This Walking Dead article contains spoilers.
“What We Become” is the weirdest episode of The Walking Dead season 10 so far. Not only is it Michonne’s final episode on the show, but it’s a strangely self-contained and quiet one. It also introduces a whole new group of survivors as well as a research lab of unknown purpose. But all of that pales in comparison to the episode’s most controversial segment: a hallucinogen-induced trip to an alternate timeline where Michonne never saved Andrea, setting off a chain of events that shows how things could have turned out completely different for the heroine.
It’s not surprising that this episode is so trippy, considering it features a journey with a character named Virgil, who shares a name with the Roman poet who led Dante Alighieri through the nine circles of hell in the 14th-century epic poem Dante’s Inferno. Like Dante before her, Michonne is guided through her own version of Hell by The Walking Dead‘s Virgil.
While Virgil means to give Michonne some peace with his drug-laced tea by showing her “heaven,” the katana-wielding badass has to take the long way around, first making her way through an alternate life where Michonne never joined Rick and Daryl, became a Savior, and died at the hands of her beloved. After the trip, Michonne tells Virgil that he showed her Hell. But like in Inferno, the trip yields knowledge and wisdom for Michonne, who learns that it’s mercy that’s guided her to a life worth living in the post-apocalypse and may even lead her back to Rick Grimes.
The episode makes clear that things would have gone very differently for Michonne had she never shown Andrea mercy after Hershel’s farm was overrun by walkers. At the time, Michonne was a loner, avoiding contact with other survivors after the loss of her son prior to the events of the show. In the alternate timeline, she allows Andrea to get mauled by walkers, returning only after the undead have had their fill to go through the dead woman’s belongings.
Not helping Andrea means that Michonne never ended up in Woodbury or joining Rick’s group at the prison in season 3. Instead, Michonne is left to roam the world on her own, surviving as well as she can. At one point, she encounters Daryl on the road. She begs him for help but he leaves her behind. This moment seems to take place around season 6 — perhaps parallel to the episode “The Next World” in which Rick and Daryl met Jesus for the first time and learned of the Hilltop.
Instead, Michonne runs into Negan and his Saviors. The foul-mouthed villain decides to recruit her instead of killing her because he likes her “big lady nuts.” From this point on, the alternate timeline turns really grim.
The “flashback” fast forwards to season 6 episode “Not Tomorrow Yet.” Rick and his group attack the Savior outpost as in the real timeline, but there are some differences. Laura, who died earlier in season 10 at the hands of Beta, is killed by Glenn in the alternate timeline. He drives his knife through her head while she sleeps. When he tries to do the same to Michonne, she quickly pulls out her gun and kills Glenn and Heath.
We then see Michonne during the infamous season 7 premiere, “The Day Will Come When You Won’t Be.” Rick and his group are kneeling before Negan, who is about to smash one of their heads in with Lucille when he decides to let his “right-hand gal” Michonne do the honors. Michonne derides Rick and the others for killing Saviors that they didn’t even know before choosing her victim: the real Michonne. With a swing of a bat, alternate Michonne destroys what humanity she has left.
In the final sequence of the flashback, Michonne is seen fighting off Rick’s men in the woods. It’s now All Out War and Michonne is about to meet her end. As she’s fighting off her enemies, Michonne is shot through the chest with an arrow by Daryl. It seems that it’s only then that alternate Michonne realizes her mistakes, just as Rick shows up to pull the trigger, ending the trip.
This is indeed hell for our beloved Michonne, who is one of the most heroic characters on the show, one of the few survivors who has retained her humanity throughout the series despite every indication that it would be easier to be selfish and merciless. Reliving her path but from a different perspective allows her to remember her mercy when it matters most. It’s no coincidence that Michonne finds Rick’s boots after sparing Virgil, and it’s as an act of mercy that she helps the two stragglers get back to their convoy at the end of the episode.
As Michonne walks off-screen to parts unknown, we know she’s in a better place than when we met her seven seasons ago. That’s the best exit a character can hope for in The Walking Dead universe.