'Walking Dead' Stars on Rick and Michonne's Surprising New Dynamic

Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira talk with THR about the massive departure from Robert Kirkman's comic book series.
 Gene Page/AMC

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from episode 610, "The Next World," of AMC's The Walking Dead and the comic book series on which it is based.]

AMC's The Walking Dead took a break from its typical death and destruction for a lighter episode that delivered one of its biggest departures from the comic book series on which the zombie drama is based.

The episode jumped forward a few weeks after Carl (Chandler Riggs) lost his eye in the deadly battle for Alexandria that saw Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) and her two sons all die. It was an upbeat hour in which Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Daryl (Norman Reedus) hit the road in search of supplies as Alexandria is truly firing on all cylinders as it rebuilds and attempts to re-establish a new civilization.

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While Rick and Daryl hit a few roadblocks — thanks to new arrival Jesus (Tom Payne) — Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Spencer (Austin Nichols) go in search of zombie Deanna (Tovah Feldshuh) as he looks to find closure and put down his mother. Carl is now up and around with Enid (Katelyn Nacon) in the woods outside the gate and helps lead Deanna to Spencer and Michonne.

Afterward, Michonne scolds Carl for tempting fate with Deanna — only he reveals that he would have done the same thing for her and views the fierce warrior as a mother. At the end of the day, Rick and Michonne are reunited on their living room couch in what feels like another domestic scene for the roommates. After Rick explains that he and Daryl lost a supply truck in a scuffle with Jesus, he hands Michonne a pack of mints — not quite the toothpaste she'd requested that morning but a sweet enough gesture that it opens up Michonne's heart for what may be the first time on the series. Inspired by Deanna to figure out what she wants for herself, Michonne and Rick wind up making out on the couch, the episode ending with the duo woken up in bed the morning by Jesus, whom Rick and Daryl had left tied up in Alexandria.

The romance between Rick and Michonne marks a massive departure from the comics, where Andrea — the character played by Laurie Holden on the AMC series — becomes Carl's mother and Rick's romantic partner (and second in command).

Here, stars Lincoln and Gurira talk with THR about the romantic twist, shooting love scenes and the shift in both Rick and Michonne.

What was your response like when you found out that Rick and Michonne were going to finally be romantically paired?

Lincoln: I was preoccupied shooting the episode before [the midseason premiere] and Danai wasn't on set for a couple days. When she came on set, she was weird — she wasn't making eye contact and was a bit strange. I asked what was wrong and she asked if I'd read [this episode] yet. I said, "What do you mean? I was trying to save the world from the zombie apocalypse, what do you mean? I haven't had a chance to read it!" She said read the script. I sat there and screamed when I read it. I ran to her trailer, banged on her door and screamed, "Why didn't you tell me?!" It's insane and I loved it! It is a strange experience because their relationship for so long — as friends and as actors — we've been playing a certain complicated, difficult, respectful and loving almost familial relationship. And to step through the portal into this new place was really trippy. Danai was brilliant and so funny on set and said, "Let's just go for this; I don't want to talk about it too much. Let's just go for it." We wanted it to be these two grownups and warriors who love and respect each other. That's a given. And then they get completely surprised in this moment. And then they look at each other and say, "Of course." That was the transition that we wanted: for it to be sexy, committed and key. We wanted it to be different and grown up and very relaxed and natural. That's what we were fighting for. It's that kiss it's the kiss and to capture that was key.

Gurira: It makes sense to me. It made sense to me since the "Clear" episode, I remember chatting about it for the first time with [current showrunner Scott] Gimple, but, back then it wasn't his call [he wrote the episode under then-boss Glen Mazzara]. I thought, "Rick is a guy that she really respects." She's willing to align and open up and be her better self as a result of his insistence that she be not who she was when she first got to the prison gates with that baby powder and formula. It was like being in a world where her ex had betrayed her and the world had men like The Governor (David Morrissey) and Merle (Michael Rooker) in it and then meeting someone like Rick and deciding this is who I'm going to align with. Michonne respects him, what he's trying to do and how he's trying to keep his and other people's children safe. That made sense to me as someone who she could ultimately connect with this way. And there is such an intimacy that's grown between them over the course of several seasons that [this romance] seemed well earned.

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What was shooting your first love scene like? This is something fans have been campaigning for.

Gurira: I know! I'm so glad I wont get railed about it every time I'm anywhere. People are like, "Why aren't you with Rick?!" Everywhere I go I get that! The scene on the couch was the first between them in terms of character progression. We both sat there after the first take because it felt natural for the both of us and it felt natural for these characters to be right where they were — like they're exactly where they should be at this point. We didn't feel awkward; it felt very organic. It progressed from a very long and intimate friendship. It made it feel natural for the characters' journey.

Do you think the writing has been on the wall for Michonne? Was this something she always had that in the back of her mind?

Gurira:No. I don't think she was even aware until it happened. I think she was aware she loved Rick and Carl, but the idea of seeing Rick as someone she was going to get with? No. It only comes upon her the same time it comes upon him, which is on that couch. Michonne is really good at shutting things down, like when we first met her she shut a lot of things down and then she started to let those things open up again and become more sociable, talkative, caring and open. Her walls started to come down. But there's one wall that she had not let down and that was the wall around her heart. The idea of being romantic with someone, she had had a wall up ever since what happened with her ex with the assault of her child.

What prompted the shift in Michonne?

Gurira: What Deanna asks her [in the midseason finale] — "What do you want for yourself?" — that question takes her by surprise. That was getting into the heart area that Michonne had a wall up around ever since her last tragedy. She has a new lease on life: Carl recovered, Alexandria is stable, Rick and Michonne have their home and Rick has now embraced everybody. Then the day just progresses as a perfect storm. Seeing Deanna's son Spencer do what he has to do with his mother and seeing her face again and remembering the last thing she said — Michonne promised that she would figure out what she wants. Seeing Spencer's pain and hearing Carl say that he sees her as his mother — she keeps receiving love all day. The idea of Rick going out of his way to make sure to bring back something of what she asks for [mints] since he couldn't bring back the toothpaste was really sweet. It's letting her heart out from behind the wall. It's in that moment where she holds on to his hand. Rick does stuff for her all the time, but today she actually held it back because this was the one that meant her heart got to be the steering wheel.

This is a huge departure from the comics. Obviously Andrea (Laurie Holden) isn't around anymore. How do you think diehard comic book fans will respond to Rick and Michonne's romantic pairing? I certainly didn't expect it to happen, let alone for it to be in this episode.

Lincoln: A lot of people are probably going to have the same reaction that you and I did. It feels absolutely normal, it feels right. It does mean massive repercussions for everybody else. And there is a small matter of Carl in all this and how he's going to react. You'll see that play out quickly. Comic fans, I hope, will love it just as much as I did when I read it because it is one of the great and important things we have to do with our show: separate ourselves from the comic book.

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How closely will Rick and Michonne's romantic relationship follow the events of Rick and Andrea's pairing in the comics?

Gurira: We'll have to see. It wasn't a casual thing for them to connect this way; it was a realization, a discovery. They've had so much intimacy with their friendship but now they realize that there's even more to their intimacy so that wasn't a casual hookup moment. The reason why there are these expressions of joy when they're kissing is because there's something bursting out of them that's new and they realize, "Oh my God, this is a really special friend of mine that I actually want to be intimate with in a whole other way and it makes total sense." It doesn't feel like a casual encounter.

How will the rest of Rick's group of survivors respond? Beyond Carl — who is already looking at Michonne as a mother — you have Daryl and everyone else.

Lincoln: You'll find out very quickly. The audience and the fans endure quite a lot. The show is an endurance test and that's why this episode was so lovely — it's a relief. We wanted to show a little bit of what we're fighting for. If there's not the opportunity for love and tenderness and real laughter and a future, then what are we doing here? And it was such a gas to get Rick and Daryl together again. We like to call it Butch and Sundance but all the exec producers called it Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which is a little disconcerting!

How might Carl respond?

Gurira: I have no idea. They haven't thought that far. They're enjoying each other in the afterglow and get disrupted by Jesus. They have to figure out what to do next with Carl but for now they have to deal with Jesus and we'll see how that goes.

How might Michonne respond to Jesus?

Gurira: Michonne is very good at figuring people out and determining what category to put people in. It's very difficult for people to be evil and her not to see it. I think she'll be able to figure him out pretty fast and understand what sort of guy he really is.

Rick keeps talking about the "law of averages" — and knows that they're taking their fate in their own hands going out on these supply runs. Now that he's got a romantic relationship with Michonne, will that change how he feels about leaving the community or is this another seed planted for Negan's arrival?

Lincoln: I had that same question to [showrunner] Scott Gimple and he wanted this to be two warriors that love each other and would fight to the death for each other. It doesn't alter anything; it only strengthens their fortitude. It's almost like Jessie was able to open Rick up to the potential of loving again. It was a hugely important stepping stone for him to access that part of himself. Tragically, he loses her but in this jump forward in time there's a moment where if Jessie hadn't have happened, this moment wouldn't have computed and this wouldn't have happened. He wouldn't have been there. It would be unreal for human beings not to pair off in this traumatic landscape. There has to be. It's that thing that's surging through Rick's veins — there's newfound sense of hope and with hope comes romance, laughter and rebuilding a civilization. Unfortunately, I'm not sure how long it's going to last! [Laughs] That's the nature of our show. We've given everyone a nice little respite for an episode but we may be back to the day job and the usual order of service with the next episode, and the episode after that and the episode after that. [Laughing.]

Gurira: I don't know if Michonne is the kind of girlfriend that says, "Don't go do what you have to do." We'll have to see, that's an interesting question. But they do need to figure out their supplies and how to be self-sustaining.

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Gurira: I hope he's not!

We know Negan is coming. Daryl now has the opinion that they shouldn't bring new people in to the community. How will that play a role in Negan's arrival?

Lincoln: The pace of these back six episodes is the quickest that I can recall. We meet a lot of characters very soon and [see] a lot of new places. It moves in a brutal and brilliant way right until the final minutes of this season. It's like a missile careening to its destination. The argument about do we bring people in or do we not, Rick has had a seismic change since [the midseason finale]. He's realized he's wrong and he's going to have to make some very hard calls in the next few episodes. And other people make some very difficult decisions. It's going to be quite shocking to see where the survivors go in these next few episodes. It gets complicated and very scary very quickly. The central argument of this episode is do we bring [Jesus] in our do we leave him out and that continues right to the very final moments of this season.

What do you think about Rick and Michonne's romantic pairing? Sound off in the comments section, below. The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC. 

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