Wow. My favorite episode in a long, long time.
Spoilers. If you haven't watched Season 7 Episode 2 of TWD, please, hit your back button.
What we're seeing here is a lot of setup for future episodes. We're back to the Morgan and Carol story - which, if I'm being honest, was the only story-line that made season six worth it - and we're introduced to King Ezekiel (Who is also the voice of Cyborg. Can I get a booyah?), his tiger, and his subjects.
It starts off where Carol and Morgan left off in season six, being rescued by the knights of the Kingdom. Carol is in bad shape and in a wagon of sorts and the new group is under walker attack. Carol sees the walkers as they were in their former life - as people. It hearkens back to Morgan's time with Eastman who conveys that the walkers were people once - with lives and families. Maybe it's Carol's guilt or maybe it's something bigger. Even in this dark world, however, you can still live with with morals. It's the first time we've really seen this in Carol since Sofia staggered out of Hershel's barn. I think it's telling that she buries the walker inside her new house instead of disposing of it with fire. Burying the dead in TWD is closely associated with those whose conscience and humanity are in tact while cremation is associated with callousness and the loss of ones sanity and humanity. Carol, who once killed and burned two of her own on a rooftop, has come full circle, taking her place among those who are living, not just surviving.
Meanwhile: The Kingdom is peaceful - or as peaceful as anyone can hope in the zombie apocalypse. You have to wonder what is going on behind closed doors because every utopia prior had a dark secret. One can hope that The Kingdom is different. Yeah, Ezekiel seems crazy, but we later find out that it's all for show to keep society going. He's a good, moral, strong, African American leader: any of these traits are the red shirt of TWD world; he has all of them.
But they're under the thumb of Negan and friends. So, there's that. It would seem that Lucille has been at work here too. It is mentioned that a team left to scavenge and eight of them never returned. One can only assume that they met Negan's wrath - or psychosis. Ezekiel has plans, alluded to in his conversations with Morgan, to overthrow Negan's group. He knows that they don't have the means to fight Negan on their own - his people are soft and sheltered and they'll need help. Unfortunately it'll come in the form of Rick and crew who can't seem to figure out a decent plan, ever. In the mean time they're sending Negan tainted pork.
The tainted pork caused a lot of confusion in the online discussions I've seen. Is he really crazy? Saving on pig feed? Spitting in Negan's preverbal cup? Do they not know that everyone is already infected? Last week I mentioned that a common literary device is to allude to ancient or common stories. There are a couple instances of this in The Well. Feeding the pigs tainted meat pulls from the Biblical story of Ezekiel, a prophet who foretells the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
In the comics there is a war which includes Alexandria, the Hilltop, and the Kingdom against the Saviors (Negan's group). This year and last TWD is starting to head in the direction of the comics, (a disappointing creative choice in my opinion) and so that's probably where we're headed with the introduction of Ezekiel. Now when Biblical Ezekiel was trying to speak to the Israelites about their impending capture he bakes tainted bread - baking it in fecal matter to render it unclean- to symbolize the people of Jerusalem living in foreign, and therefore unclean, land. What does this have to do with anything? King Ezekiel feeds tainted meat to the Saviors foretelling their fall. He is symbolizing to his knights that their lost members will be avenged and the Saviors will fall into their hands. I'm sure, based on Ezekiel's history with the theatre, that there is a Shakespearean reference, but it's been a long time since High school and I'm no longer well acquainted with Shakespeare.
The second allusion in this episode has to do with Carol. Throughout the episode, Carol is offered pomegranates by Ezekiel. At the surface it seems a little strange. Who likes pomegranates that much? Seriously. Pomegranates have a long history of symbolism. They symbolize prosperity, fullness, happiness, marriage, femininity, and fertility and are sometimes thought to be the forbidden fruit (that's right, not an apple). Obviously, compared to the other settlements we've seen over the years, the Kingdom holds the patent on prosperity on TWD, but that's not all. This particular subplot is brought to you by the story of Persephone and Hades. You can read that story here. Basically, Persephone is kidnapped by Hades and taken into the underworld to be his bride. While she develops feelings for him, she refuses to eat because if she does, she will be trapped there forever. But Hades is clever and before returning her to her mother, he offers her a pomegranate. Persephone takes and eats six seeds, binding her to Hades for six months of every year: here, but not here. Ezekiel offers Carol the pomegranate out of romantic interest (though I see 0 chemistry between them personally), binding her to him and the kingdom - here but not here - which, so far, Carol has presumably refused.
Interesting stuff this week. Next week it looks like business as usual with Rick and crew. I'm so excited. Can you sense how excited? Because I'm not.