Khary Payton on the power of “and yet I smile”

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Khary Payton, who plays King Ezekiel, recognizes the impact his character has had on his fans and he is grateful that the phrase ‘and yet I smile’ has the power to heal and bring comfort.

Khary: The worst thing is when they (the writers) have Ezekiel go into a depression, they don’t go half assed. They really just like, ‘you’re just not gonna feel good about it and it’s gonna be a while,’ and I hate that they put him in those situations. I mean, I appreciate it for the acting and the journey that he’s on, but it hurts my heart because I know how many people find inspiration from Ezekiel’s journey and from his kind of positive outlook and so I hate when he’s kind of stuck down in that depressive state.

That brings me to the thing that makes me the happiest about playing Ezekiel, everybody knows he’s not going to stay there. Everybody that I talk to, no matter how long they’ve been down, they always say, ‘and yet I smile,’ even though ‘and yet I smile,’ was like three seasons ago. They know that deep down inside Ezekiel is never gonna give up. And I have people who are going through cancer, I have people who are dealing with depression, people who have gone through just tough times, drug addiction or whatever, and they tattoo it on their arms and they say it over and over in their mind, ‘and yet I smile,’ because I know intrinsically that you will never stop getting up. 

Ezekiel may get knocked down, but he will never stop getting up. And I know that for a fact because I won’t let it happen. I’ve already told the writers, ‘you can write it but I won’t do it. He may die, but he will not die on his back or on his belly. He will die standing up.”

Gene Page/AMC

Khary says that Ezekiel takes inspiration from Shakespeare. 

Khary: It was funny, I was having this conversation with Scott Gimple in New York City. We were there for a network event and we were sitting down to dinner and we were talking about what kind of speech he is going to have before the all out war happens. My favorite Shakespeare play is “Henry V” and one of my favorite speeches is the St. Crispin’s Day speech where he says that there’s maybe like 5000 English men that are fighting against 30,000 French men and some of his generals are like, maybe we should call back home and maybe some more get some more guys over here so they can help us? Henry says no you leave them at home. You leave them at home because we are going to win. And they’re going to wish that they were a part of this incredible thing that happens today where we go up against all odds. 

Scott Gimple came back the next day and he wrote, ‘and you had a smile.’ And so it was our version of Henry V’s St Crispin’s Day speech and as much as I love Shakespeare, I feel like it’s really awesome that I got my own version of when we go back to England, they will praise our name because of what we’ve done. And although it didn’t work out the same way, it’s pretty much just me and Jerry who barely made it out of there, but at least you know it sounded good at the time.

You can catch Khary in season 11 of “The Walking Dead”