Comic-Con: 'Walking Dead' Casts Kingdom Leader Ezekiel

The Walking Dead _Ezekiel_Seated Split - Publicity - H 2016
Courtesy of Image Comics; Gene Page/AMC

The Walking Dead _Ezekiel_Seated Split - Publicity - H 2016

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from The Walking Dead comic book series.]

AMC's The Walking Dead is officially headed for the Kingdom and has cast the community's charismatic leader.

Khary Payton (Teen Titans, General Hospital) has booked the series regular role of Ezekiel, the leader of a new community of survivors that are poised to be introduced in season seven of the zombie drama, producers announced Friday at San Diego Comic-Con. The first look at Ezekiel and his pet tiger, Shiva, are in the just-released season seven trailer, plus The Hollywood Reporter has the first look at the character on his famed Kingdom chair (below).

The Kingdom is overseen by a George Clinton-like leader named Ezekiel, a former zookeeper who watches over the community with Shiva, his pet tiger. The character is first introduced in Issue 108 of Robert Kirkman's comic series. He's described as eccentric and a somewhat flamboyant older man who is charismatic, friendly with an aura of wisdom — though he is perceived by many to be arrogant, thanks largely to his theatrics, though those who know him well know otherwise. The residents of the Kingdom dress in protective armor — and serve as knights to the so-called "King Ezekiel" at a transformed high school.

"If we do see the Kingdom, it'll be a big reveal and it will be another new world to inhabit and explore," showrunner Scott M. Gimple told THR during a conference call after the season finale. Clues that the series would introduce the Kingdom were first offered in the penultimate episode and again in the finale when Morgan (Lennie James) crosses paths with men clad in armor.

In the comics, members of the Kingdom, like those of the Hilltop and Alexandria, do not wish to be a part of Negan's reign of terror. That includes orders Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) revealed during the season six finale: that he will take half of the neighboring communities' food, supplies and weapons in exchange for safety (from the Saviors).

The introduction of the Kingdom and Negan effectively set the stage for season seven to explore the stunning five-issue Walking Dead comics arc called "All Out War," which sees multiple communities unite in a bid to defeat the sociopath. As for if Ezekiel's tiger, Shiva, will be brought to life on the AMC drama, exec producer Greg Nicotero told THR in April that those conversations were already underway. "But if I were just watching the show, I'd want to see that tiger," he said. "I'm very confident in the path that we've chosen in terms of how we're going to execute that, but I don't want to get into it too much."

Ezekiel becomes the latest comic book character to be brought to life on the AMC drama. Jeffrey Dean Morgan's villain Negan was introduced in the season six finale, joining fellow newly promoted series regulars Austin Amelio (Dwight, Negan's right-hand man), Xander Berkeley (Gregory, the leader of the Hilltop) and Tom Payne (Jesus, a former Hilltop-turned-Alexandria resident). 

Payton's acting and voiceover credits include The Lion Guard, Teen Titans Go, Transformers: Robots in Disguise, Young Justice, New Teen Titans and General Hospital. He is repped by Innovative Artists and Gekis Ribera Management.

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