This week’s episode of The Walking Dead jumped ahead a few weeks from the bloody events of the midseason premiere and took an unexpected departure. After a brief time jump of a few weeks, things slowed down in “The Next World,” almost out of necessity, but it didn’t keep Scott Gimple and Co. from taking a surprising left turn.
Before we get to the episode’s huge surprise, however, let’s take a moment to recount the B-storyline, which saw Enid, Carl, Spencer, and Michonne in the woods outside of Alexandria. There, Enid exhibited signs of snapping out of her funk and returning to the safety of Alexandria, where Maggie has made her feel more welcome. Carl, on the other hand, was more surly — understandably so, after losing an eye — but it was Rick’s son who eventually led the zombified Deanna toward her son, Spencer, who — in turn — heartbreakingly put his mother down. The moment gave Spencer the closure he needed to move on with his life — and likely stir some more shit within the walls of Alexandria — and it later provided a sweet mother/son moment between Carl and Michonne, where Carl proclaimed that he considered Michonne part of his “family.” Carl also insisted that if Michonne were zombified, he’d want to be the one to put her down
Was that, potentially, foreshadowing?
It means that Carl won’t be offering any pushback when he finds out that his Dad and Michonne are sleeping together, if he doesn’t already know (whether this week’s episode represented the first time Rick and Michonne hooked up is still an unsettled question). Richonne fans finally got what they’ve wanted for three seasons: Rick and Michonne are a couple. A great couple.
Having those two hook up so soon after Jessie’s death may have felt rushed, but it also made perfect sense given Michonne and Rick’s history together. It was Michonne, after all, who was the first to come to Rick’s aid in the midseason premiere. It was Michonne who felt she knew Rick well enough to knock him unconscious when he raved against the Alexandrians. It was Michonne who accompanied Rick when he revisited his hometown and ran across Morgan in “Clear.” Moreover, the final shot in last week’s episode was of her holding baby Judith. She’s admirably filled the Lori void in the lives of Judith and Carl . Now she’s filling Rick’s void.
Rick, by the way, has never been happier. He’s jamming to music (much to Daryl’s chagrin), he’s reaching out to other people, and he wasn’t even immediately suspicious of Jesus, the newest addition to the series this week. Jesus — who will likely connect Alexandria with another survivor colony (and eventually Negan) — is fun.
The problem with Rick and Michonne’s relationship, however, is that Rick’s feelings for Michonne gives others — like, for instance, Negan — a way to hurt Rick, and The Walking Dead is all about hurt Rick and giving him reasons to kill. What better motivator for Rick than the death of Michonne?
Before this week’s episode, some of the evidence had begun to point toward Daryl as the possible first victim of Negan. This little twist swings the pendulum toward Michonne, if only because her death would send Rick into the kind of downward rage spiral that The Walking Dead loves. It would also make Negan public enemy number one, not only for Rick, but among viewers of the series desperate for vengeance.
Moreover, outside of Maggie and Glenn, relationships on this show don’t last, and I’m not sure a long-term romantic relationship would work with the show’s ostensible lead. As much fun as it was to see Rick and Michonne hook up, no The Walking Dead fan would be terribly excited about their weekly lover’s quarrels. For narrative purposes, it makes her a likely target. Daryl, Carol and Abraham, meanwhile, can take up duties as counsel to Rick.
Finally, it may be a natural ending point for Danai Gurira. She not only has a budding movie career (she’ll play the mother of Tupac Shakur in All Eyez on Me, which is currently filming), but we also know that she’s a successful playwright. She’s written four plays, including Eclipsed starring Lupita Nyong’o, which is directed by the sister of our own TK and has just moved to Broadway. It may be that four years is enough time on The Walking Dead for Danai Gurira, and a relationship with Rick is the sort of character buildup that would make the death of Michonne on the series necessarily devastating.
In other words, there’s every reason to be very afraid for the fate of Michonne, but very happy for the rising star of Danai Gurira.