12:40pm PT by Lesley Goldberg
Sonequa Martin-Green on Her Journey From 'Walking Dead' to 'Star Trek'
[This story contains spoilers from "The First Day of the Rest of Your Life," the season seven finale of AMC's The Walking Dead.]
It's the end of an era.
Following a nearly five-season run, Sonequa Martin-Green's Sasha has left the zombie building.
The fierce warrior — whose character does not exist in The Walking Dead comics — was killed off the AMC zombie drama during Sunday's season seven finale when, rather than having Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) use her against Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and company, Sasha opted to take her life by her own hands. Instead, she downed a poison pill and hoped Walker Sasha would be able to take a bite out of Negan's shocked face.
Martin-Green, who was originally cast by former showrunner Glen Mazzara after she auditioned to play Michonne, told viewers on AMC's Talking Dead that Sasha's exit was perfectly scripted. Below, the actress talks with The Hollywood Reporter about saying farewell to Sasha and heading to Star Trek: Discovery.
How are you feeling this morning?
I feel full of gratitude and joy and bittersweetness.
Let's go back to the beginning. How did showrunner Scott M. Gimple explain his decision to kill off Sasha?
I'm very impressed with the way things are done when it is time to leave the show. At this point now, we get a little bit of lead-in time and you have time to digest it and to warm up to it if you're not already warmed up to it. I was grateful he let me in on that. When he told me it was the plan, it made sense to me. It seemed only right that it would be the end of my story as Sasha. Finding out how it was going to happen was exhilarating — I thought it was perfect. I was actually surprised when I read the script. I was so grateful for it and felt quite honored to end the story that way.
How much did you know at that point?
I don't remember when the call happened, but I knew it was going to be in the finale. I didn't know it would be the suicide pill and the Negan of it all until a few weeks before. What Scott did tell me is that it would be heroic and sacrificial and that it would be perfect end to the story. He'd thought about it for a long time and had a vision of it for a very long time. I trusted him. I felt this wonderful sense of competition with it and supported it — and always support the story. When I found out exactly how it was going to happen, I was overjoyed.
Yes, it's so rare that the audience roots for a walker.
Yes! What a unique thing that's haunting in a way. That's part of what I mean when I say how honored I was to tell that story in that way because Sasha is like the warrior who lives on and continues to fight, even in death. We were able to root for a walker and it was still in line with Sasha's purpose. The way [finale director and executive producer] Greg Nicotero brought it to life was incredible. I always love being able to work with him and I was so grateful to work with him for my last episode.
What was your reaction when you heard Sasha was being killed off? Did it make sense to you? I imagine this was before Star Trek was an option?
Star Trek was nowhere in the picture. I had complete peace with it. It did make sense to me and thought it was beautiful. He told me about the heroic aspect of it and that it would be sacrificial. I loved that I get to that point as Sasha in my development as a human being where she would do something as big as that, as I say to Abraham in the car where I would actually live to do something like that. I was proud to hear about it. Star Trek came way later, after this was all said and done. We were shooting the finale before the opportunity for Star Trek about.
Did you have a death dinner?
Yes! It's really a special time and we celebrate the moment, the person, what we mean to each other and how we've touched each other. It's really gorgeous. I think about that time a lot. There were so many words of love and tears and this communion we have with each other as well as the things they gave me and said to me. I couldn’t think about anything else for weeks. I still come back to it. I think about the dinner and celebration and my last few days on set and last day on set and it's so special. It lives in that place where you can't describe it. My heart tripled in size.
Was there anything that you didn't get to do as Sasha?
There were people I didn't get to work with that make me sad but I hope I can work with them in the future. It was such a comprehensive journey on the show and I was able to dig deep emotionally and physically. Having been pregnant and having my child while on the show and build the relationships I did as well as being part of something that ended in such a profound way — it's all those things you dream about as an actor.
And your husband Kenric Green is still on the show as Scott, a member of the Alexandria community.
I told him he has to avenge me! "I live on in you!" Even though he didn't really know Sasha, he has to avenge me anyway!
Sasha had a really great arc from when she first arrived as someone who was meek and afraid to a full-fledged warrior. What stands out as your favorite moment?
It would have to be the last moment. The time I had in the casket because it was time to reflect on my whole life as Sasha and being able to make the choice to end it for the greater good. What else could stand up to that?!
Michael Cudlitz returned as Abraham in the finale. When did you film your reunion scene?
It was at some point during the finale, during those nine days we shot the episode. It was incredible. We were both reeling from being able to work together again on that show and what the moment was and what the scene was itself. I keep calling it a culminating moment because it was. You could see why these two people were drawn together, why they work together, why they make each other stronger and why they came together for a time such as this. You see the love between them and you see so deeply into their relationship in that moment. It was beautiful thing. In a way, we also called to the theme of the entire episode: It relates to everyone; everyone has reached that point where they're ready to do anything for this fight. They are not afraid like they used to be to lose anything. Rick says that when he's talking to Negan in that heroic moment of his where he says, "Do whatever you want to do, take whoever you want to take, kill whoever you want to kill. Your fate is still sealed." That was something highlighted in that moment between Sasha and Abraham, when he says, "This is what we do." It speaks to everyone. It was amazing to be able to do that and callback to why Sasha was so adamant about taking care of Maggie. It was an integral to a big puzzle that just got locked in. And Michael is freaking brilliant.
You're officially confirmed to play First Officer Michael Burnham on Star Trek: Discovery. How does the character compare to Sasha?
Being the first officer on the ship is going to be a wild ride because we haven't seen that happen before in the Star Trek canon, we haven't seen the story be told from the perspective of the first officer rather than the captain. It's going to open up so much potential for new storylines because not being the captain automatically gives you a different perspective. It's going to be a wild ride and everybody on board — in front of the camera and behind — I've been floored by the performances on The Walking Dead from the beginning and I'm going to be astounded again by the people we've got assembled on Star Trek. I'm really excited.
How quickly did you go from Walking Dead to Star Trek? Did you have time to mourn Sasha?
There was a little time, but not too much! It was pretty back-to-back. There were the holidays, which were nice. There were definitely the holidays to sit and think a little bit about it. I had been mourning the loss of Sasha before we were shooting the finale. It was a long goodbye for me, and I wouldn't have had it any other way.
Did you keep anything as a souvenir from your time on The Walking Dead?
What I would have wanted to keep was the M5, but I can't keep that! (Laughs.) I was calling it "my baby" after a while. I loved that rifle, but I wasn't going to be able to keep that!
What did you think of Sasha's journey on The Walking Dead? Sound off in the comments section, below. The Walking Dead returns in October on AMC. A specific return date will be announced at Comic-Con. For more Walking Dead coverage from the finale and what to expect in season eight, bookmark THR.com/WalkingDead.