The Walking Dead showrunner on what's next for Michonne
Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday’s episode of The Walking Dead, “What We Became.”
The bad news: Sunday’s “What We Became” episode of The Walking Dead marked the final appearance of Danai Gurira’s Michonne. The good news: The character’s end on the show seemed to hold the promise of possibility for an eventual reunion with her husband, Rick (Andrew Lincoln), in a series of planned Walking Dead films.
Sunday’s episode followed Michonne as she was locked up and drugged by Virgil, which led her on a series of tripped-out visions in which she imagined her life on a completely different path. It was a path that began with her ignoring Andrea’s cries for help, taking the place of the doomed hitchhiker with the orange backpack, being recruited by Negan, presumably shooting Glenn and Heath, swinging Lucille on the other end of the infamous season 6 finale lineup of death, and then being killed by Daryl and Rick.
After getting through those nightmares and escaping Virgil’s cell, Michonne discovered Rick’s boots and another message, leading her to believe her husband may indeed be alive. With a little prodding from Judith, Michonne embarked on a quest up north to find Rick, but that quest was almost immediately interrupted by her decision to help a couple in need that left behind a large group on the move.
We spoke to showrunner Angela Kang to get her insight on Michonne’s wild ride, merging old and new footage, and putting our hero on the other side of the bat. She also revealed what that Japanese lettering stood for, gave clues as to whether that group at the end is the one that took Rick, and teased if there could at some point be a big reunion in the works. (Also make sure to read our goodbye interview with Gurira.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Tell me about the conversations between you and Danai about what you all wanted to accomplish with this last chapter from Michonne.
ANGELA KANG: I think as with exiting Andy as Rick, Michonne has been such a key part of the show. So we really wanted to give her a weighty farewell that was interesting and hopefully did some things that were new and yet had some bearing on her story as a whole. And obviously, [Walking Dead chief content officer] Scott Gimple and I were in contact about how this might tie into the larger universe. And we went about our process in the writers' room and Danai — who is herself a writer, and an amazing one — and I talked. And I think really for her, what was important was just the feeling that Michonne is strong and that there's this connection to her children, which we were on the same page about. So we went from there.
How did you go about figuring out the past moments from the show that you wanted to reincorporate and reimagine into Michonne’s tripped-out dream?
I think my writer, Vivian Tse, did an amazing job writing the sequence, and the writers' room talked about: What are key moments from Michonne's past that have shaped her worldview? And we've seen that in recent seasons that she became really hardcore about locking down Alexandria to the outside world. And over time, because the Whisperer threat kind of softened some of that, she's in a particular place in her end run on the show. And so we were talking about this idea of mercy, which was such an important concept for Siddiq and for Rick.
We've seen that Michonne herself can also be merciful, but she's not in that kind of mental space. And so we just wondered what happens when that idea is challenged, and when the idea of mercy is challenged in a way that's with somebody who's complicated, and what are the decisions that people make that lead them to a place where they think that mercy might not be the best path?
So we looked at these moments in the show where depending on a decision going one way or another, or circumstances going one way or another, it could just take you down a completely different life path, and how quickly one key decision can really change your life. And so we thought that it would be fun to do this kind of a story, sort of the parallel-universe version of Michonne's journey. And it's kind of like the decision making really turned on: Here are these moments that stood out as being a key part of the things that they did.
Let’s talk about a few of those. Obviously, it starts off the initial Andrea meetup scene. I assume that's in there because that's where it all started, and that's where Michonne, as we know, ultimately had to make that choice at the very end of season 2, and taking a look at what had happened if she had not made that choice. Tell me about that and tell me about the challenges of having to syncing up old material with the newly filmed material.
For us, the way she came into the show was by helping a stranger, Andrea. And Andrea is one of our beloved characters that we had at the time. But here comes this person with these two zombies on chains and she doesn't have to help her, she knows nothing about this woman, and she makes a choice to do so. And so that is what brings her ultimately into our group's orbit. And without making that choice, if she had made the choice to say, "I don't know this person. I'd rather not," the trajectory of her life would've been different. So we thought that that was a good place to start the story of what happens when all those decisions slide.
In terms of syncing up with older episodes, it was a really interesting and kind of fun process. I think our VFX team did really an amazing job, and our partners in the VFX space that work with us took a ton of planning. Production had to recreate certain situations to get new footage such as the lineup with Negan and Michonne. They basically recreated the RV behind them and Negan and Michonne and her kind of passing through.
But we had a lot of alternate footage for that scene that had been shot to try to prevent spoilers. So we used that, and obviously, there're scenes that appeared in the show in other scenarios, such as Glenn and Heath coming into the room. And we recreated the beds in the corners and put Laura there and put Michonne in there. So it was really this wonderful melding of production kind of recreating certain spaces, and then post taking old footage and very cleverly using CGI to kind of put old and new footage together. And I think everybody just did an amazing job because they always pulled together so well to face whatever challenges we kind of throw at them.
Yeah, it was seamless. And where does this idea come from in terms of making Michonne a Savior, and then having her hold Lucille and be on the other end of that? That's a pretty bold step.
Whenever we explore villains on our show, we try not to do it in this really arch villain way. I think every villain is the hero of their own story. In their minds, they are making decisions that are what are helping them and their people survive. And I think one of the most complex actions our people have taken is they attack the satellite station with the Saviors, without having met them in person, without them having crossed them in person. But you go off of the word of this new community, the Hilltop that they met, saying these are bad guys, which it turns out they are. But they went in and killed a bunch of people in their sleep. And from the Saviors’ point of view, that was an act of war.
And so depending on the perspective, its actions take a different light. We thought that it was interesting to explore that idea that in some ways the things that separate one group from the other, sometimes it's not as much as you think it might be. But there are obviously certain key ways that Negan was behaving that our people just really don't do. But our people had to do some pretty tough things in their time as well.
And if Michonne were to meet that group first, would her life have taken a different path? Maybe. They showed her mercy at a time when others didn't in our sort of parallel universe because we've certainly shown that our people, when their backs were up against a wall, there had been times when they were not exactly very forgiving or merciful to people they came across that were strangers. So it's all just part of our imaginations kind of playing what if, because it's kind of like Michonne's mind going, "What are the things that have been important, and how could I have gone a different path? Am I going down the right path?" I think Michonne is a person who has a lot of moral certainty, but she's certainly been pretty hardcore herself many, many times.
Danai mentioned that she had a pretty intense moment with Carl in that lineup scene that did not make the final cut. Was there anything else that changed or did not make it into the episode?
One thing that's interesting is that the person who was on the other end of the bat was not originally going to be Michonne herself. We went through a bunch of different iterations of things. And then at one point, we were like, "Well, what actually works best with the footage is Michonne." And I was like, "Oh, that's really interesting." Because really, this is all about her going, "Yeah, I want to kill fantasy Michonne here. This is not me in this weird fantasy." So that was one of the odd paths that we kind of discovered as we were going through it.
We see later that she discovers Rick's boots, which leads her on this new mission. And then she goes on and she finds the phone and there's the word Rick on it, and there are images of Michonne and Judith. There's also some lettering on that phone. Can you tell me what that lettering says?
This was from speaking with Scott Gimple and what are the things that we want to have leading Michonne into her next chapter of her story, hopefully. And I believe the Japanese says something like “Believe a little longer." So it was a message to Rick from somebody, somehow on this boat. By steering Virgil, it's sort of the universe rewarded her with finding these clues that Rick is indeed alive somewhere, or he was not too long ago.
And as we look at those last few minutes of the episode, clearly you guys were trying to go full-circle here. She has the hood back on, she creates the pets, and then there's a stranger in need and she has to make a choice. I mean, this is a 360-degree situation, isn't it?
Yeah, we still love the imagery of her coming into the show, which came straight out of the comics. And she's really not been in a place to have to walk with the dead. The Whisperers weirdly became a situation where so many of our people had to deal with people walking with the dead. But the idea of her taking this journey on her own for a little while because there's so much danger and she's so strong, it felt like that could justify her maybe temporarily kind of adopting this again. But ultimately, as she has in the past, she makes a choice to walk with people.
And so I think that really is true to Michonne's character. She was a person who was wandering alone, just grief-stricken, and everything good that has come into her life has been by way of connecting with other people and trying to help each other. So I think hopefully, that's a good message to go out on Michonne's story with because I think she has been a character who has touched so many of our other characters within our show, and their trajectories are forever affected by that.
So what can you tell us about this group marching off that she sees at the end? Is this the same three-rings group that took Rick in the helicopter?
More of a question for Scott Gimple. But I will say that as far as I know, this group is not part of that same group. They kind of have a whole different way of dress. They're dressed in animal skins. They're traveling in kind of this very organized caravan. Everything we know about the three-rings group is they've got people shuttling people about by helicopter up and down the coast. So yeah, we'll see what adventures await.
And I guess we have to assume at this point in time that Michonne is somewhere between Virginia and New Jersey?
Yeah, she started that journey kind of heading up north. So somewhere in between.
So does this also then tell us that Danai is going to be part of The Walking Dead movie with Andrew Lincoln?
Well, I really hope those two reunite is what I could say. I mean, it's sort of not my realm. But certainly, I think it's like we're promising some sort of new story ahead. It won't be on my show, unfortunately, but there is some sort of plan for a handoff happening here.
Obviously, we have a lot of other huge things going on in The Walking Dead universe that we sort of put on pause for a week. Negan's killed Alpha, delivered her head to Carol. What can you tell us about what's coming up next?
We really had fun putting together Negan and Carol. So we will come back and find out more about what exactly was going on between them. And we obviously left Beta. He has not yet found out yet that his Alpha is gone. And so we will be dealing with that, and there's some pretty important implications going forward. So I'm really excited for our fans to see this next episode.