‘The Walking Dead’s’ Danai Gurira On What Finally Melted Michonne’s Warrior Heart

Caution: Spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead‘s “The Next World” episode, which aired Sunday night.

All you need to melt a warrior’s heart is a package of mints.

Sunday night’s much-anticipated smooching scene between Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) isn’t one often seen on The Walking Dead. Though “The Next World” still featured some heart-pounding suspense, for the most part, it offered normalcy: Denise trying to do something nice for her new girlfriend, Eugene expounding the benefits of sorghum, Maggie practicing her mom skills.

At the end of the episode, Rick and Michonne gather back at home for a rather everyday conversation about their respective days. Both had tough ones — Rick met a new adversary and watched a truck full of provisions sink into a lake, Michonne met zombie Deanna.

Unable to deliver some toothpaste Michonne had begged for earlier in the day, Rick hands her what he did find — some mints. She’s touched by the sweet gesture, they suddenly find their fingers entwined, and for the first time have the peace and breathing room needed to look at each other as more than friends.

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“They’re in a moment where they got a new lease on life in a moment of newness and hopefulness,” Walking Dead actress Danai Gurira told the Wall Street Journal. “Carl has recovered, which is a gift and a blessing. It’s a time when they can actually function in a bit more of the mundane. And the mundane is a gift in this world. finally realize what’s in front of them.”

It was a moment that Gurira called an inevitable surprise, and one that she and Andrew Lincoln (a.k.a. Rick Grimes) found a natural progression of their character’s long friendship. The relationship has been “crafted … for some seasons,” of The Walking Dead, she told Entertainment Tonight. “And so I could feel that this was probably building up, but it was an expected surprise.”

The moment between these two beloved Walking Dead protagonists had been building ever since Michonne appeared in Rick’s life at the prison fence: moments after his wife, Lori’s, death, bearing the baby formula needed to keep little Judith alive. In the ensuing seasons, the pair have become trusted allies, warriors in battle, and created a little family, almost without knowing it. As Danai said, she influences and respects him, and he trusts her.

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“The reason why there are these expressions of joy when they’re kissing is because there’s something bursting out of them that’s new and they realize, ‘Oh my God, this is a really special friend of mine that I actually want to be intimate with in a whole other way and it makes total sense.’ “

And the moment Walking Dead fans have been waiting for couldn’t happen until the exact right moment, when the perfect storm of ingredients finally fell into place: peace in Alexandria, zombie Deanna, a confession of love from Carl, and that package of mints.

During the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, the idealistic leader of Alexandria — Deanna — dying from a zombie bite as the dead swarm her town, asks Michonne “What do you want?”

“She’s really taken by surprise by that question. ‘What do you want for yourself?’ That’s something Michonne hasn’t really allowed herself to think about. That really threw her.”

When she follows Deanna’s son, Spencer, into the woods, she ends up meeting Deanna again — although now she’s a zombie. And that reminds her she promised to answer that question. Later, back at home, “she receives that love from Carl, who basically says he looks at her like a mother.”

As Danai said, Michonne had only one wall left standing — the one over her heart. And it melted when Rick handed her the mints. It also helped that he’s a changed man now: optimistic, hopeful, and welcoming not just of the Alexandrians, but outsiders.

“And a woman only really wants to see a man change a little bit. The idea of Rick going out of his way to make sure to bring back something of what she asks for [mints] since he couldn’t bring back the toothpaste was really sweet.”

And what about the beleaguered Mr. Grimes, who has been very unlucky in love since The Walking Dead’s first season? Lincoln told the Hollywood Reporter that the doomed Jessie helped Rick open up again, and if not for her, the kiss with Michonne may have never taken place: she opened him to the “potential of loving again. It was a hugely important stepping stone for him to access that part of himself.”

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And creating the tender scene between these two (usually blood-soaked) characters was a joy, he said.

“It is a strange experience because their relationship for so long — as friends and as actors — we’ve been playing a certain complicated, difficult, respectful and loving almost familial relationship … They get completely surprised in this moment. And then they look at each other and say, ‘Of course.’ “

What do you think of The Walking Dead‘s new romance?

[Photo by Helga Esteb/Shutterstock]