The zombie apocalypse’s premier swordswoman is finally back, and she’s brought some major revelations with her. If tonight’s episode ends up being the last time we see Michonne, The Walking Dead certainly has sent her off in style.
Just kidding, we definitely know this is actor Danai Gurira’s final episode, thanks to TV Guide spoiling it earlier in the week; I decided to play it safe in the intro just in case the news hadn’t made it to you yet. But if you’ve seen the episode, you also had to realize “What We Become” is Michonne’s swan song, because it looks back at the character’s eight-year journey on the show, starting with her very first appearance—leading two armless, jawless, tamed zombies by chains, and coming across an exhausted Andrea barely fighting off zombies in the woods. But this time, instead of saving her, Michonne turns around and walks away to the sounds of the zombie having Andrea for dinner.
It’s a striking, confusing scene and a perfect cold open; unfortunately, the episode takes a dive after the credits roll. If you’ll recall, Michonne left with a mysterious man named Virgil in the mid-season finale after they’d struck a deal; Michonne would help him sail back to the naval base where his family is staying, and Virgil would lead Michonne to the base’s weapons in hopes of finding something powerful enough to take out the Whisperers’ horde. Trusting a stranger is always a dicey proposition on The Walking Dead, but Michonne felt she had no choice.
I was hoping the show would buck its usual trend and make Virgil a decent dude instead of another one of the show’s maniacs, but alas Virgil is cuckoo banana-pants. It starts when it’s revealed that even though Virgil was found hunting for supplies including a book for his daughter, his family is hella dead. Then he says he actually brought Michonne to kill his zombified family because he doesn’t have the skills or the guts to do so himself. They’re in a small annex filled to the brim with other zombies, which Michone takes out because she’s a complete badass. When the two finally find Virgil’s family, they’re both somewhat dismayed to learn that they had all hung themselves, including the children, and have become hissing, wriggling zombie piñatas.
Afterward, Virgil still absolutely refuses to show her the base’s arsenal until the next morning. Michonne knows the score by this point and does some poking around some sort of research lab. She begins to hear people talking, and follows their voices into a containment room, which Virgil immediately locks her in, not in malice but in mania. He feels betrayed by Michonne for scouting the place out at night, but also it turns out Virgil’s locked a few of his former research colleagues in the containment room next door and knew Michonne’s discovery of them wasn’t going to go well for him. Not least because, as her fellow prisoners inform her, Virgil was the one who accidentally locked his entire family in the building with the zombies, which is what caused him to snap.
There’s a lot going on with Virgil, and his “true” origin story doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it ends up being okay because at this point he suddenly turns into the Batman villain the Scarecrow?
He gives Michonne tea brewed with jimson weed, a hallucinogen that acts exactly like the Scarecrow’s patented fear toxin, at least for her. She hallucinates an entire alternate history for herself, beginning from the moment she saw Andrea for the first time, where she turned away. Then she flashes-forward to a moment Daryl drove by her on the road, refusing to help her. Then she’s found by Negan and the Saviors, who take her in because she’s so clearly a sword-wielding badass. She’s there in the Savior outpost when Rick and his crew sneak in to murder its inhabitants, but she escapes by shooting Glenn and running off. And finally, it’s the moment where Negan has Rick and the others on their knees, deciding who he’s going to bludgeon to death—but instead, he allows his second-in-command to perform the execution for him. Alt-Michonne is (very understandably) infuriated that Rick’s people preemptively butchered her fellow Saviors. The person she finally decides to beat to death is...Michonne herself.
Michonne wakes to find Virgil in the room with her, wondering what she hallucinated. Of course, even though she’s weak and dazed, she’s able to stab Virgil with a butter knife (although maybe it’s a fork? I couldn’t tell, but either way it was very thoughtful for him to provide it along with her meal) and grab his keys, although she’s not able to stop him from running away. When she manages to get out of the annex, her three new friends in tow, they discover Virgil has set the small boat they arrived in on fire.
Michonne eventually catches Virgil, talks the researchers out of killing him, and tosses Virgil in one of the containment rooms, where he confesses he only thinks there might be weapon caches because he’s occasionally found a few bullet shell casings around a few rooms, so technically there could be weapons in there. Michonne is so desperate for anything to make this little trip worthwhile she lets Virgil out again to show her one of these supply rooms just in case. It’s a good thing she does, since that’s where she finds Rick’s boots.
If this isn’t the most emotionally moving scene of someone clutching boots ever, it’s got to be up there. A frantic Michonne demands that Virgil tell her where he found them, revealing they were on a large ship that happened to wash up on the other side of the island. (Virgil is exhausting.) There, she finds an iPhone where someone has etched an utterly adorable cartoon version of herself and Carl, and Michonne suddenly has proof that Rick survived the bridge explosion, which means he might still be alive.
I’m not sure why, because we the audience know Rick was airlifted to the eventual Walking Dead movie by Jadis and persons unknown, but it is extremely satisfying to see one of the show’s main characters finally discover Rick is out there. Gurira plays it with just the right amount of emotion, as Michonne is equally shocked and hopeful, while desperately trying to keep her expectations low, given that she has no idea where she is. Her only clue is that the ship’s log says its last stop was in New Jersey.
There were only two ways Michonne was going to leave the show: 1) by getting killed, or 2) by heading out to find Rick. The latter was the obvious choice, especially if AMC has been able to get Gurira to sign onto one of the upcoming movies (which I bet she has, or at least made a handshake agreement to), but The Walking Dead does not have a particularly good track record for how it sends off characters. I even think the show managed to thread the needle of why she would abandon her two children, thanks to a wonderfully performed walkie-talkie conversation between Michonne and Judith. Her daughter essentially gives Michonne her blessing to go find Rick—not in childish desperation to get her father back, which would hammer home how much Judith needs at least one of her parents to stay with her, and make Michonne’s departure feels inappropriate and out of character.
Instead, Judith makes three mature, perfect decisions: To prioritize her mother’s needs over her own, to lie that the Whisperers are no longer a threat so she’s safe, and to essentially impel her mom to search for her dad by telling Michonne that Rick may need help much more than Judith herself does. Judith has given Michonne—and the audience—all the justification for leaving she needs. The glorious capper is that while Michonne is crying through the entire conversation, all Judith does is wipe a couple of tears out of her eyes after saying goodbye. Cailey Fleming continues to slay her scenes, so I’ll say it again: If Judith dies, we riot.
The Walking Dead has one more surprise in store. As Michonne starts her hike to the Garden State, she neuters two more zombies and drags them along as protection (if you’ll recall, it helps prevent other zombies from noticing her), in a clear parallel to how she debuted on the show. The parallel continues when she sees two people, one injured, the other trying to help him walk so they can catch up to…something. There’s a moment where she’s supposedly deciding whether to help them or not, but it falls flat since the entire episode—hell, pretty much her entire arc on the show—demands that she help them. She does, and as she crests the hill, she discovers what they’re trying to catch up with: an enormous convoy of thousands of people, divided up in huge blocks like army divisions, heading down a gigantic dirt path the width of a super-highway.
“What We Become” wobbles more than once, but it nails the landing. It’s the send-off that the character of Michonne deserved, and the fact that it offers a literally massive reveal at the end helps give the episode the power and importance it needed to feel appropriately epic. The Walking Dead will absolutely feel the loss of Gurira, one of the show’s four biggest remaining stars. Michonne has been a fundamental part of the series over the last eight seasons/years, especially after Rick left. There’s no other character on the show even close to filling that void, and maybe there never will be. That sucks. So even though TWD got Michonne’s exit right, where the show goes from here is just as important.
- So you’re telling me Virgil locked his family up with zombies without noticing for so long that they gave up all hope of rescue and hung themselves? That…that doesn’t seem right.
- Add “Rippers” to the list of things TWD characters call zombies instead of zombies.
- There was some great editing of the original Negan introduction to keep Michonne and Glenn from appearing, but the shot where Alt-Michonne comes face-to-face with Rick looked rough.
- Did Rick draw the etching of Michonne and Carl? If so, why did he put his name on it, as well as what looked very much like Japanese characters? Also, if he drew it, why didn’t he give enough of a shit about his other son R.J. to include him in the family portrait? And if Rick didn’t draw it, who did, and why?
- Speaking of R.J., his walkie-talkie code name is “Little Brave Man” a callback to Michonne telling him the story of the “Brave Man,” a.k.a. Rick. It was treacly and obvious and highly manipulative and it worked anyway because the kid who plays R.J. is adorable.
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