SPOILER ALERT: This post contains details of tonight’s The Walking Dead episode & the fate of warrior queen Michonne. Do not enter if you don’t want to know more.
After seven seasons as the sword wielding and scene slaying Michonne on The Walking Dead, Danai Gurira touchingly left on the high seas tonight in the AMC zombie apocalypse series’ “What We Become” episode.
“It was everything,” the actor states of her near final scenes on the radio with Michonne’s children with the presumed dead Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and her exit from the show based on Robert Kirkman’s comics. “It was peaceful. It was beautiful. It was joyful. It was sad. It was, you know, gratifying.”
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For fans even though Gurira’s move to leave this season was revealed over a year ago, tonight was a TWD departure quite unlike most.
Having come up short in her effort to obtain a cache of weapons from the treacherous Virgil (Kevin Carroll), Michonne discovers poignant and painful clues to the real fate of Rick and how he may not be dead at all. From his much-worn cowboy boots in the hull of a washed-up ship, to a smartphone with etchings of Michonne and their daughter Judith (Cailey Fleming), a fateful decision is made to leave behind the kids, remaining Survivors like Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) and the comforts of Alexandria – because that is how true love works.
As Gurira and TWD showrunner Angela Kang tease it is also how a growing franchise works and how Rick and Michonne may be reunited in either the upcoming Lincoln-led films of the once sheriff’s deputy adventures or in a whole new landscape.
In this week where large swaths of America and the world shut down due to the global pandemic of the coronavirus, I spoke with Gurira, who inked a big overall deal with ABC Studios last month, and Kang about Michonne’s trip up the river, so to speak, and is it permanent or not. We also discussed the legacy of the character on the show, Gurira’s upcoming HBO Max show Americanah that she is showrunning, living in this time of COVID-19 and the return of Lauren Cohan’s Maggie to TWD.
DEADLINE: So, Danai, the way Michonne exits, in search of her love Rick Grimes, are you really gone from the world of TWD or just walking out of sight for awhile?
GURIRA: (LAUGHS) Well, you know I would never tell you yay or nay to that, but I think there is an open-endedness to how she exits. I will agree with you on that.
I thought it was beautiful that she got to, you know, kind of get cosmically rewarded for helping this weird guy, Virgil, who is played by a wonderful actor who I’ve always admired, Kevin Carroll. Rewarded by finding evidence that’s something she’s always suspected was true, which was that Rick didn’t die on that bridge. So, you know, we’ll see how that goes. See what happens next or see if something happens.
— Kirsten (@KirstenAcuna) March 23, 2020
DEADLINE: Angela? Is there more Michonne to come with Rick on the big screen?
KANG: Certainly, that option is open there, and I really hope that they will reunite sometime. However, I think it’s more of a question for Scott Gimple
DEADLINE: Well, Scott isn’t with us today, so Danai, what do you think the Chief Content Officer of the growing The Walking Dead franchise would say?
GURIRA: Probably not going to tell you.
— The Walking Dead on AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) March 23, 2020
DEADLINE: OK, well, we’ll stamp our feet and move on there and to that, you are a showrunner yourself now like Angela and like Gimple once was on TWD. So, what’s the status of the HBO Max show you have Americanah right now?
GURIRA: You know, we were in a bit of strange place, because of the coronavirus, like everybody. Of course, I’m definitely very engaged in the writing process of the show, but everything in terms of how well along we are this moment together as a global community, that’s another thing. But the writing component and getting all those things done is still very much alive and happening.
DEADLINE: With way too many comparisons being made between the surge and fallout of COVID-19 and TWD and the empty streets all over the world, how are the two of you doing in this time of home confinement and social distancing?
GURIRA: I’m fine. I actually just migrated back west. I was in Brooklyn, and I out in Los Angeles now, So, I’m hunkered down here to ride this thing out.
KANG: You know, we obviously made the decision last week to stop all pre-production, that was AMC, just kind of across the board for their production. So, we still have people working remotely. The writers continue to work. We’re still several weeks out from anything shooting so it hasn’t been overly disruptive yet. We’re Zooming and Google Doxing and doing all the kinds of things that everybody else is doing right now.
DEADLINE: Unlike the ever-expanding coronavirus, news of Danai’s departure slipped out over a year ago, so this the actual execution in tonight’s Vivian Tse penned episode was a long time in the making. Though very different right now from the now completed comics, but unlike lot of TWD characters Michonne didn’t die and clearly could come back, so how did you put all this together over the past several months?
KANG: I mean Danai is an amazing actress and an amazing person, I just want to say. I’ve worked with her since Season 3 and with that familiarity, we kind of did what we usually do on the show.
DEADLINE: Which is?
KANG: Which is we go off and start thinking about the season and the arcs and what we can do. In there. Scott Gimple obviously and I had a conversation too about like what handoff was needed to kind of ride her out into a bigger possibility of stories elsewhere.
And then, at a certain point kind of in that process I always have one-on-one conversations with actors. I say, hey, here’s what we’re laying out, this is what we have planned, we’re excited about this, is there anything that is in your head in terms of like where your character’s at, and so we had a really wonderful conversation. And honestly, the story didn’t really change wildly from what we originally planned,
GURIRA: I have to give a lot of thanks to Angela and her team for that. They came up with an amazing architecture for those characters, for the stories, and how to give her that sort of an ending. Then I worked a little bit with them. I worked with them on some of the architecture therein, which is very generous of them to embrace my thoughts and my contributions.
DEADLINE: Obviously, even with the flashbacks to Lincoln’s Rick and alternative realities with Michonne becoming one of Negan’s Saviors and being the one to kill off some of the Survivors in what was that bloody Season 7 opener, what we saw tonight was one of those TWD episodes that primarily centered on a single character and a single main actor. Not having almost anything from (Robert) Kirkman’s comics to base this on, how did the particulars emerge from ideas to plots?
KANG: As we were talking about like what really had Michonne gone through on an emotional level through the years, we felt that ultimately here’s a person who has some tendencies to want to be alone and to be a lone wolf, but she is pulled to other people…
DEADLINE: Like the treacherous Virgil?
KANG: Yes, and ultimately her decisions to show mercy at various points and to connect with people rather than isolating herself has been what has healed her. It has given her the greatest joys of her life, and has allowed her to build a life even in the midst of this apocalypse too
So, it came out of this organic conversation about what are these key moments that really shaped who she was, and does she have any regrets? Does she think that the decisions were the right decisions? Is there any awareness of the easy paths that people can take where things shift, you know, and what is the line between a hero and a villain?
DEADLINE: Certainly, those near final scenes of you on the walkie with Cailey Fleming’s very mature Judith and Anthony Azor’s CJ were just so powerful. So, with all that has been built up over the past couple of seasons of Michonne as a single Mom to her and Rick’s kids and now saying goodbye with their blessing, what we’re doing those scenes like, knowing for yourself that those are potentially your final Walking Dead scenes?
GURIRA: It was everything. It was peaceful. It was beautiful. It was joyful. It was sad. It was, you know, gratifying.
DEADLINE: How so?
GURIRA: I had gratitude for how they allowed me to exit the show and how well they’d taken care of the character. I had gratitude for how much I got to do, and how I got to exit in a way that honored the character and gave her an ability to be true to herself, like that end scene you referred to.
— The Walking Dead on AMC (@WalkingDead_AMC) March 23, 2020
DEADLINE: Angela, now with Michonne, the demise of Samantha Morton’s Alpha last week, Rick and Maggie, a number of the major characters, major cast members, have exited in various ways since you’ve taken over, and the show has shifted in many ways. Where does this leave TWD right now for you in terms of how the rest of the season goes and going into Season 11 and forward?
KANG: I think that certainly Michonne leaves a gaping hole in both the emotional lives of Judith and these other characters that love her, but also, she is the head of security for Alexandria and she has been such a leadership force since the loss of Rick. So that really puts Daryl in a particular position. It really demands more of people like Gabriel and Aaron, but also asks our other communities like Hilltop, how do they come together because they’ve lost a stream of leaders.
So, I think that’s a big part of kind of the landscape of what’s going on in these final few episodes as they deal with all of the fallout from the Hilltop battle, the death of Alpha and now Michonne gone
DEADLINE: Danai, as a first-time showrunner now with Americanah, and no disrespect to your well-established career as a playwright, but what has your experience working on the other side of the camera on TWD given you for this next step in your career?
GURIRA: I worked deeply with Gimple mostly, and you know, he’s a dear friend to me. He’s actually somewhat of a mentor right now for me as a showrunner. I say that because he made some very wonderful and bold choices concerning the show,
And I really thought he did some bold things with Michonne specifically. Such as how he was clear that Rick and Michonne had an unexpected connection. He actually started that right there before he was the showrunner in Season 3 episode 12 when he wrote the “Clear” episode – that’s the episode where Michonne and Rick connect and Michonne and Carl become friends when they go and they find Morgan.
To me, the potential of Michonne’s connection to Rick and Carl’s family, and, in the playing of it, there was some great connection that we just all naturally had – that I had with Andy and the wonderful Chandler. So, just working with Gimple every year, he brought a lot to my character and a lot of bold choices and I learned a lot from that and him.
DEADLINE: And since Angela took over with Season 9?
GURIRA: Well, I loved what Angela has brought to the show. The beautiful pivot she made into how she started to bring the story to life in a different way and exploring things we just have never done. Before, the idea of, okay, usually, we go through this whole mourning process with characters after they die. Angela, she’s like, we’re skipping six layers ahead. Do you know what I mean? It’s like, wow
DEADLINE: In that vein, Angela, and even though they know it’s coming, what do you say today to fans as they absorb the shock of Michonne’s immediate exit, because there are layers of grief there to people who have invested years of their life in this character…
KANG: That’s true certainly for us on the show too, I mean, we’ve gone through our own stages of grief every time we write anybody out because we get so emotionally invested in these characters just like the fans. Because, and I’ve said this to you before, we are first and foremost fans as we work on it. And then, also these are our coworkers, they’re our colleagues and we love them.
But I guess what I would say is Danai is going on because she’s a writer and she feels a calling to follow that path for a while now. So, for our side, we’ve done our best to try to tell a story about this character that hopefully fans will love and if they don’t I’m sorry, but we still have a lot of great story with great characters ahead.
— Melissa McBride (@mcbridemelissa) March 23, 2020
DEADLINE: Speaking of which, as one door closes in the zombie apocalypse, another re-opens – what can you tell us about the awaited return of Lauren Cohan’s Maggie to the show after a season absence when she went to work on ABC’s short-lived Whiskey Cavalier?
KANG: Ha! I mean she’s coming back. It’s so funny, but I really can’t say anything about her coming back because it’s just too spoilery, but you know we are really happy that Lauren’s coming back. We had always been planning to have her come back somehow and we were working on timing, like you know as we’ve been saying. It all finally worked out and we’re really excited that she’s back, and we’re deep in planning like her next story for Season 11.
Actually, I just spoke with her on the phone the other day, she’s such a lovely, lovely person. We’re just really happy to have her back in the fold, and I think we’ll tell some really fun stories with her.
DEADLINE: Danai, for you, what would you say to those TWD fans and those particular fans of Michonne as she heads off in search of Rick, perhaps never to be seen in this world again?
GURIRA: First of all, I couldn’t be more thankful and have more love for the fans of the show and for the way that they have bolstered me and loved what we’ve been doing and appreciated our work. Also, I feel there’ll be an indelible connection to this and the audience of The Walking Dead. The love that they show us and the way that I’ve been able to connect with them over the years, which has made me a better human being. It’s made me…it’s filled me with gratitude and love, and I’ll always be deeply appreciative of them for that.
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