He's one of The Walking Dead's most iconic characters, and he just so happens to have a pet who is probably the most ruthless zombie-killing machine in the show's seven seasons.
Fans of the comic books already know who we're talking about: Ezekiel, self-styled king of a community he calls, appropriately enough, The Kingdom. The creators of The Walking Dead have confirmed Ezekiel will be introduced to viewers in the show's seventh season along with Shiva, his pet tiger.
Ezekiel's backstory illuminates his relationship with the tiger and how he came to be king of a stronghold buttressed by metal walls and reinforced by decaying school buses. Before the apocalypse, Ezekiel was a zookeeper who raised Shiva from birth, explaining the animal's loyalty to her caretaker and her fierce protective streak.
Fans caught a glimpse of Ezekiel and Shiva in the recently-released teaser trailer for season seven, which debuted at San Diego Comic Con.
Toward the end of the trailer we see the king himself.
"I am King Ezekiel," he intones, "welcome to the kingdom!"
After a quick montage of action scenes set to dramatic music, the trailer cuts back to Ezekiel, lounging on his throne as Shiva lets loose an earth-shaking roar. The camera fades to black over Ezekiel's deep-throated laughter as he reaches over to pet Shiva.
So is Shiva a real tiger?
If we're asking that question, it means The Walking Dead's special effects team did its job. For most of television history it would have been impossible to pull off a visual stunt like that. Until the advent of cable prestige dramas, it would have been unthinkable for executives to sign off on the kind of production expense associated with bringing such a majestic animal to life convincingly.
There's also the thorny problem of working with the most dangerous land animal on earth, and the fact that tigers are critically endangered, with about 3,200 of them left in the wild, according to the World Wildlife Fund.
So no, Shiva isn't a real tiger, and that's testament to the talented artists who animated her -- and to how far digital effects have come.
Creating digital tigers is not without precedent, as Life of Pi's creative team can attest. The 2012 Ang Lee-directed film stranded protagonist Pi Patel on a small boat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
CGI was a necessity, visual effects supervisor Bill Westenhofer told The New York Times.
“We didn’t want our actor to get eaten,” Westenhofer deadpanned.
He explained that the production team used four real-life Bengal tigers for reference, and for some shots when only the tiger was on screen. But for scenes that required Suraj Sharma's Pi to interact with Richard Parker, it was all digital.
“By doing that, it set our bar high for CGI,” Westenhofer said. “We couldn’t cheat at all. It pushed the artists to go and deliver something that’s never been done before, something as photo-real as anyone has ever done with an animal.”
During a presser at Comic Con, Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman confirmed the TV show went the "Life of Pi" route.
"It's not particularly humane to have a live tiger on set, and it's also very dangerous for the actors," Kirkman said, according to Digital Spy. "Plus I would not have gone to set if there had been a real tiger anywhere near set, so there's no real tiger involved. It's all magic."