By Eboni Gipson
This past season of The Walking Dead really tested my spirit. I have watched this show since the beginning, and never has a season left me feeling such a mixture of emotions. We lost Abraham, Glenn, Olivia, Spencer, and Sasha. Sasha’s demise was very difficult for me to absorb for a number of reasons that I will touch on later. What I was left with after the season finale was anticipation for what comes next and also a sense of impending doom for the characters we still have on this apocalyptic canvas. I’m excited yet nervous about what lies ahead for Rick and my favorite character, Michonne.
When I started this show back in 2010, there was no Michonne at that point. She didn’t arrive on the screen until the season two finale. Her appearance saving Andrea was my all-time favorite introduction of any character. It introduced those who don’t follow the comic to this badass character. Make no mistake about it, Michonne is an absolute heroine. She is strong. She is brave. She is loyal. She is a fighter. She is a warrior. But that is not all she is. It should absolutely go without saying that Michonne is a human being, but it is not that simple as is clearly indicated by the fandom.
Let me step back and say, The Walking Dead fandom can be amazing. This show has spawned numerous games, fan sites, message boards, a spinoff, merchandise…everything under the sun. This show is AMC’s powerhouse, and no matter how low the ratings may have dropped this past season, the show still outperforms other shows.
So with that being said, there is a part of the fandom that is not so great. There are certain people in the fandom that say awful things about characters bringing their own racist and sexist views to the forefront. Some of these stereotypical views are very broad in nature but a common view is that humanity equates to white men. Rick is a protagonist on this show and I like the character. I can relate to the fact that he is trying to cope the best way he can and survive. I can relate to the fact that he loves Carl and will do anything and everything to keep him alive. This includes snatching a man’s throat out with his teeth, which was totally justifiable considering the situation.
I don’t think many people would argue the point about Rick being justified in that situation or any situation when it comes to protecting Carl, Michonne, and other “Team Family” members. That is who Rick is. Rick is strong, brave, and loyal. He is a fighter and warrior but that is not all he is.
I’m a black woman with three sons, yet I can totally empathize with Rick’s desire to survive and protect his son at any cost. I think many people of all races and ethnicities can identify with Rick because at the end of the day, don’t most people want to live in peace and protect their children? It seems automatic for people to immediately identify with Rick’s struggle but there is a very specific reason for this. Without question, cis white men are the standard for humanity through which all other people are judged. And this judgment falls heavily on Michonne.
Most times in entertainment, black women are seen through tropes like the dreaded “strong black woman” trope that is so tired and destructive but continues to get perpetuated in entertainment. Let’s not forget about the “sassy black woman” or “angry black woman” and lastly, the “self-sacrificing black woman” who will sacrifice her own life for others even though she is just as valuable as the people she is dying for. I don’t expect The Walking Dead to cure racism or eliminate character tropes. I just don’t want them to fall into using them.
When Michonne came on the show, I don’t think the writers meant to play into the angry and strong black woman tropes with her but that is what happened. This is the very reason why these tropes are so dangerous because it appeared to some people that Michonne was only strong and angry. Some people said she had an attitude. Are you serious? There are flesh-eating, dead people walking around killing people and her attitude is the focus. Or they say she didn’t smile enough. Why do black women always have to smile to make others comfortable? Who smiles regularly in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? Rick rarely ever smiled before this season and I can’t recall ever seeing Daryl smile.
Let’s be real for a second, Michonne had every reason to be angry when we first met her. She was dealing with a lot of trauma from losing her son, Andre and her partner, Mike. She was out there with only two walkers watching her back until she saved Andrea. That would break any human being and she was more than justified in being angry about losing everything. Some people can’t see beyond her anger or strength. It was okay for Rick to grieve over Lori and go through the range of emotions he experienced. I totally understood and empathized with him but why is it so hard for people to empathize with Michonne when she is sad, angry or vulnerable.
Most recently, Michonne showed vulnerability and sadness in “Say Yes” when she thought Rick was being eaten by zombies. She actually dropped her sword, which is something she has never done before. She completely let her guard down, thus putting her life in danger as walkers were walking directly toward her. The scene culminated with Rick climbing out of a cage and tossing her the sword. We then witnessed these two warriors kill a bunch of walkers followed by a relieved Michonne jumping into Rick’s arms. And I loved every minute of it.
There are some that will say Rick saved Michonne playing up the white knight saving the person of color trope. Yes, that does happen a lot but not in this episode. I saw something completely different in that moment. When Michonne dropped her sword, she was experiencing a wide range of emotions from shock to horror to complete despair thinking that Rick was gone. Isn’t she allowed to have these emotions? Haven’t we all had that moment when something so awful happens that you think you can’t go on?
Can black women react the way other women react to losing loved ones? The answer is yes because shock, horror, and despair aren’t solely reserved for white men and women. For those who continue to pretend otherwise, please understand that black women are indeed human beings. We are sometimes portrayed as robotic or oversexualized or mammies or bitter or just about any negative, demeaning stereotype under the sun; the truth is actually the total opposite.
It is important for black women to be shown as complete human beings on television shows, in movies and literature. Black women are dynamic beings just like other women and deserve to be seen, treated and written as such. This is truly why representation matters and why we have so far to go.
No one can deny the strength of black women. We get to the business of living, thriving, working, raising children, going to school…we do it all in the face of a society that continues to marginalize us. So utilizing all descriptors to describe us is highly necessary and should be the standard. It’s not enough just to have black women on the canvas. It’s time to characterize us as complete beings and reflect how we actually are in real life.
For a while, it seemed like Michonne operated in the service of only saving and protecting other Team Family members. She protected Carl and we know he thinks of her as a mother figure because that is essentially the role she has been playing long before Rick gave her those mints on that couch. Michonne has always been there for everyone on this show without much regard for herself or character development, so much so that we didn’t even find out she had a son until the middle of season four. We still don’t know if she told Rick about Andre because this has never been mentioned on-screen.
Hopefully, the writers will address that aspect of Rick and Michonne’s relationship because that is a huge part of her character. I do like their relationship but I don’t want Michonne to get lost in it. We need to remember that long before Rick told Michonne that she led him here, she was leading all of Team Family to a safe place and acting in their best interest. It was Michonne who wanted them to keep going toward Washington D.C. even after it was revealed that Eugene lied. It was Michonne who called Rick out and told him in a gentle way that they needed to see if Aaron was telling the truth. It was Michonne who knocked Rick out while he was ranting in the middle of the street to prevent him from saying something that would get him and his children put out of Alexandria. It was Michonne who kept telling Rick they could fight Negan and win. Michonne is always operating under the concept of protecting those she loves.
Michonne is just as much the leader as Rick is. Whether you like Rick and Michonne together, you can’t take away what they have meant to each other. They have gone from being enemies to friends to loving partners. They have survived countless near death experiences together. They have one of the most genuine, adult relationships I have ever seen on any television show. They support each other. She always has his back even when she doesn’t agree with him. She has saved his life on more than one occasion. They are absolutely in love and I’m extremely glad that Rick finally realized what has been in front of him all along because Michonne is truly an amazing person. And let’s be honest, what other couple is out here killing over 300 walkers at one time with seamless precision while shooting heart emojis at each other over a highway? It’s okay I’ll wait, but the answer is obvious.
The importance of Michonne doing regular things can’t be stated enough…smiling, laughing, crying, fighting, surviving, being loved, and everything else. This is why “Say Yes” was a very important episode. It showed Rick and Michonne interacting as a regular couple…who just happen to live during a zombie apocalypse. Their interactions with each other were extremely sweet, funny, and highly enjoyable. I don’t understand why this episode wasn’t as long as other episodes this season. Shouldn’t the protagonist get a longer episode, featuring him and Michonne being happy and in love, eating Chili Mac (yuck), having sex without worrying about waking the baby or Carl, falling through ceilings and oh yeah, slaying every walker in their path? Quite honestly, I really wish Rick and Michonne were in every single episode but that’s another topic altogether.
As I said before, I’m nervous and excited about what season eight will bring. I’m hopeful that it will focus more on Michonne and Rick because I truly want to believe this is still Rick’s story even though sometimes it seems like it is turning into Negan’s.
I really hope the illogical comparisons between Rick and Negan will die once and for all because there is no way Michonne could love or co-lead with Rick if he was anything like Negan. I am hopeful that we will see more character driven moments between Michonne, Rick, Carl, and Judith. Negan had more conversations with Carl last season than Rick and Michonne did and that is totally unacceptable.
I want to see Michonne be a complete character, a multifaceted woman and the leader that she truly is. I’m not saying she is perfect, just that she is human and deserves to be seen as such. Given that this is one of the most popular shows on television with viewers all over the world, the importance of Michonne cannot be understated.