Khary Payton on ‘F— Negan,’ Responsibility Men Have to Women



  • Warning: There are spoilers ahead for season 11, episode 21 of “The Walking Dead,” “Outpost 22.”
  • Khary Payton spoke with Insider about Sunday’s episode and a scene where his character, Ezekiel, called out Negan for his misdeeds.
  • Payton said men need to hold each other accountable and speak up for women.

On Sunday’s episode of “The Walking Dead,” Ezekiel (Khary Payton) and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) finally shared an extended moment on screen together and it was explosive.

When Negan asks Ezekiel to work together to escape a labor camp, Zeke tersely reminds the former Savior leader why he’s avoided him for years while others have forgiven him.

“I stayed away from you for years, for a reason,” Ezekiel said.

“Well you need to shelve that shit,” Negan responded.

Visibly brimming with anger, Ezekiel went off on why he simply can’t and won’t do that, saying, “Shit? Melting people’s faces with irons? Coercing women into marrying you? Slaughtering my people? That shit I have not forgotten. Nobody has.”

TWD 1121 Ezekiel and Negan

Ezekiel reminds Negan that no one has forgotten his transgressions.

AMC, composite by Kirsten Acuna/Insider



By the episode’s end, the two former leaders set aside their differences for the time being to work together for the greater good, but that small exchange between the two spoke volumes for long-time fans of the series.

It’s the first time anyone on “TWD” has pointedly called out Negan’s controversial harem of women to his face. In 2016’s seventh season, we learned Negan gave women an ugly ultimatum when he led his own group: Leave your husbands and marry him in exchange for the protection of your family and former partners in the zombie apocalypse or take your chances on your own. (Negan asserted previous marriages were consensual, but we’ve seen a former wife, Sherry, deal with PTSD from her time with Negan on spin-off “Fear TWD”.)

For years, Negan’s coercion of women was largely swept under the rug on the series while the show focused on redeeming the character for some of his other heinous misdeeds, including brutally killing Glenn.

Insider spoke with Payton about bringing that scene to life, why he’s team “Fuck Negan,” his thoughts on the final eight episodes, and the responsibility men have to speak up for women. He also shared why he’s “not satisfied” with his character’s journey on the series.

Payton was happy Ezekiel was the one who finally called Negan out for some of his other misdeeds

TWD 1121 Ezekiel and Negan

Ezekiel and Negan definitely don’t see eye-to-eye, but they put their differences aside on Sunday’s episode.

Jace Downs/AMC



You have the mic drop moment of the episode. We learn Negan wants to work together to get out of this horrible labor camp and Ezekiel does not mince words with him. Was it satisfying for you to be the character who calls Negan out on — and excuse my language — his “shit,” as he called it?

Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. And Jeff knows this about me. I have always been in camp ‘Fuck Negan. Screw that guy.’ I have always been there, no matter how I feel about Jeff.

I remember when I had these shirts printed, “Never bring a bat to a cat fight.” We sold a bunch of those shirts for charity and he hated those fucking things. And I just loved it cuz I was like, “Yeah, man. I love you Jeff, but fuck that guy.” I don’t care how long it’s been. He needs to be reminded of everything he’s done. The fact that you’re incredibly charismatic and shit, means nothing to me.

I have always been on team Screw Negan. It makes me very happy to sit there, especially because I actually love working with Jeff. Jeff is — especially when it’s cold and nasty out — he is Mr. pumpkin spice latte, fucking can’t take the cold. He’s like [JDM impression] “Fuck this man.” And I love giving it to him. I’m like, “You can’t take it? Come on, boy. What’s wrong with you?”

Honestly? That’s just our relationship. Period. We bond over our kids and talk shit when it comes to football. We still have a fantasy league that we — literally, he’s fucking texting me a couple of moments ago about this stuff. We just have a good time together. I am so glad to be the one [who called Negan out]. It should have always been me.

Payton says men need to speak up for women because every woman has dealt with harassment

Was that line of dialogue about “coercing women into marrying you,” did that come up organically or was that a suggestion from you or Jeffrey about acknowledging the harem?

I think it was a suggestion from the female writers in our writer’s room. People just kind of forgot about it, but that’s a big fucking deal. And I think it’s a big deal that Ezekiel said something because men need to speak up for women in these situations because we all know women who have dealt with harassment because every woman has. Every woman has. And it is a lonely place to be. I know that it’s so, so important because I’ve been lucky enough to know women who have said, “Thank you for saying something.”

Here’s the thing. Guys are idiots. We all are. We have all made the mistake of thinking that we’re being cute or funny or something and it can make a woman feel so small. Hopefully, at some point in our lives, we have understood the ramifications of those things and said something or not said something or just shut the fuck up, sometimes.

I think it’s important and that Ezekiel is the right guy to kind of say that.

TWD 1121 Ezekiel, Khary Payton

Khary Payton as Ezekiel on “TWD” season 11, episode 21.

Jace Downs/AMC



It’s nice that the harem wasn’t forgotten on this episode because it doesn’t seem like we’re going to see Dwight or Sherry returning on these final episodes to confront Negan.

Right.

And we’ve seen on “Fear the Walking Dead” that’s something that was still very present on Sherry’s mind.

Absolutely, that’s a big deal.

I know we really got into that, but I felt like it was really important to talk about.

Both of the women that I’ve spoken to on this junket, took a moment to be like, “What about this? This right here?” I think that’s a testament to the fact that Angela Kang was put in charge and that Angela Kang, when she took over [“TWD”], the women in writing positions, in directing positions, just blew up exponentially on this show. That not lost on me that a woman’s perspective is highlighting something like that.

Payton on Negan, Ezekiel, Kelly, and more returning to Alexandria at the episode’s end

What are your honest thoughts on these final eight episodes? Is this where you saw the end of “The Walking Dead” heading? Before this final season was announced, I know from speaking to other cast members that there were other seasons being planned out. Also, if I look at the end of this week’s episode, it strikes me as a little unbelievable and a little silly that the Commonwealth soldiers would bring Ezekiel, Negan, Kelly, and others back as prisoners to Alexandria and give them home court advantage against them.

TWD 1121 Khary Payton

Angel Theory and Khary Payton on season 11, episode 21 of “TWD.”

Jace Downs/AMC



There are two ways to think about that. I think there’s home court advantage, and then there’s coming back home to a devastated place. It depends on how you’re thinking. At least for Kelly, Negan, and Ezekiel, Alexandria is not exactly home.

Fair.

Especially when it comes to the Commonwealth, that’s not where they came from. They’ve all come through Alexandria, but that’s not where they hung their hat. There’s something about coming home and realizing your home has been devastated and what kind of psychological impact that has on you. It just depends on your perspective.

When we were shooting in Alexandria, it didn’t feel like Alexandria. It was cold. It was wet. There was a night that the temperature just dropped and it started snowing. It was literally like, “What the fuck is going on?” And I feel like you could even see it in those scenes. It’s gray. It’s drained of color. It feels like everybody’s skin is just kind of drained of color. It’s this sad Siberian version of Alexandria.

Payton took Ezekiel’s sword on his last day and he’s not giving it back

TWD 702 King Ezekiel

Ezekiel made his entrance onto “TWD” on season seven, episode two.

Gene Page/AMC



Is there anything that you took home from set, from your time on the show?

Yeah, I took my sword. I called him Captain Jack Sparrow. Is he here? No. I think he’s in the other room. But, yeah, I didn’t even ask. It was my last day. I grabbed it. I jumped in the car and left. If anybody wants it, they know where to find me. But good luck.

Payton isn’t satisfied with how Ezekiel’s journey ends and how he’d gladly put on the wig again to continue his story

Looking back at your time on the show, is there anything you wish you were able to do with Ezekiel on “The Walking Dead” that you weren’t able to do? Are there any relationships that you wish were further explored, or are you satisfied with your character’s journey?

No, I’m not satisfied at all. I wish that — there are so many places and situations that I would’ve loved to explore. But that’s one of the things that happens when you have a show that has this many dynamic and interesting characters. 48 minutes or, sometimes, over an hour-long episode just isn’t enough.

These characters are beautifully constructed. I think the strength of the show is that these characters are nuanced, interesting, and there’s so many of them that you just can’t get it all in.

I am very sorry to say goodbye to Ezekiel and I cross my fingers and hope that maybe sometime down the road, we could tell the story of how Ezekiel came to be a king or something.

TWD 1120 Khary Payton

Khary Payton in a behind-the-scenes image from “TWD” season 11, episode 20.

Jace Downs/AMC



There are these spin-off shows the Daryl and the Maggie/Negan spinoff, the Rick and Michonne spin-off, and then there’s “Tales of TWD.” It seems like there are opportunities to possibly see Ezekiel pop up again and explore more of his story.

Yeah. There’s a chance. AMC plus, there’s a place to land there. If something like that happens, I would be excited to explore it. We’ll just have to wait and see.

I hope that Ezekiel makes it out alive. I will be really upset if he doesn’t survive.

I do too. I do too because maybe that’ll mean that there’s a chance that I could play not just flashbacks, but before and after. I’m keeping my fingers crossed ’cause I really would love to play Ezekiel again one day.

You can follow along with “TWD” universe coverage here. This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.





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