Tonally speaking, Sunday night’s episode of The Walking Dead was its most atypical yet. We fast-forward a few weeks to a reconstructed and practically idyllic Alexandria, where romance is in the air. The episode opens with Michonne, post-shower, a towel wrapped around her head. Boston’s “More Than a Feeling” plays in the background as baby Judith toys with a red Solo cup. Carl reemerges, healthy and alive, with a bandage over his right eye. Michonne asks Rick to get toothpaste on his run — preferably spearmint or baking soda. It’s like the start of a family sitcom, but really, it’s an overt acknowledgment of what Tumblr has long known: Rick and Michonne are destined for each other.
And it didn’t stop there! At the end of the episode, Rick and Michonne reunite on the couch after respectively hard days in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. Rick had spent it absurdly chasing a man named Jesus, while Michonne helped Spencer kill his zombie-fied mom, Deanna. Then, it happened: a flicker, a touch, Richonne. There was intimacy! There was hand-holding! There was kissing.
It was both a long time coming and completely unexpected. It felt like the show would never actually go there, would never make a Rick and Michonne relationship happen. After all, this is a departure from the comics, in which its hinted that Michonne harbors some feelings for Rick, but the two don’t consummate their relationship. Instead, Rick had been paired with Jessie Anderson, the hairstylist with an abusive drunk of a husband. When Rick started to get protective of her, people on Twitter collectively rolled their eyes. Here it was again: Another wan, white damsel-in-distress shacking up with the leading man.
But in the mid-season finale, Jessie and her two sons die. In the world of The Walking Dead, the most valuable people are the ones who can survive, and Jessie and her sullen sons, Ron and Sam, were not long for this world. Rick couldn’t save them, and in some ways, the point is that you can’t save someone who can’t save himself. So why not Michonne? Why not the samurai-sword-wielding badass who can carry Judith in one arm while slaying the undead with the other? Why not the woman who really gets Rick and loves Carl like a son?
Regardless, for awhile it seemed Richonne, like other Tumblr favorites — Stucky (Captain America and Bucky) or Hannigram (Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter) — was destined to exist in the imaginations of the viewer. Part of what makes these fan-inspired relationships so fulfilling is they realize something considered impossible according to the rules of the narrative. With Richonne, there was the nagging feeling that we wouldn’t get to see something so simple as a black woman with a white leading man on television. Unlike Stucky or Hannigram, which would require a rewriting of the sexual orientation of the characters, it felt like the only reason Richonne wasn’t happening was because of still-conservative depictions of interracial relationships — especially those between white men and black women.
What’s great here is that Richonne doesn’t feel like a strategic move by Walking Dead writers to give fans what they want — the reason it took so long was because they actually invested time into letting the bond between Rick and Michonne emerge. Michonne is one of the few characters who calls Rick out. “They’re both warriors, but she’s one of the few people who can take the piss out of Rick, which is great,” Andrew Lincoln observed. In season five, Rick loses his cool in front of the other townspeople of Alexandria, beating up Jessie’s husband in the street. It was Michonne who stepped in and stopped the fight by knocking him out with a punch to the back of the head. Lest he misunderstand, she later explains, “That was for you, not them.”
Then, during the season five finale, Rick confesses to Michonne that he had been hatching a secret plan without her. He had stolen guns from the armory and was ready to take the leadership reins at Alexandria by force, if necessary. “I was afraid you’d talk me out of it. You could’ve,” he tells her. “I think you can find a way. We can find a way,” she responds with a warm, steady gaze. “And if we don’t? I’m still with you.”