As revealed Friday, actor Danai Gurira, who plays the katana-wielding Michonne on AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” will be leaving the show after a handful of appearances in Season 10. It’s news which could have seismic repercussions for the series.
Outside of “The Walking Dead,” Gurira has been finding increasing success as a playwright and activist and also has a significant role in Disney’s “Black Panther” and “Avengers” franchises, so one could hardly blame her for choosing to depart. By design, “The Walking Dead” has always had a significant cast turnover, but after losing three such prominent characters in such a short span of time, the show is in a state of upheaval previously unheard of.
This is the third high-profile departure the show has suffered recently, as Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie Greene both exited the series earlier this season. Lincoln will appear in some future “Walking Dead” movies, while Cohan’s Maggie was written off in such a way that she could return should she so choose — Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride recently inked big-money deals to stick around, but the loss of Rick, Maggie, and Michonne leaves the show with some awfully big shoes to fill.
Despite falling viewership, “The Walking Dead” is still a ratings powerhouse for AMC, big enough to support a spin-off series (“Fear the Walking Dead”) and the upcoming Rick Grimes movies, in which Gurira is likely to appear. Obviously, AMC considers the franchise greater than any one character, and ratings didn’t take a serious dip after Lincoln’s exit. Still, Gurira’s departure is a serious blow, considering how central Michonne is to the show’s current status quo.
After Rick’s disappearance in Season 9, Michonne has become the de facto leader of Alexandria, the central “Walking Dead” community. Of the other leads, Carol rules the Kingdom with her husband Ezekiel, while Daryl has recently returned to Hilltop, now leaderless after Maggie’s departure and the death of Jesus in the mid-season finale. With Michonne leaving, there’s no one to serve as the audience’s connection to Alexandria, the show’s central location for the last several years. Father Gabriel is the most prominent cast member still residing there, and it’s hard to imagine him filling Michonne’s shoes.
The first post-Rick time jump episode introduced a number of new characters, and it’s possible that with enough screen time and development, Nadia Hilker’s Magda or Eleanor Matsuura’s Yukio could fill the “badass warrior woman” void left by Michonne. Another possibility is that Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan, recently escaped from his Alexandria prison, could be rehabilitated and rise to a leadership position. Rick’s daughter Judith has certainly taken a shine to him, and it’s unlikely that an actor of Morgan’s caliber is just going to sit in a cell for however many more years the show runs.
Speaking of Judith, hopefully she and her brother RJ get to join their parents in the spin-off films, since it would be pretty cruel of the creators to yank their parents away, especially if they’re alive and well elsewhere in the “Walking Dead” world.
In the end, Michonne’s exit could be a way for “The Walking Dead” to cut all ties with the Grimes family and truly usher in a new era for the show. Considering how long the show has been running, a fresh start might be for the best.