Walking Dead: Rick, Michonne, and the Allure of Post-Apocalyptic Love Stories

Whether it's Rick and Michonne on The Walking Dead or Bill and Frank on The Last of Us, post-apocalyptic love stories rule TV.

Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes, Danai Gurira as Michonne, Chloe Garcia as Judith
Photo: Jackson Lee Davis | AMC

This article contains spoilers for The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live episode 1 and The Last of Us episode 3.

There’s no dating in the apocalypse … at least not for the first few years. It’s all raw survival, never-ending panic, and flashes of joy and ingenuity that keep humanity going just enough to persevere. At least that’s what all the end-of-the-world tales tell us.

In recent years, stories like Station Eleven and The Last of Us have depicted various permutations of disrepair that society might fall into after a deadly global pandemic. When a large portion of the population is just gone and every day is a fight to stay alive, standards and realities change. Instead of meeting by the bar, two lovers might meet staging a coup against a rogue government agency, falling into a booby trap, or perhaps even during a delivery of infant formula to a prison gate. 

If you’ve watched even a few seasons of AMC’s The Walking Dead, you’ll know exactly who I’m referring to with that last example: Michonne Hawthorne and Rick Grimes, heretofore lovingly referred to as “Richonne.” Richonne was a cultural phenomenon, a slow burn in a show full of fast action, fast decisions, and shockingly gory deaths lurking around every corner. That a love story could blossom in such a frantic world seemed improbable yet somehow completely rational. These two people would have probably never gotten together before the collapse of modern society — Michonne was a chic lawyer in the city and Rick was a sheriff in the Kentucky ‘burbs — but a worldwide zombie pandemic has the power to change everything. 

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The ability to survive is paramount in a world often marked by brutal violence. Post-apocalyptic tales such as The Last of Us and The Walking Dead feature undead ghoulies that are out for fresh flesh, but those narratives also underscore that the living are the greatest threat. And so, when a little sweetness can be found amidst the sour, that’s when true magic is made. Couples like Michonne and Rick from The Walking Dead, Bill and Frank from The Last of Us, Clarke and Lexa from The 100, and Glenn and Maggie from The Walking Dead all serve to remind us that love never dies, even in the face of disaster; perhaps it even thrives in the face of disaster. It’s a heartening thought. 

As a species, we love love. When love blossoms in unexpected, surprising corners of the universe, it’s especially thrilling. Rihanna’s timeless lyrics about finding love in a hopeless place may well have been about love pairings in post-apocalyptic tales — they aren’t, but they fit! The Beatles were on the right track when they sang “all you need is love,” but then again, McCartney and Lennon didn’t quite know about the need for a good weapon in a zombie apocalypse.

As viewers, we often want to root for the odd couple relationship. In sitcoms, we want to see the clash of ideologies and temperaments because the conflict comes from the tensions that arise between two very different people. (See: Sam and Diane in Cheers, Jess and Nick in New Girl, Chidi and Eleanor in The Good Place, and oh-so-many more.) But when unexpected couples find one another in post-apocalyptic tales, most of the societal mores have been stripped away only to reveal the most important criteria for choosing a mate in such a setting: the ability to survive and thrive amidst chaos. 

Survival is paramount to a good love pairing because the two parties need to be alive in order for the relationship to continue. Okay, that’s obvious. (Cries in Glenn and Maggie.) But people need to fundamentally alter who they are in order to become survivors in brutal times. Presumably neither Rick nor Michonne had ever murdered someone before the end of the civilized world (at least not extrajudicially in Rick’s case as a lawman), but now they kill out of sheer necessity; and they’re good at it. That’s why they survive. That’s why their couple mantra is “we’re the ones who live.” 

The newest addition to The Walking Dead expanded universe, clunkily titled The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live, underscores this bond. Like many couples in the apocalypse, Rick and Michonne have a mutual respect for one another as survivors in a world that has the ability to mow down even the most stoic of souls. Even as their relationship got off to a rocky start on the original series, there were moments of mutual respect and even awe as the two watched one another handle thorny situation after thorny situation without hesitation.

Yet, while post-apocalyptic relationships often have a foundation of survival, the concept of meaning is also of importance. Rick and Michonne found meaning in one another as they were both rebuilding families after experiencing so much loss at the world’s end. They gravitated toward one another because of their ability to survive, but their love and affection for one another allowed them to thrive. Survival alone is not enough. Another post-apocalyptic love story, Bill and Frank from The Last of Us, shows us as much. 

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Much like Michonne and Rick, Bill and Frank were wary of one another at their first meeting. Well, Bill was wary of Frank. Yet, they quickly realized that they needed one another. Bill had prepared for the end of the world — he even laughed as the power went out and all the infrastructure burned — but something was missing. Sure, Bill had what basically amounted to a utopian living situation in a world gone to hell, but he had no people to populate it. When Frank fell into one of Bill’s booby traps and Bill took him in, it felt like fate. Frank needed protecting, but Bill needed someone to protect. 

The tender relationship between Bill and Frank is chronicled in one of the best episodes of TV from the last decade. Despite the uncompromising world thrumming with madness outside their walls, they’re able to find peace and connection by enjoying the simpler things in life. Frank delivers many of these moments by eschewing the violence and caution necessary for most people to stay alive in such a situation. The man literally trades a gun for strawberry seeds. If that’s not symbolic of love blossoming in otherwise inhospitable conditions, then I don’t know what is. 

Michonne and Rick have shared many moments of meaning and delight throughout their relationship … at least when life was stable. In a moment of chaos, Rick was picked up by a rogue organization and taken prisoner. It’s a testament to their enduring bond that viewers are eager to pick up with their relationship even years after the two have been on screen together. Dream sequences in the series premiere of The Ones Who Live featuring the two characters in a meet cute pre-apocalypse only serve to underscore just how improbable their relationship would have been prior to the world’s end.

The two have undeniable chemistry, but it was the chaos of the apocalypse that brought the two together and made them into a force of nature to be reckoned with. Richonne’s post-apocalyptic tale illustrates that viewers want to find love wherever they can, however improbable. Let’s just hope that they get a happy ending.

The Walking Dead: The Ones Who Live airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on AMC.