Imposter syndrome. Fake it till you make it. False confidence. There are dozens of phrases in hundreds of permutations that each stand for the proposition that if we can just project enough strength, if we can put the right mask on over our doubts and insecurities, then we will become who and what we hope to be. It’s the idea that inspiration can be built up from within, and eventually flow out to those we seek to lead or impress or merely comfort.
But what if you have imposter syndrome because you are, in fact, an imposter? What if you fake it with all your might, but the odds are too stacked against you for you to make anything? What if your false confidence just gets your friends and allies killed.
That’s the reality Ezekiel grapples with in “Some Guy.” His brand, his ethos, since we first met him last season, is founded on the idea that with the right inspiration, the right idea, the right star to steer yourself by, you can go and take people anywhere. As he confides to Carol in a flashback, Ezekiel once made a choice at a particularly fraught moment in his life, about what kind of person he wanted to be. And since then, he’s used that choice to spur on others, to build something greater than himself, and hopefully lead his people toward a better life.
But what do you do when that dream falls apart? The opening seven minutes or so of “Some Guy” offer some of the best, most brutal work that The Walking Dead has ever done, and it’s mostly bloodless. We see Ezekiel making that choice once more, in miniature, with a ritual that stands for the larger transformation he underwent long ago. We see the tired, plain-clothed man who wakes up and gets into character, changing himself from just another person into a king. It’s subtle, tactile work from Khary Payton, who shows how his character uses all that weekend matinee experience to craft this inspirational figure.
Then Ezekiel rallies his troops. He promises them victory. He fills their hearts and minds with hope and confidence, with the idea that this act will help bring those better things about. It leads to a performance, a Shakespearean halftime speech that puts Rick’s earlier attempt at the same sort of thing to shame. And it leads to the denizens of The Kingdom to rally around their king.
Then, just as quickly, the episode match cuts to a pile of corpses on the ground.
It’s a brutal, brutal cut. The image of Ezekiel emerging from that pile of dead bodies, gazing at the fallen comrades whom he walked into this fate, and then looking on as they slowly but surely rise from their rotten condition, bores into you. This is what has become of Ezekiel’s well-meaning bravado, of his pie-in-the-sky promises meant to ensure the opposite result. And the grisly scene understandably shakes him and devastates him.
That’s the thematic pull of the episode. Where do you go, who do you become, when the fantasy you’ve created is punctured by bullets, and the blood is on your hands?
It’s a compelling throughline. But “Some Guy” also works on a nuts and bolts storytelling level. In contrast to the first three episodes of the season, this installment focuses on two plots: Ezekiel escaping that lurching horde of his own men outside the compound, and Carol escaping the lingering Saviors within it, until those plotlines collide. That creates a spine for the episode that helps support the headier themes at play.
In the process, The Walking Dead gives us some damn good set pieces, with well-crafted action movie moments and nice bits of character throughout. Ezekiel’s broken leg creates a solid obstacle to the challenges he faces from Savior and walker alike. The moments where he seems likely to be done in by a captor, only to be saved at the last minute by Jerry, when Carol gets into firefights with the latest crop of Negan’s goons, or where Shiva springs into action to save the lot of them, all have the right blend of thrilling action and thematic resonance.
Amid these gradually dovetailing stories, “Some Guy” even drops in a pretty badass car chase with Rick and Daryl vs. the Saviors from that same compound. The attempt to prevent those henchmen from getting their weaponry to The Sanctuary creates a clear goal, and between near misses with Daryl, shootouts with Rick, and car-hopping, truck-crashing mayhem, the episode crafts a setpiece that keeps your heart pumping, even if it feels a bit tangential to the broader material of the episode.
But what’s so laudable about the other set pieces in “Some Guy” is how well they fit into the essential question that the episode is asking. Ezekiel believes himself a failure because his attempts at inspiration led to the deaths of scores of his followers. But while it’s yet to sink in for him, this king is confronted with example after example of the ways in which what he exemplified, more than just what he championed, still made him someone worthy of being followed.
That first of these moments comes in Jerry’s last minute save. Ezekiel, as he does throughout the episode, tells his friends to simply run, to leave him behind, because his injured leg will only slow them down. Instead, they stay and help and fight despite his protestations. And despite Ezekiel’s attempts to push back, to say that he doesn’t deserve to be called their king, Jerry remains steadfast, not because of some puffed up image that Ezekiel has crafted for himself, but because he’s simply a “good dude,” a terminology that cuts through the King’s grandiose presentation and reaches to the heart of what he was trying to do with The Kingdom.
It also comes as Carol makes a choice that parallels the one Ezekiel made with Shiva. After finding a clever way to outsmart the Saviors with whom she’s embroiled in a standoff, Carol faces a dilemma of her own. Either she can take out the remaining pair of antagonists and ensure that their powerful guns don’t make it back to Negan, or she can let them go in order to save Ezekiel.
The Carol we’ve known for seven seasons and counting might tend toward the former choice, reasoning that two lives, even the lives of her friends, are not worth the lives that those guns in the hands of The Saviors might cost. But instead she chooses to save the man who helped give her a lifeline in a time of crisis, who’s helped her to internalize that sense of altruism over her effective but brutal (and often fistpump-worthy) pragmatism.
And it comes with Shiva, who offers the last save of the episode. As Ezekiel, Carol, and Jerry attempt to cross a muddy brook, riddled with walkers, Shiva comes out of nowhere to fight and ultimately sacrifice herself that they may live. It is a hard moment for Ezekiel, almost as hard as returning to The Kingdom and having to look into the eyes of a child whose father he just saw reduced to a pile of fetid flesh, but a powerful one.
Therein lies the cinch of “Some Guy.” Ezekiel will, as is the spirit du jour of The Walking Dead, no doubt be haunted by what happened here, no doubt blame himself for using his stories and speeches to send these men and women into battle and ultimately to their deaths. He will likely hold himself responsible, and argue that his embellishments only convinced good people to follow a lie.
And yet, what “Some Guy” reveals is that this theatricality, this impostorhood, this lie, was founded on a truth. It’s a truth about who Ezekiel is and what he stands for, that overcomes any sense that Ezekiel filled his followers’ heads with nothings. He gave them hope; he gave them a reason to go on, and with their help, built a community to sustain them. The choices he made come back to him — not just choices like putting icons in your hair or armor beneath your jacket, but the ones like rescuing wounded animals, acting as a just and kind leader, showing the same kindness and understanding to strangers. Those are what truly made Ezekiel worthy of being a king, no matter what he wears, or how he speaks, or who’s left to follow him.