In the small amount of time since watching it, I already see “What We Become” growing on me as far as what it wanted to accomplish. For a peek behind the scenes, I’ve been watching these latest Walking Dead episodes somewhat early, but before a chance to hear any other reaction to what’s taken place. With no hype around individual episodes, I have the clearest state of mind as far as what to expect. Seeing how this is a farewell episode for Michonne, I was curious about how it would play up a farewell within an episode designed to have her isolated from the main cast. The magic of the writing and direction of this episode is how it’s able to accomplish a lot as far as looking back at Danai Gurira’s years on the show and find an appropriate way to move the character forward.
When we last saw Michonne, she was sailing away to an island with Kevin Carroll’s Virgil, a survivor claiming to be living on an island with his family. The idea was her help in exchange for the supply of weapons located on some military base on said island. I had a lot of ideas of where this could lead, as this is going off book enough to leave me out of the loop, and as a final episode for Gurira, there are several ways to take things. Given the death of a few notable characters in last week’s episode, I doubted Michonne would be killed off, but at the same time, perhaps the show had some tricks up its sleeves.
To my surprise, this episode was closed off while still providing a lot of past and present cast members one more chance to see Michonne, but in an entirely unexpected way. There were good hints right at the beginning, as Michonne from the end of season 2 comes across Andrea and doesn’t save her. With that series of events playing out, I got this “What If?” concept thrown at me, wondering what to expect next. As things played out, the build-up to why this was happening was neat to watch.
Yes, Virgil did not seem like the most trustworthy person, but to what extent he wasn’t on the level, I was not sure. The fact that his family had already been dead was easy to see coming, but I was more surprised by the presence of other people being held captive. Still, that’s nothing compared to the full-on drug trip he put Michonne on, leading into more of the “What If?” scenario teased in the cold open.
So why was this necessary? By the end of the episode, we hear Virgil explain how he hoped Michonne would see the heaven that he experienced in visions featuring his family returned. Michonne, however, only saw hell. This was a hell where she encountered Negan early on, became a Savior (how she magically still found her way all the way up to Virginia in this alternate reality is a bit of a stretch), murder members of Rick’s group, only to be taken out by Rick and Daryl. It’s a bad place where all the good and reform she went through after her initial losses were nullified for the worse.
In addition to the admittedly quite cool idea of seeing old characters (Glenn! Heath! Abraham!) presented again for the sake of a twisted flashback, there’s a lot of processing on who it is that Michonne has been throughout this series, and why it feels wrong to see her on the evil side of things. Filtering all of this through a drug-fueled lens is smart, especially in the way the rest of the episode works out.
As she eventually escapes cavity and things lead to a confrontation with Virgil, where she could end his life, it comes down to everything we’ve known and just witness that makes her act of mercy register. At the end of everything, even in a situation where lies, deceit, and forms of violence have pushed Michonne, she’s become the sort of leader that knows how to survive in this world, and what steps need to be taken to keep things moving forward for the better. But that’s not even the end of the episode.
Virgil finally takes Michonne to a boat where he believes there could be weapons, only for Michonne to find something greater – hints that Rick may not actually be dead. As the audience, we know Rick is alive somewhere (presumably), so it could have been tricky in presenting this in a way that doesn’t make things awkward in having the audience armed with more information than the lead hero of the episode. Fortunately, this reveal works, as it takes us by surprise, with a build-up to something promising.
The next thing I’m sure some will wonder is whether or not they can reconcile Michonne abandoning everything in search of a man she thought to be dead. I imagine this is debatable, especially given the evidence she has, but it also speaks to the theme of the episode – the idea of hope. Yes, this means leaving behind Judith, RJ, and the rest of the community, but the possibility of actually learning something important and what may come with it speaks to this show putting down its nihilism button in favor of letting a character believe in something worth fighting for (Judith informing Michonne that Alpha has been taken care of helps too).
By the end of the episode, armed with new pets, Michonne comes across to stragglers whom she soon learns is part of a massive group. Watching the inserts of when she first made it to the prison juxtaposed with her option of helping these people played well to what the episode was going after as a whole. It’s easy to look out for one’s self and personal interests, but it takes effort, ability, and a sound mind to help others survive. We may not see Michonne again, but she goes out a hero driven by courage and possibility.
- Zombie Kill of the Week: Michonne taking out a room full of walkers while Virgil remained undercover was a nice final slaughter for her to go out on.
- The title, “What We Become,” is a rather fitting reference to the comics.
- “This island is not clear.” – Yes, Virgil gave me strong Morgan vibes.
- I’m actually pleased with where the show leaves Virgil. We understand him, and he’s not suddenly better. Instead, he’ll be in solitude on an island, placing flowers at his family’s gravesite. It’s sad, but it’s alright for him.
- “The island has a gift” – Virgil had clearly just finished LOST before all this started.
- The trippy visuals were truly great. The special effects to create the mind-bending moments, followed by clever inserts to place Michonne in old footage, really showed me an episode working to up its game in the ambition department. Bravo.
- “What happened to Rick?” is clearly a big question going forward, with the upcoming movies to ideally fill in those blanks. Still, seeing the boots, and then the drawings on the iPhone really had me wondering about things.
- That in mind, knowing what happened in the book vs. seeing these developments in the show really have me wondering how the next season or two will play out.
- I really liked the exchanges between Michonne and Judith. Given how much I didn’t like Rick’s final episode, I’m glad the writers found a very strong way to handle everything going on here, even with the loose ends.
- Thanks for reading and feel free to hear what me and a few other fans of the show have to say about the series on The Walking Dead TV Podcast.