The Walking Dead star Danai Gurira opens up about breaking stereotypes as Michonne and reaction to her character's coupling with the show's leading man Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). Gurira played the katana-wielding warrior across eight seasons of the zombie drama inspired by creator Robert Kirkman's comic books, starring in a leading role until her character's exit in the show's tenth season. During her eight years on The Walking Dead, which diverged from the comic book saga when the affectionately named "Richonne" turned romantic in the sixth season, Gurira's stoic survivor evolved to become the leader of a post-apocalyptic community who ultimately departed the show in search of the missing Rick.
"I'd never come across a character like this. I was like, 'Oh, now this is the breaking of a stereotype I've never thought of,'" Gurira said as a keynote speaker at the virtual #Unstereotype Alliance Global Member Summit. "I often said to Robert Kirkman, 'I wish I thought of her! How did you think of her?' Because the katana meets a Black girl with dreadlocks was just very, very interesting to me."
Gurira credited Walking Dead showrunner Angela Kang and former showrunner Scott Gimple for "cracking through a lot of stereotypes as [Michonne] was built up, right through what her backstory turned out to be and who ultimately her partner turned out to be."
Playing a "full character" in Michonne, Gurira said, "I really got to play a woman who evolved, who had many facets, who was really strong and was also able to show vulnerability and be a lover, be a friend, be a warrior, be really scary, be broken over and over again, but still keep going and finding ways to keep joy alive and keep moving."
"There was a lot that I got to do with her that I know is not common for Black women to get to do in television or in film. It's just not common," Gurira noted, adding Michonne's iconic Japanese weapon is part of "what I got to do that I just don't think is very common for a Black woman to get to do."
"And that to me, right there, is something that speaks to the mandate of unstereotyping. It just takes a few folks just willing to truly listen," said Gurira, who also famously plays General Okoye of Wakanda in Marvel's Black Panther and Avengers franchises. "I think there are aspects of how you can actually just fall into stereotype because you assume that's what everyone wants and what everyone's used to, and then there are folks who are just like, 'no, I'm listening to the authenticity of this person and the organic journey of a character.' And 'it's not that, it's something else, we're gonna go this way.'"
Part of that organic journey for Michonne was her blossoming relationship with Rick. After losing her biological child in the early days of the zombie apocalypse, Michonne forged a close bond with Rick's son, Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs), becoming a much-needed mother for Carl and his younger sister Judith (now played by Cailey Fleming). In Season 9, Michonne delivered Rick's son, Rick Jr. (Antony Azor), a.k.a. RJ.
"People thought it was so huge and radical that my character and the Rick Grimes character became a couple, and I guess it was. You know, I guess it was. But really, should it be?" Gurira said. "But once again, it was eradicating stereotype around who the lead man, the handsome white male lead man, could be with. But it was clear that the characters had a connection and chemistry, so what do you listen to? So that's why I said it just takes a few folks willing to truly listen, and I think right there stereotypes can break."
Gimple, who now oversees the expansive Walking Dead Universe as its chief content officer, has hinted at a potential Gurira-led spin-off series ahead of an expected "Richonne" reunion in the Walking Dead feature film series now in development from AMC Studios, Skybound, and Universal Pictures.
Follow the author @CameronBonomolo on Twitter for all things TWD. The Final Season of The Walking Dead premieres Sunday, August 22, on AMC.