After last episode's horrific, grim exploration of just how many times you can smack a person's head with a baseball bat before it explodes, this week's Walking Dead was a significantly calmer, funnier affair. If anything, those who jumped off last week saying they were "done" probably should have hopped back on board for "The Well."
Carol (Melissa McBride) and Morgan (Lennie James) have always been two of the most developed, well-rounded characters on the show, so focusing on their post-Season 6 relationship — plus the introduction of the new, enigmatic King Ezekiel (Khary Payton) — meant a surprisingly human hour of television (what with all the zombies and violence and everything).
Here's the thing you may have missed, though: Carol and Morgan were in Hell. Or at the very least, an amalgamation of a few different mythologies, all of them revolving around the guy who isn't god. You know, the other one.
Spoilers for this week's The Walking Dead past this point.
In case you did miss the semi-unsubtle metaphors, I'll break it down for you. Things kick off soon after Morgan and Carol were picked up by emissaries from The Kingdom in the Season 6 finale. They dress like knights in bulletproof gear, and ride horses. They swing swords, and on the surface seem honorable (and are also honorable below the surface). Carol is phasing in and out of consciousness, as she was shot by one of the villainous Negan's (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) Saviors. Morgan is working with the... King's Men, I guess? Kingdomites? Taking Carol to safety, to recuperate.
But our first inkling that something is off happens before we get to The Kingdom. Carol starts seeing walkers as humans, how they looked before they were turned and started to rot. Horrified, she runs off from the group. They save her. She collapses, and sleeps for two days. And yes, there's the connection to Carol's journey as a character. She's been grappling with murdering humans for most of the second half of Season 6, so seeing walkers as human makes sense. She doesn't know what death, or life, is anymore.
That last point connects to what's crucial to understand about the episode: Carol is descending into the underworld. Not literally, but metaphorically, she's at a place where she doesn't know the difference between life and death; and when you first pass through the road to either Hell or Hades (which is a little more applicable in this case), you see spirits trapped between the two as well.
If we want to get even deeper into it (and oh YEAH, we do), Morgan is Charon the ferryman, complete with his iconic staff, taking Carol from her previous life to the next.
After Carol wakes up, Morgan takes her to King Ezekiel, who is unlike any character we've met before. The other leaders we've seen, from Negan, to Gregory (Xander Berkeley), to even The Governor (David Morrissey) have all had their affectations, but King Ezekiel talks in verse, has his followers worship him like a king, and has a tiger named Shiva. Oh, and also he calls himself King Ezekiel.
Ezekiel is bombastic. He's prone to pronouncements and flourishes. But he's also lying, as we find out later — a key component to any Satan figure. They're always alluring with their promises, but ultimately you're going to Hell.
Carol seems to know this, too; certainly better than Morgan. Morgan has already drunk the Kool-Aid. More specifically, he's drunk from the well. "Drink from the well, replenish the well," Ezekiel tells the duo, and in mythology, a well will often wipe the memories of your previous life. For Morgan, this works: he seems renewed in purpose and happiness, after struggling under Rick's (Andrew Lincoln) rules for most of last season. Ezekiel might be the king of lies, and Morgan knows it (if not at first, certainly by episode's end). But he's washed clean, absolved of his sins, and happy.
Not Carol. Ezekiel has to spend most of the episode working on her, offering a pomegranate when she arrives, and again at the end of the episode. (We don't find out if she takes it or not.) In case you didn't catch that particular metaphor, in the myth of Persephone, she's taken to Hades, but told not to eat or drink. She consumes six pomegranate seeds, because she's all hungry and stuff, and ends up being bound to Hades for six months of the year. Those months are why we have winter and fall, and then the other six months are spring and summer, proving that the Greeks never foresaw global warming.
So again, we get Ezekiel as a figure of temptation, and Carol refusing to be tempted.
Carol does spend most of the episode as an entirely new character though (after Merciless Killer Carol, and last season's bananas Cookies Carol): "Blushing Maid Carol." She plays the game, but is preparing to leave The Kingdom as soon as possible. She compliments their cobbler (there's cobbler at every meal? Maybe this isn't Hell after all!), steals their clothes, and eventually decides to head out in the middle of the night.
Before she does, though, she stops in The Kingdom's apple orchard and decides to totally screw up the whole Greek myth thing by plucking an apple FROM THE TREE OF KNOWLEDGE. Not literally, but come on. And just like that, Ezekiel pops up in front of some flames (again, in case the whole tempter/Satan thing wasn't subtle enough for you) and provides her that knowledge.
He reveals that, yes, of course King Ezekiel is all an act. He was in community theater, but the people needed something to believe in. "Where there's life, there's hope. Heroism. Grace... Where there's life, there's life," Ezekiel tells Carol.
The trick of it is, The Kingdom isn't built on hope, it's built on borrowed time. Ezekiel isn't Satan, he's Beelzebub, or any of the more minor demons. He's a trickster, and like the best of them hides his wrongdoings in the skin of doing the right thing.
"I found a way to deal with the bad, by going a little overboard with the good," he continues, but he also is dealing with the bad: like Hilltop, and now Alexandria, The Kingdom is owned by Negan. The only difference is, Ezekiel has lied to his followers. They believe they're living a idyllic life, but really they're one bad day from destruction. They've drunk from the well, just like Morgan, and have forgotten that just outside their walls (or fences) are the walking dead, hungry to eat their flesh. They eat their cobbler, sing Bob Dylan a cappella, and farm out of abandoned filing cabinets. But they are in hell. They are the walking dead, just like Rick's group, the walkers, or anyone else on this show.
Mid-way through the episode, one of Ezekiel's knights named Richard delivers some wild pigs to Negan's crew. Those pigs are The Kingdom's offering for the week, but they hide a horrible, gross secret: Richard has been feeding zombies to the pigs, their "bellies full of rot." Just to be clear: that won't turn Negan's men in walkers, that's not how this all works. But it is a way of sticking it to Negan and the Saviors.
It's also exactly what the residents of The Kingdom are doing every day. Their bellies and words are filled with lies, whether they know it or not. Just like when you're in Hell, you don't know that you're, say, eating a pig full of undead, rotten meat until it's too late. In terms of the plot, that just means Ezekiel will be forced to choose a side eventually. In terms of the metaphor, it means the veil will be pulled back eventually, and the Kingdomites will realize (like everyone else on the show does eventually) that they're in Hell.
Carol does realize this, though, mainly because she's known she's in Hell for a good long while now. She eventually chooses neither place, just like Persephone — stuck between Hades and the world of humans. She goes back to a house she saw on the way in, one that holds an undead housewife (shades of Carol's former, pre-apocalypse life) who she "kills." She's not on the road again, nor is she living in The Kingdom. She's halfway between one life and the next.
Given that she's always had the clearest view of what needs to be done on this show for a few seasons now, it might help save the Kingdom (or at least Morgan and Ezekiel) from the fires of damnation. Even if it's not clear which mythology we're dealing with.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.