'Walking Dead': Danai Gurira Confirms Season 10 Exit

The Walking Dead-Publicity Still 12-H 2018
Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

For the second Comic-Con in a row, The Walking Dead used its Hall H stage to bid farewell to one of its leading stars.

On Friday, Danai Gurira confirmed The Hollywood Reporter's February story that her sword-swinging days as The Walking Dead's Michonne will come to an end in season 10. Gurira, who has played the heroic zombie killer since the third season of the AMC flagship, made her first public comments about her departure during the show's time before fans in San Diego. Gurira's emotional remarks arrive a year after Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln used the same Comic-Con stage to confirm his rumored departure from the series. Unlike Lincoln — who will reprise his role as Rick Grimes in three AMC TV movies — Gurira is walking away from the franchise completely and is not expected to appear in those features. (At least not at this time, anyway.) Gurira will appear in what sources describe as a handful of season 10 episodes.

"I can confirm that this is the last season I will be on this amazing TV show as Michonne," said Gurira, at first to an audibly sad reaction from the audience, before ultimately getting a standing ovation. "I would just like to say that this has been one of the purest joys of my life to play this role and to be amongst these people and those who are not here right now and amongst all of you. I'm very thankful for the experience I've had in ways I can't state right now. My heart does not leave in any way, shape or form. The TWD family is forever. The connection between us never ends."

"It was a very difficult decision," she added. "It is not connected to my heart. My heart stays right here. It was about my calling and other things I feel called to. The opportunities I've had, exploring it as a creator of work. I'm filled with a lot of pain about leaving and a lot of gratitude. I am thankful to all of you. I love you guys, and I love this show. The TWD family is forever."

"We will miss the hell out of her," said showrunner Angela Kang. "Danai's importance to the show cannot be overstated, the mark she's left, the excellence she brings every day, the way her professionalism and passion…it's been a remarkable journey. It's been remarkable seeing her spread her wings out in the world as well. On the writing side, we take the responsibility very serious. It's important to the fans and to us. When we worked on the exit for Andy, we took it just as seriously. We want to do right by this incredible actress and this story. I hope we haven't screwed it up. We put her through her paces this year. She's a spectacular actress. She brought her A++ game, as she always does. I'm very excited to share what she's doing."

Gurira's exit marks a huge status quo shift for The Walking Dead, which recently ended its comic book run with a major role for Michonne. Spoilers for the comic are ahead.

Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard's historic comic book run concludes with a massive jump into the future, where postapocalypse society is at its most advanced state yet. Michonne becomes a high-powered judge who makes a critical ruling; given so many other major changes from the comic to the show, however, Michonne's absence may be among the lower-tiered concerns for a truly comic-faithful ending. More urgently, the remaining arcs from the comics that The Walking Dead has not yet adapted both have major roles for Michonne, including a reunion with her estranged daughter in a sprawling community called The Commonwealth. Since Michonne's daughter does not exist in the television series, perhaps the AMC adaptation will find another character to pick up the key story.

In any event, what will Michonne's final season story look like? The trailer for the season provides some glimpses into Michonne's future. At some point in the episodes ahead, she will be seen wielding Negan's baseball bat Lucille, as well as sharing a kiss with Khary Payton's Ezekiel, a love interest from the comics.

At the panel, Gurira offered a look into Michonne's imminent future: "The healing she started to find last season [after Rick's supposed death] because of her very kick-ass daughter and her awesome friend Siddiq (Avi Nash) gives her a responsibility now. She's opening up again. Healing involves vulnerability and involves taking on responsibility for so many people. Michonne protects to the end. Stepping into that next phase of what it looks like to open up again? That's what it's about. How does she carry these people the way she wants to, and lean in on amazing folks?"

Speaking with THR shortly after the season nine finale, Kang offered a glimpse at what to expect from Michonne as well: "We love Danai. We're so happy for her and the incredible moment in her life and her career that she's having, both in terms of writing and acting. We're hoping to treat fans to a lot of very cool, meaty stories for Michonne. We have seen her character go through an evolution this year. We want to continue having her reflect on the ways to handle leadership in this world. What legacy is she going to leave behind for the other leaders and for her family? Michonne started off as such an isolated individual. She's become someone who has had a giant impact on the other people in the Walking Dead story. That's a story we're continuing to build as we speak. I'm thrilled we get to continue to work with Danai next year, because she's been an amazing part of the show, and such a rock for our group."

While a massive change to The Walking Dead, Gurira's departure is not completely surprising given her breakout status. Since Gurira joined the show in 2012, the actress — who has a master's of fine arts from NYU — has used the top-rated series as a launchpad. She has continued her work as a playwright, co-writing (and co-starring in) off-Broadway production In the Continuum, winning an Obie Award and Outer Critics Circle Award. She made her Broadway debut in 2009 in August Wilson's Joe Turner's Come and Gone. Gurira's 2012 play, The Convert — which just ended its London run starring her Black Panther co-star Letitia Wright — earned her a Whiting Award for emerging playwright. In 2016, her Black Panther co-star Lupita Nyong'o starred in Eclipsed, which Gurira wrote. That play, the first to premiere on Broadway with an all-female and -black cast and creative team, earned Gurira a Tony nomination for best play. She also reprised her Black Panther role as Okoye in Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Gurira is currently adapting Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah into a miniseries that she will produce alongside Nyong'o — who will also star.

Lesley Goldberg contributed reporting to this story.