After watching what is probably Rick Grimes’ (Andrew Lincoln) next-to-last ride on The Walking Dead, fans naturally had a lot to say about his fateful and perhaps final encounter with the walker persuasion. Of all The Walking Dead mysteries ever attempted to be solved — and there have been a handful — this one is the biggest: the main star, the leader, the backbone of the series is leaving. But Rick was not the only major character on The Walking Dead to have a confounding and compelling story in Sunday’s episode, “The Obliged.”
The future for Michonne (Danai Gurira), and how that future jibes with her past, is a lot less certain than Rick’s immediate future, so what was The Walking Dead trying to tell us about her future in “The Obliged?” Some of it was as sharp as the blade of her katana, but at least one part of Michonne’s drama is murky.
The clear part is that she may very well be pregnant. The opening scenes of “The Obliged” deliberately painted Michonne as a symbol of fertility and life, a kind of post-apocalyptic Earth mother who’s the cradle of civilization. She’s seen nurturing Judith, Rick’s adopted daughter, but she’s also seen ending a feud, tending to the sick and reading up on how to literally foster life in this new era of (relative) peace. With Michonne the visual embodiment of fostering life, it makes sense she’d bring new life into the world too. It’s an idea producers aren’t shy about saying is on their minds. A Richonne baby literally keeps Rick’s spirit alive.
More confusing is one of the moments in the opening scenes of “The Obliged,” when Michonne happens on a terrifying sight: a walker hanging from a tree. Of course, walkers being strung up from places, placed on spikes or other posts is a near-everyday occurrence on The Walking Dead; hanging, as Gregory (Xander Berkeley) found out the hard way recently, isn’t unusual either. But something about this walker seemed off, and it was written all over Michonne’s face: he was black.
Seemingly freshly converted into the afterlife, this creature looks like he could’ve been alive and well before being strung up from the tree. He had his hands bound. He was wearing a hoodie — an article of clothing that, for many African-Americans, has been difficult to disassociate from the 2012 murder of Trayvon Martin — and he was dangling from the tree in a way almost impossible to not read as an allusion to the awful practice of lynching in the United States.
The Walking Dead has occasionally dealt with issues about race and ethnicity, albeit almost always with subtlety. But the look of disgust and horror and anger on Michonne’s face seemed like an outsized reaction to your everyday walker torture. So who was this man, and why was he hanged? As of yet, The Walking Dead producers have been mum — TV Guide reached out for comment — on whether this moment was commentary on racism; it could’ve simply been a way to make Michonne think even more about her son Andre, devoured in Season 4, whom Negan had the gall to reference in their one-on-one. Either way, she is the person clearly leading the people of The Walking Dead into the future, and perhaps what The Walking Dead wanted viewers to know is that this mission isn’t ideological but deeply personal, unable to be separated from her identity, even in a world so unlike the one she knew before.
What did you think about that opening scene?
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.