On Sunday night's midseason finale of The Walking Dead, the conflict between Negan's and Rick's factions come to a head. While Negan and his cronies are having a tense standoff with Carl, another group of the Saviors is storming the Kingdom on The Walking Dead, essentially claiming it in Negan's name. The community is told that everything they have would now belong to the Saviors, that they would be working under the Saviors' rule, and that they needed to give up King Ezekiel, their leader, though none of them would budge.
Soon after, King Ezekiel breaks through the depressed stupor he's been hiding in for the few episodes prior to cause an explosion, distract the Saviors and save his people. He gets them out of immediate danger, and it seems as though he's given himself up to spare them. Morgan arrives at the scene, staying out of sight but hearing the Saviors taunt Ezekiel. "I liked you Ezekiel," one of his captors tells him. "Your people are going to look up at the Sanctuary fence, and they're going to see that their king is dead." At the end of the finale, King Ezekiel gives a smirk as the camera closes in on him, but his actual fate remains unclear until the show comes back in February.
Khary Payton, who plays King Ezekiel in the show, has said that his character was a fighter who is, at his core, full of optimism, so it might not come as much of a surprise that the leader rallied through his own personal struggles in order to pull through for his people in the end.
"I always say I’m in the hope business. You’ve got to stay hopeful. You’ve got to get up off your behind and try again no matter how many times they tell you it’s not going to work out. Your opinion’s got to overshadow whatever negativity might come your way," Payton told Entertainment Weekly earlier this season. "In a zombie apocalypse one can find themselves getting down about their situation, but Ezekiel’s not one of those people. He fights with all he’s got to make sure he stays positive and stays joyful. That’s what I love about him."
Carol seems to have been a driving force in Ezekiel's reemergence as a solid leader, as Payton said on Talking Dead, The Walking Dead's aftershow, following the finale. "She helped him feel human again, helped him be honest in ways he couldn’t be honest before," he said. "I think not just saving him physically in this moment but kind of helping him get off his butt, Carol was helping him." From the sounds of it, Payton also thinks that Ezekiel has gotten a bit of his groove back after managing to allow his community to escape. "He’s feeling himself when he’s able to take up for his people again," Payton told Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick.
The boost is exactly what Ezekiel needed after feeling as though he wasn't doing enough for his people, even though it ultimately may have put him in harm's way himself. In another interview with Entertainment Weekly, Payton said that the feeling of failure is something that's weighed on Ezekiel in recent episodes. "It’s a hard thing when you feel the failure and then you feel people trying to bolster you up when you don’t feel like you deserve it, I think that’s the moment that’s happening for Ezekiel," he told the outlet. "The problem is that Ezekiel’s been holding people up for so long that people refuse to not come and to not render aid for him when he needs it, because he’s given way too much good out not to have it come back around. Just happens to be at this moment he really doesn’t want it."
Ezekiel's fate will likely be revealed in full when the show returns after the new year, but for now, it seems clear that he's back on his feet in a big way.