The latest season of The Walking Dead has brought one very welcome change: the romantic coupling of its hero and protagonist Rick Grimes with badass fan favorite Michonne, who first appeared at the end of season two and has been an integral player ever since. Sunday’s episode focused on the two lovers scavenging for guns and supplies in preparation for the pending war with uber villain Negan. While normally somberly fixated on surviving, this time the two go off-script to take regular breaks to flirt, giggle, and stare into each other’s eyes before and after removing their clothing. Perhaps because they are finally alone for an extended period, this is by far the most outwardly and confidently affectionate these two have ever been.
This isn’t a show known for its great characters, so Michonne stands out for her distinguishable discipline and severity but also kindness and understanding. There were times when her character felt stifled by one-dimensional writing, but the wonderful actress Danai Gurira (who is also a successful playwright) has put in quite the effort to elevate and expand her character. (The show generally has problems giving the same attention to its character developments as it does to its ambitious plot dynamics and action sequences. Yet, in recent seasons, it has been able to cement some strong and reliably interesting characters, primarily Carol, Darryl, and Michonne.)
In the comic on which the series is based, the dark-skinned Michonne is matched up several times, always with other Black characters. She is never paired with the light-skinned Rick. The series has thus deviated from its source material to produce this match. Such a choice is primarily significant because it gives way to an interracial couple, one of very few on television. (Clearly the graphic novel was much more limited on its perspective on race and relationships.) It is shocking how few interracial couples there are on television considering how many there are in real life and how rich for dramatic (and sexual) potential there can be in such pairings. (The other few include others from The Walking Dead — between Glenn and Maggie and less prominent characters Rosita, Sasha, Abraham– and comedies, including The Mindy Project, Chewing Gum, and Happy Endings).
The coupling puts two of the strongest, most developed characters together, giving them further opportunity to expand and grow. It’s not easy keeping material fresh that’s been on television for many years—and likely has many years to come. The way these two have developed alongside and parallel to one another has been one of the few structural strengths of the show. Once hostile and suspicious to Rick, Michonne slowly warmed to him by bonding with Rick’s son, Carl. We also learn that she lost her husband and son, and Rick has likewise suffered great loss, including his wife. They both have often been myopically concerned with survival and revenge; this new relationship gives them each an added dimension. They both possess leadership qualities and fallbacks but united make a powerful, more well-balanced team. The show keeps hinting at the founding of a future society in which they rule together, on equal terms.
Their energy breathes new life into a grim and often relentlessly cynical series. Played by two of its best actors, Michonne and Rick (Andrew Lincoln) actually have palpable chemistry that is both intriguing and sexy. Their toned, strong bodies doing something other than execute walkers (and non-walkers) provides a glimpse at the potential for harmonious respite. It’s endearing to watch these two love each other, their bond meanwhile adding stakes and suspense. Michonne has again, for the first time in a long time, felt the pain of being torn from what matters. It is not a weakness, as many suggest, but rather an impetus to defend their dream. She can be both a powerful, tenacious Black woman (with insane sword skills) and a caring romantic partner to a loyal, headstrong White man who has believed and trusted in her strength. Like all The Walking Dead couples, their love is likely to be disrupted by death or forced separation. The difference is that this time we are invested in the characters as much as the series is. We all have more to lose.