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Television

Danai Gurira says goodbye to her revolutionary character on ‘The Walking Dead’

Danai Gurira as Michonne in “The Walking Dead.”
Danai Gurira as Michonne “The Walking Dead.”
(Eliza Morse/AMC)

The following contains spoilers from the latest episode of “The Walking Dead.”

Michonne, one of the fiercest survivors of “The Walking Dead,” has hung up her weapons — at least for now.

For the record:
8:38 AM, Mar. 23, 2020 An earlier version of this story misidentified an executive producer of “The Walking Dead” as Andrea Yang. Her name is Angela Kang.

The Katana sword-wielding enigma, one of the zombie apocalypse franchise’s most iconic characters, sailed off into the sunset at the conclusion of the most recent episode of the blockbuster AMC drama after getting a clue on the whereabouts of her lover, Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), who was kidnapped by enemy forces last season. Her departure also marked the exit from the series of Danai Gurira, who has played Michonne since the third season.

Gurira informed producers a few years ago that she wanted to devote more time to other creative endeavors, including her career as a playwright. Her play “Eclipsed” was nominated for a Tony Award in 2016.

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She is currently working on the HBO Max series “Americanah,” which teams her with a “Black Panther” costar, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. The limited series centers on a Nigerian-born woman who encounters love and difficulties after she leaves her country for America. Nyong’o stars while Gurira is the showrunner.

The dreadlocked Michonne was a standout in the “Walking Dead” universe — a fearsome fighter who was relentless in her battles with adversaries both dead and undead. She was even more noteworthy as one of the few black action heroines in popular culture.

So your leaving “The Walking Dead” has been in the works for a while.

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I shared with [executive producer] Angela Kang that I felt it was time for me to leave the show to pursue other creative endeavors sometime in 2018. So after last season, when [series lead Lincoln] left, they started to work on that. After that, she started to share with me the architecture of Michonne’s exit. Later on, I was able to contribute to aspects of it. They were very willing to collaborate with me, which I was very thankful for.

What was your emotion filming your final episode?

There was the fear of it, the pain of it, the dread of it. We felt we were really working on an exit that would have her leave with integrity. It was also a moment of pain leaving the family I’ve lived with for so long. And then there was the bittersweetness of stepping into other aspects of who I’ll be as an artist and a person in the world. But it was also feeling the joy I had with the crew that I’ve had so many laughs with for so many years.

Michonne was definitely an iconic character, especially since she was a black woman who was truly a bold action hero. What do you feel about the impact you and this character had on popular culture?

I can only be thankful that this character was created at all, that she was able to be this remarkable woman in the way she was scripted, arced and developed, and how I was able to collaborate with that. It was very beautiful to see her resonance. I write black female characters and I was like, “I wish I had come up with this.” I thought it was interesting and fascinating. I was very honored to be able to step into her, and I took it as a great responsibility, because it hasn’t always been the case that a black actress would get a role like this. It’s been getting better, but I was very, very grateful for the opportunity and did not take it lightly. It was an event to see a character like this brought to life on the screen.

You’re also leaving the show at a time when we’re facing some of the difficulties and obstacles encountered by the survivors on “The Walking Dead.”

All I can think of is the moment. It’s just an unbelievable and unreal moment for us as a global community, and I just hope and pray for everybody to figure out a way collectively to come together as a society in order to stay safe. That’s really where my mind is, really feeling concern for all of us and those of us struggling at this moment.

AMC Networks President Sarah Barnett on “The Walking Dead,” “Killing Eve” and the new slate she’s bringing to AMC, BBC America, Sundance and IFC.
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What are your immediate plans?

We’re in a virtual writers room right now, being in the realm of still being a writer during this time. That’s something I’m currently deeply involved in, still running “Americanah.” We paused pre-production, but still working on the writing component.

Strange question: How many walkers do you think Michonne has dispatched during the show? Ballpark figure.

Oh, my, I have no idea. The funniest thing is when we have a walker, they’re always done stunningly walker-like — our great makeup team makes the walkers look very specific, but at the same time having the same walkers aesthetic. [But] there were times when we’d have a stunt walker, which we can get a little rougher with than the others, I’d be put in the scene and they’d tell me, “Here are your three stunt walkers,” and I’d look at them and go, “I’ve killed you before, haven’t I?” and one of them would go, “Yeah, you’ve killed me about four times.” That’s what I think about, the ones I call my repeat offenders, and how we walk down memory lane together as I get ready to kill them again.

What has been the most rewarding aspect for you being on “The Walking Dead?”

There’s so much I’ve learned about how to work and play well. The beauty of collaborating and the beauty of being part of a family, but putting the respect for each other first. There’s something very stunning about the way “The Walkng Dead” did that, the culture it built about the connection between cast and crew and production. It has seamlessly seemed like family. Stepping into that and experiencing all these wonderful people I became family with and will always be family with has been palpably and extremely rewarding.

I remember Andy [Lincoln] saying to me, “Take it with you, and implement it at the next place you go.” That to me is one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned. I’m wired now to bring community and mutual respect to everyone. It doesn’t matter what your job is. You are part of the production and you must be respected and acknowledged as much as anybody else. Bringing that spirit to the future is invaluable. I credit “The Walking Dead” with that as I walk away from people who will be my lifelong family and friends. “The Walking Dead” never die, so to speak.

And there’s a possibility we may see Michonne again.

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Possibly. There’s definitely an opening. We’ll see how it goes.

‘The Walking Dead’

Where: AMC
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Rating: TV-MA-LV (may be unsuitable for children under age 17 with advisories for coarse language and violence)


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