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UPDATE: A couple of days after this report, an update clarified that Danai Gurira is leaving The Walking Dead, but she'll still be part of a few episodes in Season 10, and she'll probably join Andrew Lincoln's three Walking Dead movies.
How many lead characters can The Walking Dead lose before it becomes a spinoff of itself? At this point, no one is saying Danai Gurira is done as Michonne at the end of Season 9. However, AMC just officially renewed the show for Season 10, and there are details on the swanky new details for Norman Reedus (Daryl Dixon) and Melissa McBride (Carol Peletier), but no word on what's happening with Danai Gurira.
Basically, it sounds like she wants them to show her the money for upping her value as talent. Fair enough. That's the business.
But will AMC go for it, considering the money it's already throwing at Norman Reedus to take over Andrew Lincoln's (Rick Grimes) spot as the top name on The Walking Dead?
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Norman Reedus is now contracted to make $350,000 per episode of The Walking Dead, on top of additional guarantees and advances. His deal is estimated to be anywhere from $50 million to $90 million, which is a pretty huge spectrum, but also just a pretty huge paycheck at either end.
Melissa McBride will now make an estimated $20 million over three years. Both McBride and Norman Reedus have been series regulars since Season 2, when they were said to have made $8,500 an episode. So this will be a huge upgrade for them. Their deals are also said to be groundbreaking because they cover the entire expanding Walking Dead universe -- including possible appearances in spinoffs, new series, digital shorts, etc.
The Walking Dead already has a "companion show" spinoff in Fear the Walking Dead, but former TWD showrunner Scott M. Gimple is now working on an expanded universe of other projects. This is all happening while the main flagship show continues to lose viewers and ratings -- but also continues to be the top show on Sunday nights.
Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride are the last OGs remaining on the show, having started in The Walking Dead Season 1. TWD recently took a huge hit on the originals front, with the departures of Chandler Riggs (whose character Carl Grimes was killed off in a shocking move) and Andrew Lincoln (whose Rick Grimes is still alive out there, and getting his own film series).
Is Danai Gurira signing on for an extended cross-universe contract like that too? Considering The Walking Dead traditionally goes into pre-production on new seasons in April and starts filming in early May, the clock is ticking on figuring out her contract.
The Walking Dead ended filming for Season 9 toward the end of 2018. In November, AMC programming president David Madden had told The Hollywood Reporter the Danai Gurira contract situation was in flux:
She has been very vocal about saying that she loves the show. We love Danai; we love that character. Right now, she's got a lot of opportunities and she needs to weigh what she feels is best for her. But we certainly would want her on the show as long as she wants to be on it. We really want her to stay. She is an incredibly valuable character and I'm really hoping she stays. Obviously, the lesson of Andy is that the show can survive anybody's departure if need be but that's not our goal. The goal is to have Danai continue on whatever basis she can make work, given the other things that she has going on in her life.
The Andy he mentioned is obviously Andrew Lincoln, and if that's a real "lesson" David Madden took away from his exit, then that's unfortunate. Andrew Lincoln's Rick Grimes didn't even really leave the Walking Dead universe, he just left the show he was leading to make some standalone movies that will show up at some point.
At any rate, that quote from the AMC boss to THR was from November 2018. It doesn't sound like much progress has been made, or at least no updates have been shared publicly. Danai Gurira played coy with THR at the Season 9 premiere in September, when asked how much longer she saw herself on the show. All she said was, "I can't share that at the moment." Gulp?
The character of Michonne first arrived as a cameo at the very end of Season 2, and Danai Gurira became a regular in Season 3. She now has a key storyline in the time jump of Season 9, showing how she has changed since the death of Carl and disappearance of Rick.
Michonne is now mother to a boy named Rick Jr, aka RJ, a son that Rick Sr. has yet to meet. She's also taking care of Rick's (Shane's) daughter Judith, who has become a badass on her own, taking over for some of Carl's comic book storyline.
This would be an awful time to lose Michonne -- after the recent (to us, if not the timeline) death of Carl Grimes, the disappearance of Rick Grimes, and the MIA status of Maggie Greene-Rhee.
Lauren Cohan (Maggie) started on the show in The Walking Dead Season 2 but left this past season in what may be a temporary move, depending on the success or failure of her new ABC series Whiskey Cavalier. It sounds like she could return in Season 10, depending on how things go.
Maybe Danai Gurira could do something similar -- take a break from The Walking Dead to pursue other projects, then return later. That could fit with a certain comic book storyline, but her character on TV has changed so much (and now has kids to care for) so it might be a stretch to explain why Michonne is also suddenly gone.
The Walking Dead Season 9 has already finished filming, but we the viewers have only seen half of it at this point. It's possible we'll be losing more major (or just minor) characters later this season. The show returns this Sunday, February 10 at 9 p.m. on AMC with the Whisperers story kicking into high gear. Check out what else is airing on TV in the 2019 midseason.