeks' time, Khary Payton's reign as King Ezekiel (First of his Name) on The Walking Dead will come to an end after six years with the long-running AMC series. During a recent conversation with Insider, Payton (who is also famous for voicing Cyborg in Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO!) admitted that he's "not satisfied at all" with how the character's story ends. At the same time, however, the actor completely understands why things had to be the way they are.

"There are so many places and situations that I would've loved to explore," Payton explained. "But that's one of the things that happens when you have a show that has this many dynamic and interesting characters. Forty-eight minutes or, sometimes, over an hour-long episode just isn't enough. These characters are beautifully constructed. I think the strength of the show is that these characters are nuanced, interesting, and there's so many of them that you just can't get it all in."

Ezekiel first appeared in Season 7 as the grandiose and tiger-training ruler of The Kingdom, one of the communities forced to pay tribute to Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and the Saviors. The king ultimately threw in his lot with Alexandria, Oceanside, and Hilltop as the downtrodden survivors of the zombie-infested wasteland successfully rebelled and freed themselves from tyranny.

Following this bloody war, Ezekiel married Carol (Melissa McBride), though the pair tragically split up when their adopted son, Henry (Matt Lintz), wound up beheaded by the Whisperers. Despite losing his kingdom and the love of his life, Ezekiel continued to lead by example, volunteering for the expedition that led to the Commonwealth. It was here that he not only received top notch medical treatment for his growing thyroid cancer, but also got to reprise his pre-apocalypse job as a zookeeper. 

He and the other Alexandrians were suddenly exiled from the Commonwealth after the death of Pamela Milton's son, Sebastian (Teo Rapp-Olsson). Ezekiel in particular was assigned to labor detail (one that includes Negan and Angel Theory's Kelly), which was transported to Outpost 22, a drab processing facility at Alexandria Payton described as "this sad, Siberian version of Alexandria."

While Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Carol, Rosita (Christian Serratos), Connie (Lauren Ridloff), Daryl (Norman Reedus), and Gabriel (Seth Gilliam) hope to be reunited with their loved ones and reclaim their former home, there's no guaranteeing that everyone will make it out of the struggle alive, even if our protagonists do know the terrain better than anyone.

"I think there's home court advantage, and then there's coming back home to a devastated place," Payton continued. "It depends on how you're thinking. At least for Kelly, Negan, and Ezekiel, Alexandria is not exactly home." 

If the celebrated royal does kick the bucket over the next three episodes, there's always the possibility of a prequel. "I am very sorry to say goodbye to Ezekiel and I cross my fingers and hope that maybe sometime down the road, we could tell the story of how Ezekiel came to be a king or something," Payton said, later reaffirming his hope for the character's survival through the series finale. "I could play not just flashbacks, but before and after. I'm keeping my fingers crossed 'cause I really would love to play Ezekiel again one day."

New episodes of The Walking Dead premiere on AMC every Sunday at 9 p.m. Eastern. AMC+ subscribers can access them a week early.

If you're looking to satisfy your zombie craving immediately, head over to Peacock and check out the movie that kickstarted the entire genre: George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead. Or check out the SYFY original series, Day of the Dead.