The Walking Dead has become a phenomenon. Starting out as a modestly-watched drama on AMC in 2010, the post-apocalyptic zombie survival thriller has become a ratings juggernaut, bringing in 14 million viewers for its season 6 premiere and generating a diehard community of fans.
The show is anchored by a solid ensemble cast, and queen of that cast is Danai Gurira who plays Michonne, a katana-wielding OG who has yet to encounter a horde of zombies she can’t slice her way through.
As the cast’s clear ‘alpha female’, many fans have felt it was inevitable that she hook up with the show’s lead character Rick Grimes, played by Andrew Lincoln. And in last night’s episode it happened.
This pairing is significant for a few reasons.
1. It isn’t IR fetishization.
Shows like Scandal have been accused of playing into the fetishization of interracial relationships by portraying them as sexually charged and dysfunctional. But the Rick/Michonne (or #Richonne) romance isn’t designed to be dramatic or sordid, rather it is a natural evolution of the characters’ story lines carefully crafted over 3 seasons. Gurira spoke about this in an interview with Variety;
I think [showrunner Scott] Gimple was playing a very long game with it, which is very impressive. He didn’t want us to get ahead of it which is why we were never informed — we chatted but he never explicitly told me. That was really smart because it really was about the characters staying in the moment of the journey of how intimate they became as friends over these seasons. In terms of everything: their mutual connection to [Rick’s son] Carl, the way she trusts him and he trusts her, the way they can talk to each other with a glance, they work really closely together — it was something that was definitely building over the course of the seasons.
We felt these characters had a very interesting connection, but it was in the realm of friendship until it wasn’t…
What I thought was great about it was it’s really submission to the organic progression of two characters. That’s what I like. I like storytelling that’s truthful. The idea of saying we shouldn’t do it because with certain types of characters you don’t want to see that side of them, it sounds like an imposed concept rather than following a story’s organic progression.
To me that sounds like copping out of going in a direction these characters are naturally going in. They’re living in the same house for God’s sake. They have so much in common and they’re so connected that it just makes sense they find each other this way. And it would be strange if Michonne never explored this part of herself. She is a full woman.
2. Michonne is a well-written black woman character.
Through artful writing the show makes the case that in this post-apocalyptic world (and in any world!), Michonne is a partner you want — sweet, strong, highly intelligent and deeply perceptive. And this is particularly interesting because Michonne’s strength is juxtaposed with the frailty of Rick’s previous two, more traditional romantic leads (both of whom have died on the show). This resonates with many black women whose physical strength and mental tenacity are often shamed as unfeminine. Serena Williams spoke about this in her speech for Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year;
“I’ve had people look down on me, put me down because I didn’t look like them — I look stronger. I’ve had people look past me because [of] the color of my skin”
To see a woman character on television whose strength is not cast as conflicting with her sexual allure and femininity is significant.
3. The show is committed to fleshing out the relationship.
After #Richonne went viral, some fans tried to dismiss it as interracial viewer bait. But The Walking Dead showrunner Scott Gimple went on record stating that their relationship would not just be a fling.
“These are two people who have suddenly realized—pretty much at exactly the same time, on that couch—what they already had together and who they already were to each other… This isn’t a one-night stand. And what they have was already there, before they even kissed.”
4. Because Danai Gurira is a dark-skinned, kinky-haired black woman.
We wish colorism still wasn’t an issue. But it is. Dark-skinned black women are consistently pushed into background and supporting roles, their ability to be romantic leads constantly called into question. The Walking Dead explores Gurira’s sensuality and unapologetically gives her the spotlight she deserves.
Any Walking Dead fans here? Ladies, what are your thoughts?