(Note: This post contains spoilers for the Season 9 premiere of “The Walking Dead.”)
Well, it’s official — as of the Season 9 premiere of “The Walking Dead,” there’s a new major romance, one that already seems to have its share of complications.
That romance is between Carol (Melissa McBride) and King Ezekiel (Khary Payton), something the show has been building toward in small increments for a while now. In the first episode of the new season, “A New Beginning,” we see that in whatever time has passed since the end of the war with the Saviors and now, Carol and Ezekiel have gotten very close.
That Carol and Ezekiel are an item is both great and terrible. It’s great because Ezekiel is probably the best guy in the post-apocalypse on “The Walking Dead,” as well as the best, most stable and most caring leader of any of the folks currently in charge. He deserves good things, and so does Carol, who might be the end of the world’s chief badass. She’s also been through a lot of crap over the years.
But it’s terrible because, at least right now, the Carol-Ezekiel relationship seems to put down one fans have been hoping would come to fruition for basically forever: Carol and Daryl, or “Caryl.”
Daryl (Norman Reedus) and Carol have had a very close, interesting and mostly unspoken relationship for quite a while now, but while there’s definitely been tension between them, their relationship has never quite become romantic. And now, as things advance in the rest of Season 9, it seems it might never be. That’s because part way through the premiere, Ezekiel asks Carol to marry him.
Then again, maybe what we’re seeing in the premiere episode of “The Walking Dead” Season 9 is a setup for Carol and Daryl to finally come to terms with how they feel about each other.
The first clue that Carol might not be fully ready to settle down with Ezekiel is the fact that she’s clearly resistant to that idea; after all, she doesn’t agree to marry him. Carol is obviously having trouble committing to much more than being in a stable relationship with Ezekiel, and is carrying around plenty of emotional baggage. She’s spent much of the last two seasons distancing herself from friends and has even considered leaving the group altogether. While she’s obviously recovered from a lot of that, Carol still has some distance issues even in the premiere episode, keeping Ezekiel at arm’s length.
That’s most obvious when Ezekiel suffers a near-death experience halfway through the episode after nearly tumbling to his death to be eaten by walkers. He’s saved by Daryl and the rest of the group, and after the fact, asks Carol to marry him. She pumps the brakes, partially because she doesn’t want Ezekiel’s proposal to be prompted by the emotions of nearly dying. But by the end of the episode, Carol is headed to Sanctuary and taking some time apart from Ezekiel; she says it’s because Daryl and the others need help, but Ezekiel suspects it’s because he pushed Carol too hard with his proposal.
So already, “The Walking Dead” is setting up that, while Ezekiel and Carol are together, she’s not quite in the relationship as deeply as he is. At the very least, Carol has some things to work out (like trust and the fear of losing people close to her that we’ve been seeing for quite a while now). There’s conflict in their relationship that’s only going to develop further.
And then there’s the Daryl situation.
Later in the episode, Carol talks to Daryl about Ezekiel’s proposal, and he tells her that she deserves happiness. We see them have a moment of platonic closeness, and it’s clear the pair are still tight.
Carol’s struggle with getting close to Ezekiel, and then immediately going and talking to Daryl about it, seems pretty suggestive. We can also expect that things aren’t going to be easy for Carol and Ezekiel regardless — this is “The Walking Dead,” after all. It might be that we’re seeing Carol struggling with her feelings, or it might be that the reason Carol can’t fully commit is because of how she feels about someone else, even if she doesn’t fully realize it.
And if we’re talking about what would make for powerful drama and conflict for the show, and twist fans into knots trying to decide how they feel about it, there’s nothing more powerful than a love triangle between three fan-favorite characters. So maybe Carol being with Ezekiel doesn’t quite mean that “Caryl” is fully off the table.
Then again, this is “The Walking Dead,” and nobody’s allowed to be happy for long. If Daryl and Carol finally got together, as fans want, probably one of them would get killed off immediately afterward.