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The Walking Dead: Danai Gurira reflects on Michonne and Carl

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Gene Page/AMC

Ahead of the release of The Walking Dead’s seventh season, EW takes an inside look at the horror franchise. Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead is on sale now and can be found with a collectible cover on newsstands after October 14, 2016. As part of the book, we spoke to key Walking Dead figures to look back at one of the biggest moments from each season. Some may be major, others a bit more subtle. In the sixth and final installment of the series, we chatted with Danai Guria about a key moment from season 6. (Also make sure to check out our season 1 Q&A with Andrew Lincoln, season 2 Q&A with showrunner Scott M. Gimple, season 3 Q&A with Norman Reedus, season 4 Q&A with director Michael E. Satrazemis, and season 5 Q&A with Michael Cudlitz.)

SEASON 6 KEY MOMENT

THE INTERVIEW: DANAI GURIRA

THE MOMENT: MICHONNE AND CARL BOND

EPISODE: “THE NEXT WORLD”

Sometimes a small, quiet scene can be as important as a big one. Take the moment between Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl (Chandler Riggs) on the porch in “The Next World.” Michonne had seen Carl out in the woods risking his life to herd zombie Deanna back to her son so Spencer could put her to rest, and she confronted Carl about it while he was getting ready to put baby Judith to bed. What followed was a tender exchange that demonstrated Michonne’s evolution back into a maternal figure, and led directly to the romantic encounter with Rick that followed it.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me your thoughts about this scene between Michonne and Carl, because it’s a quiet scene, but also a pivotal one.

DANAI GURIRA: She has so much respect for him as the child soldier who’s weathered so much, and that’s so much a part of why she loves him and wants to protect him. But her approach, I felt, needed to be gentle and respectful, but then also clear and firm that we are going to have this conversation. And he is, of course, avoiding that. It was interesting to find the moments of where he has to finally open up about what exactly he was doing out there, and that moment takes her by great surprise.

And that was what was really a beautiful part of her evolution, was the realization that he looks at her with that level of regard and that she is actually that loved by him. She comes back to this young man who she just absolutely loved, and hears him affirm that fact by leaving her the position of mother in his heart. And I think that really makes her so emotionally open and available. That was really a climactic moment because that moment happening does cause her to have an open enough heart and available enough emotional space to have that next moment with his father.

Everyone talks about the Rick and Michonne connection now for obvious reasons, but the Michonne–Carl connection has always been just as significant, albeit in a different way.

He’s the one who actually brought her into the group. And so, from there on out, they have definitely had a deep and intimate bond. The loss of a child, many will say, is the worst loss one can have, and Carl still steps into that position of giving her a second experience with a young growing man that she lost with her own son. So he really is what opens the gates of her heart to be able to open up to Rick. I don’t know if she would’ve been able to respond to Rick’s touch in that next scene, honestly. I think she would’ve felt that electricity between her and him, but she probably would have said, “Okay, don’t stay up too late,” and said something cocky and jumped off to bed. But I think that what happened with Carl opens up her heart to give and receive the love. She’s like, this is my family.

It’s as if Carl almost in a way is giving her permission to let that moment with Rick happen.

Absolutely. He blesses her with this position in their home, and I think it gives her permission to be open and to let go a little bit and to let her heart actually express itself. The idea of having her heart touched so unexpectedly by Carl in that previous scene, it allows her heart to take the driver’s seat, and that is the moment where she’s able to actually see this man sitting in front of her, for what she’s actually seen him as but never really has acknowledged to herself.

You look at Michonne’s journey since we first met her, and how would you describe her evolution in terms of how she’s changed since then?

She was covered in armor that was impenetrable, and piece by piece, season by season, the armor’s been removed, but it hasn’t made her weak, it’s just made her strong in a different way. That warrior hasn’t gone away, but she started to find her voice and open up, having heart to hearts with Carl. That was a huge part of opening up the character, because then I found her heart. And I could feel her heart start to crack open year by year by year, more and more. And then, of course, the ultimate is when you start making out with Rick, which is a whole other level of the character opening up. [Laughs]

Finally, I have to know: How much did the baby playing Judith cooperate in this scene?

She was amazing! Every single take we did, when I would hug Chandler, she would be in his arms when I hugged him. And when I would break away from him, she would look up at me and reach out her arms for me to take her so she could hug me. Every single take. And I would have to take her and hug her and then I’d hug him again. I wish they’d used that, but they didn’t. It was incredibly adorable.

Check out the two collectible covers for Entertainment Weekly’s Ultimate Guide to the Walking Dead, below. And for all the essential exclusive Walking Dead scoop, pick up the book right here.