'Walking Dead' midseason premiere: Danai Gurira talks Michonne's softer side and Glen Mazzara's exit

walking-dead-michonne-danai-gurira-season-3-amc.jpgThe wait is almost over: "The Walking Dead" returns Sunday (Feb. 10) on AMC for the second half of Season 3. Among the burning questions fans are anxiously awaiting the answers for: What will happen to Michonne -- the badass heroine played by Danai Gurira -- now that she's survived a brutal showdown with the Governor ( David Morrissey)?

She's been rejected by Andrea ( Laurie Holden) and only made herself more suspicious to Rick ( Andrew Lincoln), so where does she turn? And could she possibly survive on her own?

Gurira promises the intense midseason finale was a real turning point for Michonne, and we'll start to see a different side of her steely resolve as the season continues. In the following one-on-one interview she also discusses showrunner Glen Mazzara's surprise exit from the series, her feelings about the criticism of the show's black characters and her work outside of the "Dead" world on the award-winning indie film "Mother of George."

The last time we talked was before Season 3 premiered. How has the reaction to Michonne been? Have you been getting approached by fans?

I have. The interesting thing is sometimes I'm not recognized...

Because of the hair?

Yeah. But the die hard fans are always waiting for pictures. I don't know how they know where you're gonna be! But [the reaction] has been all sorts of things. A lot of people just love that she's a badass. A lot of female friends keep asking my brother, 'Was she always tough like that? How did she get like that? What should we do to be like that?' -- in terms of having the strength that the character has. That was surprising to me. I've been encountering little girls, like 12-year-old girls, who really love the character, which I didn't expect but I think is really special.

It's funny they can watch the show at that age.

I know! And then there are some people who want to get to know [Michonne] more, get behind all that she's been through and why she's so difficult to read. I was talking to Chris Hardwick and he said 'I don't know what's going on, I can't read her.' The first meeting I had with the writers they said, 'She has to be impossible to read.' That's what they wanted! So I guess I've done the vision.

laurie-holden-danai-gurira-andrea-michonne-walking-dead-season-3-amc.jpgIf there was any criticism of Michonne in those first eight episodes it's that she was maybe a little too enigmatic. What's your take on that, since I assume -- over the course of these 16 episodes -- she will start opening up?

It was very deliberate to make her unreadable and an enigma. She's not going to be the sort of character you get to know quickly. That's who she is. The desire people have to see her unravel in a way, it's not going to be what they get. However, the last episode [showed] the way the tides are shifting for her. She had the showdown with Andrea, and Andrea was really clearly -- with a gun in her hand -- choosing the other side. The next time you see [Michonne] she's not running off by herself saying, 'Screw everybody.' She's going back to Rick and offering her services to him. That's her saying, 'I need a community and I need to be with people.' It's not conventionally done, because she's not conventional but that's a break for her. That's an obvious turning point.

She's much more vulnerable now.

Yes. That end of episode 8 was the set-up for the fact that she knows she needs to be with people and figure out how to become a person again. I think she shut down in lots of ways. It was her response to PTSD. I think everybody has a type of PTSD. With Michonne, you don't see her journeying into it, you just see her manifestation of it and how she has adapted.

I have to ask about Glen Mazzara. Were you surprised to hear he was leaving the show? He kind of brought you on board.

He did. Him and a team of people. He was a lovely and wonderful man to me. I think the show, you know, they do what they need to do as a whole. I think he did what he needed to do. I don't know the details of any of it, really. The people [behind the scenes] reach from within and take care of the show continually, and it's really allowed the show to remain a very strong product. So I'm not scared for the show in any way, and I'm not scared for Glen because he's very talented. I know he has a lot of great stuff ahead of him.

There was another criticism that was reignited by the death of T-Dog in episode 4, that the show hasn't done well by its black characters. But Chad L. Coleman told us viewers will be "incredibly proud" of Tyreese, Sasha, and Michonne as the season continues. What's your take on that?

You know, I'm just not sure how I view any of this. The thing I love is that Michonne is in a world where she's not thinking about the color of her skin. She's a girl who has some tough elements to her, one could say it might have to do with her understanding of the world being from a marginalized position -- but, I don't know. She's not heavily focused on any of that, so I can't focus heavily on that.

I do pay attention to representations of color on television, of course I do, I'm a writer. But built-in to what Robert [Kirkman] created, and into what the show does, are great characters of African descent who are core parts of the story. The stories of Tyreese and Michonne and Sasha and whoever else comes along are stories that are going to be very rich and complex. That's what I look for. They're on journeys, it's about allowing the journeys to occur.

david-morrissey-danai-gurira-governor-michonne-fight-walking-dead-season-3-amc.jpgLooking back at the season so far, Michonne's fight with the Governor was one of the best things I saw on TV all of last year. It was so intense and so crazy, what was it like filming that?

It was great. I love David, so we have a great working relationship. We've had to do a couple of very intense scenes. Of course there's the scene in episode 5 where I put a knife to his throat, which was also really enjoyable. They're all pretty enjoyable scenes because I always win at the end!

But it was intense. Prepping for it, you realize, she wants to kill him. She wants to destroy him, however she can. Then the whole thing with the little girl is sort of like, 'Oh!' Initially she thinks she's going to save the little girl. People are like, 'You killed a kid!' I'm like, 'No, no, no.' She was going to take care of that child. When she saw it was a zombie... a zombie is not the same thing as a kid. Come on people, just because he brushes her hair it doesn't make her a real person!

I think the rules are pretty clear at this point.

Yeah, she'll eat you! It was also a way to destroy [the Governor], because she doesn't feel any remorse about killing a zombie. 'He took away what I loved and came after me and created a division in my relationship,' that's how [Michonne] thinks. I think she thought she could handle [the fight], but the progression through the scene... There are moments women realize they're not as strong as men, and it's like, 'Oh crap! I'm not as strong as him.'

There's the moment when she's scuffling on the floor to get to her sword, she knows there's no other way to beat this man. It was really intense and interesting to go to that place that she's in of, 'I want to kill somebody.' It was brutal and it was enjoyable at the same time, as an artist, to delve into something that combative.

danai-gurira-mother-of-george-sundance.jpgAnd I was also fortunate to see your new film, "Mother of George," at the Sundance Film Festival. Do you hope some of your "Walking Dead" fame can help your other work find a wider audience?

I hope so. It's all of who I am, basically. To tell African female stories, that's who I've been for a very long time. I do hope that it allows a larger audience to take an interest in those stories that I tell. There were a ton of 'Walking Dead' fans at the airport in Salt Lake, waiting for me. If that opens up their interest in other things and brings more people into the fold, I think it's great.

I find it distressing that stories about African people who are in this country and people of African descent can sometimes be marginalized. It doesn't make any sense to me. I think we're in a place as a world, as a country, where we are open to a lot of other stories. I can see that watching 1300 people watch the film [at Sundance]. They were completely absorbed, completely compelled and completely interested in these worlds and these characters. It was beyond any idea of color and ethnicity because it was a story. It's just about telling great stories and letting all voices of humanity be heard. If the story's good, the themes are universal.
Photo/Video credit: AMC / Sundance
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