The Walking Dead changed forever this week when Michonne made an important discovery and started off on a new journey.
How do you say goodbye to a legend without it substantially changing the character of the show? That’s a question that The Walking Dead has had to grapple with twice in the last two seasons. In season 9, the OG Rick Grimes was written out when Andrew Lincoln wanted to leave the show, and in season 1, his onscreen soulmate Michonne also departed due to Danai Gurira’s desire to explore other creative projects.
Both times The Walking Dead managed to delicately walk the line of giving fans the closure they needed while setting up exciting new adventures for these characters that fan love. This week, in Gurira’s final episode of The Walking Dead, Michonne found Rick’s boots in a lab on the island where Virgil has been living and after getting Judith’s blessing she left to go find him.
It was the exit that many fans hoped for, including me, and it opens the door for Danai to revisit the character of Michonne in the upcoming films about Rick Grimes. But before sending her off to find Rick, Michonne was drugged by Virgil and endured a weird hallucination of what might have happened to her if she had made the choice not to save Andrea.
The hallucination sequence was masterfully done and blended recreated scenes from the past with some great editing, but it still felt disjointed and confused a lot of fans. And as a look back at Michonne’s long journey on The Walking Dead it fell a little flat.
Fan Service Isn’t Necessarily Bad
Some fans were upset at the way that Michonne was written out because they thought it was mere fan service and wasn’t the kind of elevated storyline that makes use of Danai’s considerable talent. To be fair, they’re not entirely wrong. It was a little contrived, and most of us assumed that her exit would be based on finding some kind of evidence that Rick was alive.
But that doesn’t make it any less satisfying. Fan service isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Fans are heavily emotionally invested in these characters and once and awhile giving them a purely emotional payoff like Michonne breathing deeply into Rick’s boots just to get the scent of him again is a great thing.
Judith, Michonne, and the Brave Man
One of the highlights of the episode was Michonne telling Judith that Rick might still be alive, and Judith telling Michonne to go find him. Cailey Fleming makes Judith such a delightful character that story arcs which could easily end up coming across as trite or cloying just seem pure and very authentic to this apocalypse child that has lost so much.
Of course she would tell Michonne to go get him and bring him home.
The drawing on the iPhone screen was an interesting hint at some bigger storyline. The drawing shows a grown-up Judith, which some fans assumed was a plot hole, but Scott Gimple confirmed on Talking Dead was deliberate.
That piece of information seems to indicate that the drawing wasn’t made by Rick and left like a puzzle piece for someone else to find — but that it was a message for Rick left by someone else. Was the phone a clue about what happened to Rick and why he was so close to the communities but unable to get home? It seems like it might be.
A Fitting Departure
Overall, the episode wasn’t so great on narrative merit alone. The story was a little weak and out of place, Virgil seems like a throwaway character, just brought in to facilitate Michonne’s exit, and some parts of it seemed disjointed. However, I loved this episode anyway because I felt like it was the right exit for Michonne.
It gave fans the joy of seeing Michonne discover that Rick is alive and ended on a hopeful note as she went off to find him. It allowed fans to revisit some of the past, paid homage to Danai’s powerful talent in both acting and with a sword, and left the door open for her to return to The Walking Dead universe in the future. It was the only way her story could have played out that fans would have been able to live with.
It would be impossible to talk about Danai’s last episode of The Walking Dead without talking about what the character of Michonne means to genre TV audiences.
Genre TV is overwhelmingly the domain of white men who are the main characters in shows and who write the other characters that support those characters. As a result, the female characters that do get featured are often damsels in distress or eye candy, simply props and vehicles to drive the male protagonist’s story forward.
Michonne broke that mold into a million pieces. She is a badass, but not just a badass. She is a powerful warrior; but also a mother, a friend, a partner, a leader, someone who struggles, and someone who triumphs. She is a fully developed multi-faceted lead character that is also a woman of color and that kind of representation matters now more than ever in our current cultural climate.
The Unstoppable Danai
The joy of seeing Michonne realize Rick is still alive managed to temporarily mask the fans profound grief that Danai is moving on. But really, there is no one show that could contain such immense talent. Danai is an award winning playwright, writer, and actor, and she is moving forward to be a producer, showrunner, and writer for other projects.
With her many creative projects and her humanitarian work as well as her movie career it’s not a surprise that she would need to move on from The Walking Dead to pursue other goals. While it will be fantastic to see her in the Rick Grimes movies if she joins the films there will be plenty of other projects that fans will be able to see her in.
I’m sure I speak for all of TWDFamily in wishing this immensely talented woman all the best and saying thank you for bringing this compelling character to life for the past eight seasons.
Go get him Michonne. Bring him home. We’ll be here waiting.
What did you think of Michonne’s exit on The Walking Dead? Sound off in the comments below.