Most of the focus on the upcoming season of The Walking Dead has been on Negan. Rightfully so, really. As we know, he’s going to be bashing in someone’s head in the first few seconds of the premiere.

But there’s another new group being introduced: The Kingdom. Comic book fans are familiar with this community and its leader, King Ezekiel. Oh, and we should mention that Ezekiel has an actual tiger by his side at all times!

Introducing The Kingdom

Entertainment Weekly talked to Walking Dead executive producer and special effect guru Greg Nicotero. First, he explained how the Kingdom will be unlike anything else we’ve seen so far:

Ezekiel on The Walking Dead (Image Credit: AMC)Image Credit: AMC

“It’s the biggest community that we’ve ever come upon. Carol and Morgan show up there and it’s thriving, and it’s alive, and it’s vibrant. And even when I directed the episode, when I was editing it, it was The Walking Dead version of The Wizard of Oz. If the outside is a black and white, dull, dead world, the inside is vibrant and colorful and whimsical and alive, and it’s all led by a dude with a scepter and a f—ing tiger named Ezekiel. So the script had a very strange tenor to it, because it was very unlike anything that we had done in The Walking Dead, ever.

“You have this guy walking around and people are calling him King Ezekiel, and you have these Biblical quotes that are on display all over the Kingdom, and people follow him. And at first glance you look at this and you go, “This can’t be real. There’s got to be something that’s f—ed up about it,” because there’s no way that this place could have existed, but that’s the beauty of Ezekiel. He recognized, very much like the people in Alexandria, that they need someone to follow, and they need someone to lead them. And Ezekiel took that opportunity and created this larger-than-life person that people can follow and people can look up to.

“So think about being out in the world: They’ve heard about this guy Rick, that he’s ruthless and he went up against Negan, and heard about Negan’s baseball bat that he calls Lucille and he bashes people’s heads in with it. And I heard about this guy Ezekiel, and he’s got white dreadlocks and a big duster, and he has a tiger. I mean, it’s so much about propaganda and about how they hear about each other. So Ezekiel has built up a mystique about himself and about his community, and in doing so created a place where his world can flourish.”

How to Make a Tiger

So about that tiger… how is The Walking Dead going to pull it off? It’d be extremely dangerous to have a live tiger on set. And using pure CGI would be expensive for a television series.

As it turns out, Nicotero says they’re using a mix of animatronics and CGI:

“It’s definitely a mix. We started building at the end of February, and I have a tremendous advantage, which is experience with animatronic animals starting way back with Dances with Wolves. So we created the character and the forms digitally, and then output those into full-size standing and sitting animatronic tigers. And then we’ll be supplementing multiple shots. I would say a good portion of it, the majority of it, will be animatronic.

“And then we will digitally augment with either moving eyes or moving tail, or we will have a few shots if the creature has to walk, take several steps forward, or turn around, or roar, going from a neutral expression to a roaring expression, we’ll do those shots digitally. But it’s been a very collaborative effort between myself and digital effects and [showrunner Scott M. Gimple] to dial in just the right patternings, the right saturation of color, the right movements.”

Ezekiel and Shiva are too of the coolest characters in the pages of The Walking Dead comic. It’s going to be amazing to finally see them onscreen.

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