The Walking Dead Danai Gurira Interview

The Michonne actress talks dream sequences and devastating deaths

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SFX: W hat were the most challenging scenes for you this season?

For me, it’s good when it’s challenging because it really allows me to dig deeper into a character. I tend to really enjoy the scenes that are challenging and find them enjoyable even though they might have been painful. That combination I experienced while doing the scene with the many zombies that Michonne killed in the field. I experienced that while doing the scene with the baby earlier in the season. And I definitely experienced that during the dream flashback, they were all really challenging and enjoyable scenes.

We understand the scene earlier in the season where you slayed two dozen zombies only went on as long as it did because Greg Nicotero didn’t call cut…

That felt right, you know? It felt like what she would do. And I love working with Greg, we’re very in tune and he could feel that stopping it didn’t make sense so he just let it keep going and I just kept going. And thankfully the zombies were game and so that happened and then the whole crew clapped at the end of that take and I go: “great”, so we kept on doing that for, like, 20 takes. Really, I never knew how it was going to come out take to take. It was just about letting her go. About letting her unhinge.

Michonne has opened up a lot this season. Is that something you relished after years of playing this character who always took things deadly seriously?

Yes, I did relish that and I was excited to allow her to find her other colours and heal herself, go through a healing of the wounds that have somewhat shut her down. And so it was really nice to be able to start that process, and let the audience see that process occur.

The TV show is deviating enough from the comics that even if you’ve read them, you don’t necessarily know what’s coming. So do you take any solace in the fact that your character is still alive and kicking in the comics?

I love that she’s alive, alive is good! But, as you said, there is deviation from the comic book and that keeps people on their toes.

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Have you ever read the comics? Do you turn to the comics to inform you character? Or do you stick to what’s in the scripts?

I did read the comics quite a bit but then I started to get confused because the comics are so visceral. I was like: “Did that happen a week ago or…” I was getting confused. So I had to put the comics down, because there’s too much story. I do check in, so I normally know what’s going down in the comic books.

Are there any future storylines that you’re particularly looking forward to seeing on screen?

Well, I couldn’t say that because then it’ll be like: “Well, we were never planning on doing that.” There’s so much rich stuff. Like, the whole component of the two twins in the comic book and the way they use these two sisters this last week and how that so tragically ended for them. I like how they take this material and then, it only hit people very recently that they were using these girls to parallel the twins and I think that’s brilliant. So I wouldn’t mess with their tactics, I think what they’re doing is just brilliant.

What was it like playing pre-apocalypse Michonne in the very peculiar dream sequence?

It was interesting. I found it really fascinating, what they’d come up with, Kirkman and Gimple, and as I researched it at first I thought: “Interesting.” And then, well, before I started to research dreams I thought, okay, this was her subconscious forcing her to actually process her wounds because I’m sure she blocks out as much as she can about what happened and about who she really lost and that’s why she’s been so emotionally distant and so hardened and, in her version of PTSD, she has blocked these memories because they’re too painful to face.

And then at some point, after losing another family, the one at the prison, her subconscious was like: “You’ve got to process these wounds or else you’re just going to be dead inside completely.” So that’s how I saw the dream sequence, as her subconscious really forcing her to process these wounds.

And then I looked up dreams and dream interpretation, and that’s exactly what it was saying about the kind of dream and I just thought: “Gimple and Kirklman are really smart.” So she’s in a place in the dream sequence where she refuses to be when she’s awake which is a place of joy and of contentment and a perfect moment in her life. But then her subconscious has to take her through the loss. And that’s what you have to do: feel what you had and feel what you’ve lost and then you can actually heal and start to live a life that’s not full of these wounds.

And so she gets through those moments and, at the end of the sequence, she does exactly the opposite of when she’s awake. Which is she’s refusing to let go of the joy in the way she holds onto the darkness when she’s awake. She was refusing to let go of the joy when she’s was in the dream and then she’s thrown back into it when they transform back into her pets and the baby going and then she has to come out of that place.

It was really interesting because the subconscious realm is really about facing your wounds before you can move on.

In that dream we found out that Michonne had a child, do you think she’s at that stage now where she can open up and care again in a motherly way?

Yeah, I think that’s very much the connection she has with Carl. Not necessarily that she’s trying to be his mother, but I think she has a great respect for Carl and she definitely sees him as that young man navigating the world that her son didn’t get to navigate. So theirs is that connection. But also she has a true empathy and care and love for him because he’s having to grow up in this realm. But also she respects him. He’s a very able young man who’s smart and who takes very good care of himself. And Michonne always respects that in people, but she definitely respects that in this very young lad. It’s a great connection and she just has a very deep heart for him in all those regards.

Catch a repeat of The Walking Dead finale on Fox UK tonight at 11pm.

Jordan Farley

I'm the News Editor at Total Film magazine, running the opening pages of every issue where you can read exclusive interviews and see first-look images from the biggest films. I was previously the Community Editor at sci-fi, fantasy and horror movie bible SFX. You'll find my name on news, reviews, and interviews covering every type of movie, from the latest French arthouse release to the biggest Hollywood blockbuster. My work has also featured in Official PlayStation Magazine and Edge. Outside of my day job, I'm a FromSoft fanatic (proudest achievement: beating Malenia solo) and a TV connoisseur (translation: I'll watch anything).