Season six of "The Walking Dead" was a bleak affair, beginning with Rick's failed zombie herding experiment, shifting into the devastating Wolf attack, and finally ending with the capture of most of the Alexandria gang by the nefarious Negan. The season closed on a bleak cliffhanger that foretold the imminent brutal, bloody death of one of our beloved characters, and that stomach-churning development doesn't exactly leave us hopeful for our crew's prospects in season seven.

But aside from all the Negan we'll be getting this fall, fans will also be introduced to Ezekiel, the enigmatic leader of The Kingdom, a new settlement in the rapidly-expanding world outside of Alexandria. And according to the actor who plays him, Ezekiel's eccentric, energetic disposition will introduce something the series hasn't seen in a while: joy.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Khary Payton discussed what makes Ezekiel tick, including the character's surprising choice of pet: a tiger named Shiva. But that's not the only thing that sets him apart from others we've seen before.

"[H]e's in the hope business," Payton explained to EW. " ... 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."

That sunny disposition even applies to his view of the walkers, according to the actor. Payton continued:

He's in the business of not losing himself to his surroundings. ... 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.

It certainly seems like a lot of members of Rick's crew have had the joy robbed from them in recent seasons (though with the current Negan debacle unfolding, that's understandable), so Ezekiel's philosophy sounds like a breath of fresh air. Payton likens his character's energy to a lighthouse that "[spreads] this gospel of joy and light in a dark situation. ... [I]f you use it the right way, it'll keep you from crashing on the rocks."

Sounds like just the respite fans have been craving. For much more insight from Payton -- including what Carol and Morgan make of King Ezekiel -- check out the full Q&A over at Entertainment Weekly.

"The Walking Dead" returns for season seven on AMC on October 23.

[via: Entertainment Weekly]

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