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Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira Discuss the Intense Dynamics of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live Sex Scene

Well, that just happened. Yes, Andrew Lincoln’s Rick and Danai Gurira’s Michonne survived their cliffhanger of jumping out of an airborne helicopter, but that wasn’t the most significant event from this week’s episode of The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live. The most significant event was one that is very rarely seen in this franchise — a full-on sex scene. And a very atypical sex scene at that.

The fourth episode of the spinoff series (titled “What We” and written by Gurira) found the pair hiding out in a super nice apartment where they could hash out their differences. (“We needed a time out,” explained Michonne.) Because the helicopter they jumped out of crashed and they would be presumed dead, Michonne told Rick they were free to go home, but Rick refused.

Michonne eventually left by herself, before Rick caught up to her. But after fighting off some zombies, they ended up back in the apartment, where things turned intimate… and awkward. Far from the hot and heavy sex scene between Steven Yeun’s Glenn and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie in season 3 of The Walking Dead, the scene between husband and wife shown here began very tentatively, with Rick clearly struggling at the outset while dealing with all the trauma of the past seven years.

It was an artful, emotional, complex, and ultimately beautiful scene between the pair — whose bond then manifested itself as the couple became one physically both in the bedroom and then later outside in the hallway as they tore through zombies in perfect sync. EW spoke to Gurira, Lincoln, and cocreator Scott M. Gimple about staging the scene and overcoming early concerns about how the uniqueness of the union might be perceived.

Danai Gurira and Andrew Lincoln on ‘The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live’.

GENE PAGE/AMC

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Sex scenes are very rare on The Walking Dead. You all don’t do it a lot in this franchise, so how did the decision come about to do one here?

DANAI GURIRA:  It’s a love story, for God’s sake. We’re proposing a love story. So at some point, they have to make love. It’s really that simple. I think the goal for that scene in my head was that it shall not be a typical love scene. It shall not be, “Oh, when they copulate and it’s so lovely” — it shall not be that. It needed to have a character moment in it that allowed for something to shift. Even if the audience doesn’t fully get what it is.

SCOTT M. GIMPLE: It’s very much part of the story, and there’s a whole story to that sex scene. It isn’t just like them going at it. There’s an arc to the sex scene story being told there. And with these characters in that episode, it isn’t until they’re put in danger and have to fight beside one another that they click that they are suddenly just one person. And then at the end of that physicality of surviving together, it leads to a different kind of physicality of them truly getting together and truly touching one another.

GURIRA: It is something that happens that is about people that connected having a moment in their most vulnerable place. So it was a very crucial thing to me that that love scene did not just be a love scene. The key thing was of course, the fact that Rick has PTSD and that’s very much what’s driving a lot of his behavior and being in a place of that level of vulnerability, back with the love of his life in that way.

It’s also the thing he fears, the loss of her. It manifests itself in a way that is visceral and leads to the lovemaking not just being about love, but the revealing of pain and trauma and fear. That informs Michonne, that she can’t just blast him into making sense. There’s something deeper going on here that he can’t verbalize. She has to help him get through in a different way. So she gets to see him, as well, as he reveals what’s really in there, the wound. That’s going to happen most likely in that most vulnerable space. So it’s a love story, and at some point, we’ve got to see some lovemaking.

We do see Rick struggling during that scene with the intimacy. So Andy, what are you playing in terms of what is going through his head as he’s back with his wife after six years, but has been through so much and almost doesn’t know how to act or react in this situation?

ANDREW LINCOLN: Yeah, I think it is about pain. As Danai just said, it’s about him wanting her and then fearing what he’s about to unlock again. He gets to sort of articulate it in the scene further in the episode, when he gets to say that “I can’t do this again. I haven’t got the capacity to do this again. I’ve worked out how to die and live again.”

So it is an absolutely necessary scene that allows Michonne to realize that there’s something really broken here, more broken than she’s ever anticipated. It’s not just resolved by their intimacy. It explains a lot of his behavior prior to this meeting. It also informs that scene when she says, “It doesn’t matter if we die in this building, so be it, but we’re not done. It’s not time to go.”

So the scene was about a real intimacy, a sort of frightening intimacy. This is a part of his personality he has shut down. It’s almost like he’s trying to stop himself from feeling this love again. She sees that and she just says, “Just trust. We’re back. We’re the same…” I find it very moving. I think it’s a very, very moving scene, because it’s about them connecting in a way that he’s had to deny for seven years. He’s denied that connection for the sake of living on in this half-life for the CRM.

Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira on ‘The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live’.

GENE PAGE/AMC

Danai, what was it like bossing around your costar on the episode?

GURIRA:  There were stages. In the beginning, it was tricky. Then, it became very easy. He just acquiesced.

LINCOLN: It’s true. Because I have a propensity to say no instantly to everything. It’s a workload thing. I go, “No, no.” Then I read it a second time and I go, “Actually, it’s brilliant. What am I talking about? Let’s do it.”

GURIRA: Oh, he’s maddening. [Laughs] But no, he was amazing. Because it was a lot of heavy lifting for him, and it was intended that way. I’m like: Okay, this is a fantastic actor. I want to give them a workout. I want to give them something worthy of all they are capable of. I want them to be like, “Holy crap, can I do this?” Because I knew that of course he could and that he would be fantastic.

So I did write it in a way that, yeah, it was a lot for him to have to do. It was a lot. But he was fantastic. I was somewhat showrunning that episode and I was very specific about my vision, and he was very respectful of that and I think ultimately got what I meant.

Yeah, because it’s not just a standard sex scene. There’s much more going on here, with Rick’s emotional reaction to the act.

GIMPLE: Yeah, there’s this moment that just sort of stops things between them and they’re able to get through that moment together. They’re able to have that sort of moment of recognition of how real things are.

LINCOLN: There was a worry among some that it might be construed as something else, like an impotence or something.

I did not read it that way at all.

GURIRA: Honestly, I never even thought of the impotence idea either. It was never the intention. There were some initial concerns about the scene, but in my head I’m just like: I’m not changing it. They’ll catch up. But initially some folks were like, “Wait a minute…”

LINCOLN: Yeah, I went initially, “What is this?” Then I went, “Oh, I see. It’s that.” Then I was all in.

GURIRA: Yeah, you were. You were entirely all in. He did a beautiful job.

GIMPLE: This is a love story, and the arc of that love scene really parallels the whole arc of the love story.

Andrew Lincoln and Danai Gurira on ‘The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live’.

GENE PAGE/AMC

Was the fact that you all didn’t do a lot of sex scenes in this franchise something you have been cognizant of throughout the years, and was that something AMC ever asked to see more or less of?

GIMPLE: No, the comic is our template and it’s an element in there, but it was neither sort of discouraged or encouraged. And when it did happen in the show, I think it had great meaning, whether it was Glenn and Maggie, or whether it was Rick and Michonne. The intimacy of Rick and Michonne’s first kiss — which was a very everyday scene in my mind — I wanted to make that very, very real.

And I think that first kiss between the two of them was incredibly intimate and romantic in a way that I think people could see in their own lives. That’s what I was after. I don’t see that kind of thing as much between adult characters, and that moment I felt meant more than a lot of sexiness on TV because it was real intimacy vulnerability, but in such an everyday context that people couldn’t.

The episode ends with Rick and Michonne driving off together, so what can you say about what happens next?

GIMPLE: They get home and everything’s great! It was very weird to do those last two episodes because everything’s fine after that. There are no problems. No, I guess I can spoil that they aren’t able to just immediately go off into the sunset. Stuff happens. They have really achieved something in this episode between the two of them, but I don’t know if the world is going to let them hold onto it.

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.

 

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