The moment we all knew was coming this season on The Walking Dead --Danai Gurira's final episode as Michonne — has finally arrived. "What We Become," in the tradition of last Walking Dead episodes "What Happened and What's Going On" and "What Comes After" before it, had hallucinations as its emotional power source, as Michonne imagined what her life would have been like if she had never met Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) and his crew. Call it It's a Miserable Life.
The episode did what we expected it would — gave Michonne a sign that her partner Rick was still alive and sent her off to find him — but still made room for some surprises. "What We Become" looked back on Michonne's journey so far and set her off on a new one, alongside some wagon-training pioneers played by Mr. Mercedes' Breeda Wool and social media star Andrew "King Bach" Bachelor. I expect we'll be seeing them all again at some point.
The stroll down Walking Dead memory lane began with the cold open, which used archival footage from the Season 2 finale, Michonne's very first appearance, when she saved Andrea (Laurie Holden) from walkers. Michonne looming over Andrea like a hooded phantom leading two armless, jawless walkers on leashes is an iconic Walking Dead moment, but in this version of the scene, that moment didn't happen. Michonne stood by and let Andrea get eaten. The scene set up the hallucinatory alternate timeline that paid off later in the episode.
Back in reality, Michonne arrived at the island naval base she head off toward in the midseason finale with Virgil (Kevin Carroll), the peculiar man she met at Oceanside who told her she could have the base's cache of weapons if she helped him get home to his family there. She quickly realized that he brought her there under false pretenses. His family was dead, and he needed her help putting their walkerfied bodies down, because he couldn't do it himself. She did it, but then instead of holding up his end of the bargain, he locked her in a cell after he caught her snooping around the island. Some other residents of the island were locked in an adjacent room, and they told her that Virgil went insane after his family died and was keeping them trapped there.
Virgil dosed Michonne with tea made from the psychoactive plant jimson weed, which gave her visions of what her life would have been like if she had taken a different path. Like trips are supposed to do, it expanded her consciousness. It reminded her that the violence she and her people have inflicted on others is no less devastating just because they felt they were justified. It's only by chance that they weren't on the other side of it. The choices people make aren't out of evil, they're out of survival instinct. Everyone is doing their best and trying to take care of their families, so everyone deserves a chance. She remembered there's still room for mercy in this world.
Michonne started to realize she was tripping balls when Virgil's voice took on a weird, thick echo and she heard voices and saw colors, and then she fell through the floor and met her friend Siddiq (Avi Nash), the doctor, who died because no one realized a Whisperer had infiltrated Alexandria.
"You were supposed to protect us," the Siddiq-specter said. "I did my best," she pleaded. "You let me die," Siddiq accused. "And Rick. And Carl. What happens to Coco? What happens to my family?"
"You are my family," she sobbed. "This is how it feels to be your family," he said. Suddenly, her hands were covered in blood and she was being swarmed by walkers. Siddiq was like Jacob Marley, sending her off on her own violent Christmas Carol.
She was back where she was at the beginning, picking over Andrea's decimated body and taking a knife and a canteen. In a callback to Season 3, she saw Daryl (Norman Reedus) on the road and begged him for help, but he didn't know her, so he ignored her. She ran into Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and a group of Saviors, and she took a swing at him with her sword, but he easily overpowered her. But, paraphrasing something he once said to Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green), he told her he admired her "massive lady-nuts" and invited her to join him.
And so we saw who Michonne would have been as a Savior. Glenn (Steven Yeun) and Heath (Corey Hawkins) snuck into a Savior outpost to kill them in their sleep, and Michonne shot them both dead. And she was justified in doing it! Murdering all those Saviors while they slept back in Season 6 was one of the worst things Rick Grimes and his people ever did, and the show seemed to acknowledge it here, by showing a character we know and love defending herself from intruders in a justifiable way. So when Negan handed Lucille to his "right-hand gal" to kill one of the kneeling Alexandrians, you could see where she was coming from. These people came in and murdered her friends in cold blood.
"You didn't know who they were or where they were from," she spat. "You didn't know sh-- about them. But you came in the dead of night and slaughtered them anyway, in their sleep. Like cows," she said right into Rick's face. "And you remember, you did this. What happens next" — she pointed Lucille at the camera, in a recreation of what Abraham (Michael Cudlitz) saw right before Negan killed him — "It's your fault. Welcome to the new world."
And then, at the end of the Savior war, Michonne was running through the woods away from Daryl. He shot her in the belly with an arrow, and then Rick came and finished her off with a bullet to the head. What a bad trip!
She came to puking, with Virgil standing over her. She stabbed him in the leg with a spoon and escaped. She freed the other captives. They found that Virgil had set the boat she had arrived in on fire, and they caught him in the woods. His former captives wanted to kill him, but Michonne, enlightened from her psyhconautical journey and remembering that before she lost Rick she used to be the merciful one, made the call to spare him.
"Taking his life, you lose more of yourself," she said. "It doesn't settle it. But your mercy gives you something, you get something."
"What?" they asked.
Instead, they locked him up, and Michonne set about exploring the rest of the island for weapons. She didn't find any, and Virgil was like "I don't know, I thought there were!" The guy was just completely out of touch with reality at this point. He said he had no idea what to do without his family. "You try, like the rest of us," Michonne said. We're all just riding our own horse, you know?
She started looking for her stuff so she could get ready to leave, when she found a pair of old cowboy boots on a shelf that looked familiar. She smelled them, and yep, they were Rick's, all right. It confirmed to her that her suspicion that Rick didn't die when he blew up the bridge was real. She made Virgil take her to where he found them — a big abandoned ship that washed ashore. There, she found something that stopped her in her tracks: an etching of herself and present-day Judith in the glass of an old iPhone, accompanied by the word "rick" and some Japanese characters, which Business Insider's Kirsten Acuna confirmed say "believe a little bit longer." Michonne found documentation that the ship had come from a shipyard in New Jersey.
Virgil sincerely had no idea about Rick Grimes, but suggested it was no coincidence that he and Michonne met. He agreed to help Michonne get the boat up and running so she and the others could get off the island, but he opted to stay behind with his family.
Onboard the ship, Michonne was able to get through to Judith (Cailey Fleming) on the radio. Judith told Michonne that Alpha (Samantha Morton) had been defeated, but didn't mention that Hilltop had burned to ground. I guess she didn't want her mother to worry while she was on her mission northward in search of "the brave man."
"I love you too, Mom," Judith said. "Go get him." Very understanding kid!
The ship landed, and Michonne, alone once again, went back to her old, isolating method of travel, with two armless, jawless walkers in tow. She saw two people, a man and a woman, come crashing out of the brush. They were wearing matching fur robes. The man had a cowboy hat and was injured.
"Can you help us? They'll leave without us," the woman said, and Michonne turned to see a caravan of people on horseback off in the distance heading in the direction these two were stumbling. She flashed back to the first time she met Rick and Carl, at the fence of the prison, and how they helped her and showed her kindness. The score kind of sounded like that famous theme from Requiem for a Dream.
Michonne killed her walkers, signifying that she was not retreating to solitude. "Come on," she said, and reached out her hand to help the injured man up. The three of them then set off to join the caravan of horsemen, which the camera panned out to reveal was thousands strong. We don't know where they're going. Maybe New York?
The episode was a dignified sendoff for one of The Walking Dead's signature characters and biggest homegrown stars. Danai Gurira wasn't famous when she joined the show in 2012, and now she's outgrown it. She's a Marvel star, Tony-nominated playwright, and executive producer of one of the most anticipated literary adaptations coming up, HBO Max's limited series Americanah. Her presence will be missed on The Walking Dead, but her last ending was a fitting celebration of what she brought to it.
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.