One of the most breathtaking sequences in 10 seasons of The Walking Dead arrived in the second season finale, when a woman dragging along two zombies with leashes decapitates a couple of zombies who are about to shred Andrea to pieces. We are not given a name. We do not see the woman’s face.
We had to wait seven or eight months to finally see Michonne’s face — and that she was played by Danai Gurira — but as dramatic entrances go, Michonne’s has never been topped on The Walking Dead, and that includes Negan’s seven-minute intro (sometimes, less is more). Another interesting point about Michonne’s entrance, however, is that her first act on The Walking Dead was to save Andrea.
Why is that interesting? Because it was ultimately Andrea’s death on The Walking Dead that changed the entire trajectory of Michonne’s character. Recall that Andrea was a sharp-shooting, kick-ass force to reckon with in the comics, which was also the case in the TV series until showrunner Glen Mazzara made a miscalculation, hooked her up with The Governor, and so assassinated her character that the show would be more or less forced by fans to kill her off (actress Laurie Holden still holds a grudge).
The death of Andrea, while unfortunate, did provide The Walking Dead with a major opportunity, and that was to take two great characters and merge them into one, and who possibly could be up for the task more than Danai Gurira? For several seasons, we knew Michonne as a quiet, menacing, katana-wielding character who took no sh*t but wasn’t a particularly well-rounded character. But she could kill. Holy crap, could she kill, slicing open zombie heads like melons.
However, Andrea’s death — and the remainder of her story arc in The Walking Dead comics — gave Michonne an opportunity expand her character. She didn’t transform or evolve, like Carol has. Michonne never stopped being the often stoic, katana-wielding bad ass, but she also became a mother, and then a wife. We saw it early on in the way that she bonded with Carl, but that relationship didn’t continue on as strongly in the comics as it did in the television series. The Michonne of the comics had much of Carol’s storyline with Ezekiel from the television show (and Michonne’s kiss with Ezekiel earlier this season was a nod to that storyline). If Andrea had survived, it would have dramatically altered Carol’s storyline, too. Carol was supposed to die in the television show at the end of season three, but they killed off T-Dog in that episode instead. What really happened, however, is that Andrea’s death allowed Michonne’s character to expand and Carol’s character to evolve, because two storylines were essentially pushed over from Andrea/Michonne to Michonne/Carol.
How lucky we have been to be able to witness Michonne’s character grow over the last nine seasons? We got to see Rick and Michonne together romantically, while also ruling equally for a short time, before Michonne became the sole ruler of Alexandria after the departure of Rick. We’ve seen Michonne become a mother to Carl, then Judith, and then R.J., and that has completely changed the DNA of her character. She has a heart. She can be emotional. That’s why last season’s arc when Jocelyn kidnapped Judith was so effective. We never could have anticipated that the strongest connection that the lone wolf we were introduced to in season two would be to ten-year-old Judith, who has inherited both her mother’s compassion and her abilities with a sword. In fact, Judith’s identity can be partially attributed to Andrea’s death — had she lived, maybe Andrea still ended up with Rick, but Judith ends up becoming a sharp-shooter who flirts with Whisperers.
Indeed, the entire fabric of The Walking Dead was altered when Andrea was killed off in season 3. Andrea’s death kicked off a Butterfly Effect that we can actually see, as the character tributaries in the television show diverge from those in the comics. Michonne’s tributary is expected to end in this week’s The Walking Dead, either by death or by another tributary divergence, away from Alexandria and her children and toward Rick Grimes and those The Walking Dead movies. However, it has been an immense pleasure to watch Danai Gurira play Michonne for the last eight seasons, and I look forward to seeing her in the future as either Michonne, as Okoye in the MCU, and as the showrunner of HBO’s Americanah.