Walking Dead's King Ezekiel On What Shiva's Death Really Meant For The Show - Exclusive

Khary Payton joined The Walking Dead's cast in the show's seventh season as Ezekiel, a former zookeeper with a big personality and one noticeably powerful friend — Shiva, his pet tiger. After the walker outbreak, Ezekiel retrieved Shiva from the zoo. The pair had previously bonded when Ezekiel treated an injury she had sustained; not a bad buddy to have on your side, one with a protective nature and physical strength. Beyond the obvious reasons a person crossing a terror-filled landscape would benefit from such a guardian, Shiva was Ezekiel's dear friend and companion, saving him from the loneliness that came with his new normal. Ezekiel heads up the community known as the Kingdom and, during her journey with him, Shiva was an integral part of that faction.

Based on a comic series, The Walking Dead TV show doesn't always follow the comics in lockstep. For instance, in the source material, Ezekiel dies at the hands of the Whisperers, hostile survivors who disguise themselves with the flesh of the undead. So, when Shiva died in season 8, sacrificing her life to save Ezekiel's, Payton shared with Looper that he thought it might be the end for his character, too. "When Shiva died, I figured it was anybody's guess. I could stick around, I could get my head cut off, I could trip over a rock and get bitten on the ankle, anything's possible." The thought of getting killed off, of course, didn't thrill Payton, but he took it in stride. "I had time to explore the character," he said, "and I got used to the idea that when it's your time to [go], you just take a deep breath and give thanks for the time you had on the show."

Shiva's loss wasn't Ezekiel's only heartbreak in The Walking Dead season 8

Ezekiel and his Kingdom crew weren't the only ones distraught when Shiva died; fans were equally devastated (via TV Guide) and Khary Payton was in the same boat, personally. "I definitely felt it, too," he said. "Not only because Shiva died but because most of the Kingdom died in that same episode." He knew the value of Ezekiel's beloved tiger. "For me, she was the embodiment of the Kingdom and for me, as sad it was to see her go, in that moment I felt all of that sadness was the sadness of seeing all of those actors that I'd worked with — and all of those friends — leaving and knowing I wouldn't see them every day. It was a very big deal to me on a lot of levels."

Even without Ezekiel's majestic creature by his side, Payton is excited to see where the show takes his character. "Any time I have left on the show is just a blessing. I love the character and I couldn't have asked for a better introduction to the on-camera entertainment world than Ezekiel – I got lucky in that sense. I'm happy to ride him out as long as they'll let me."

Fans can watch Payton in The Walking Dead's tenth season to find out Ezekiel's fate.