‘The Walking Dead’: Sonequa Martin-Green Says the Women Are Focused on ‘Rectifying This Wrong’

Yahoo TV
(Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

SPOILER ALERT: The interview for the “Go Getters” episode of The Walking Dead contains storyline and character spoilers.

Sasha fierce, indeed! While Hilltop leader Gregory remained safely behind the curtain of his second-floor bedroom window during Sunday’s attack by the Saviors, grieving Sasha and pregnant Maggie took charge and saved the community from an ever-increasing influx of walkers. Turns out it was a pretty awesome effort in real life too: Actress Sonequa Martin-Green, who plays Sasha, was suffering from a nasty stomach illness that necessitated frequent tossing-her-cookies breaks while filming that action-packed sequence.

Martin-Green, whose character is one of the few created specifically for the TV series, talked to Yahoo TV about how the once fragile Sasha has become one of the most resilient Alexandrians, where she thinks Sasha’s relationship with Abraham was headed before his demise, and what Sasha’s role is after losing so many loved ones.

She also talks about that fun but challenging action sequence that ended with a trip to the ER, and hints at where Rick Grimes’ group will be in the December midseason finale.

Yahoo TV: Let’s run down everything Sasha has been through: She lost her love, Bob. She lost her beloved brother, Tyreese. She’s gone through all the grief, really the PTSD, of those losses, and she allows herself to become involved again … then has to watch Abraham’s horrible death. How is Sasha standing at this point? What in her has taken her to where she is now?
Sonequa Martin-Green: I love that question, because I think it’s a very deep thing that has occurred in me, Sasha, that keeps me standing at this point. What I love about this story, and what I actually love about everything that I’ve lost in this story, is that it’s sort of brought me out of my shell. I feel kind of like I went through this metamorphosis. … It starts from the beginning of the zombie apocalypse [and goes] all the way up to losing Tyreese. That was the beginning of a new era for me, because I realized that I had been living a certain way the entire time, from the onset of the zombie apocalypse. I had been living in a way that actually closed me off to everyone, because I didn’t want to take on the risk. It was this whole defense mechanism that I had built up around myself. After I lost Bob and Tyreese, I realized that there had to be a point to life, because otherwise there was no reason to live it. That’s when I really, really toyed with death and with suicide. What brought me out of that was realizing that life is meant to be lived and that life is meant to be spent with people, engaging with them.

What’s so interesting about it is that the healing that I went through is what allowed me to open up to Abraham. Now that he’s gone as well, I just find comfort and strength in a focused mission that I believe is right in line with this new person that I am, which is a mission that is sacrificial, that will save lives.

(Credit: Gene Page/AMC)
(Photo: Gene Page/AMC)

Overall, Sasha has put everything that has happened into a certain perspective and has just willed herself to go forward no matter what?
Absolutely. I’ve really been opened up to the value of life and what that really means in a way that is personal to me and in a way that results in action. I’ve realized that just like Bob used to say, and Tyreese used to say, and my father used to say, there is a difference between living and surviving, and it’s to find unique people who will sacrifice for it. I’ve been reborn in a sense. I’ve sort of come to my purpose, which is to be this servant and to be this person who really does engage, who is strong enough to take on people and to let them into my heart, who can handle that risk and who’s willing to give of myself for everyone else.

And Sasha is now pushing Jesus to do that, when she says to him, “What do you want this place to be?” She’s really pushing him to become that kind of sacrificial person, and he seemed to be seeking that kind of encouragement.
Yes, and I do love that, because it takes those people to really see you, to see where you are, and to offer a hand to pull you to your potential. That’s happened in so many different relationships on the show. It’s certainly happened with a few people with me. I think that’s such a gift that we give each other, especially in this world when the stakes are always so very high. I know that the person who serves the most is leader, because that’s what the leader should do, be the biggest servant. It’s really about trying to encourage him to step up to lead and trust himself and use his talent and his skills to actually make a difference. It’s really about encouraging him that that’s possible.

How much of their strength do you think Sasha and Maggie are drawing from each other? They both seem kind of amazed about how resilient the other is.
Oh, I think that in a lot of ways they’re the closest people to each other at this point. They’ve had such similar experiences for a long time now. You can go all the way back to them watching the sunrise together in Season 5, after they both lost their siblings. I think that they kind of keep their lost loved ones alive in each other. It’s almost like Glenn is alive between the two of us, and Abraham stays alive between the two of us.

I think there’s also the female empowerment of it all. That is definitely a prevailing theme as well, just the sheer tenacity that women possess, especially in Maggie’s story. She’s pregnant, and she’s still healing, and then she’s also mourning the loss of a husband. She’s lost so much. She just finds a way to keep going. I think that in that way, we sort of are a mirror to each other. Because we can understand each other’s grief, and we also understand each other’s strength.

The women have always been very powerful, but now we see Sasha and Maggie fresh on the heels of these horrific losses, and they don’t just help save The Hilltop, they took charge when no one else would. Rosita is making moves in Alexandria. Tara is off on a mission. Enid is at The Hilltop to support Maggie and Sasha. Michonne is not simply accepting Rick’s plan; she’s figuring things out for herself. These are all just fierce women. 
Yes! I agree with you. Just like a lot of things in this show, it’s not told in a way that is aggressive or that is isolated. These women are just doing what needs to be done. It’s not pinpointed as something that a woman’s doing or something that a woman normally wouldn’t be able to do, but she can do it now. It’s just a story. I love the idea of how this world is an equalizer. Everyone has the same fight. You either succeed in the fight or you don’t. We’re all on the same battlefield. I just think it’s so poignant in that way, because it is just an organic thing that happens, that these women are so tough. It’s almost because it’s so organic that it is so empowering to see.

That attack scene with the AMC Gremlin and the music … Tom Payne said on Talking Dead that you were actually battling a pretty nasty flu kind of thing while you were filming the scene.
I was. It was a stomach virus. It was so crazy! I think I was called to work in the afternoon, because it was mostly night. We had later call times that day than usual, but on the way down — my husband [The Walking Dead co-star Kenric Green] drove me — I was already feeling sick. Right before we pulled into base camp, I had to pull off and throw up. Then I just continued to throw up every 30 minutes for the rest of the day and night. It was awful, but I just dug deep and in a very weird way it almost became a personal challenge just to make it through the shooting day. I didn’t want anything to be delayed. I didn’t want anything to have to be rescheduled. We work under the gun so much on the show, and so I wanted to get through it. I would throw up, and then I would announce, “I’ve got about 15 minutes before I throw up again. Now I feel OK, let’s get it done.” It was hilarious. They were also very generous. They moved some things around so that I could kind of jam-pack all of my stuff so I could be done and get out of there. Then Kenric, he swooped me to the ER.

Everybody was really giving and helpful and supportive, including Tom and Lauren [Cohen]. I think she held my back one time as the medic was holding out a bucket. They were definitely my family, as usual.

By the end of the episode, Sasha has made this deal with Jesus for him to find Negan’s home. She’s sharpening her knife and channeling Abe by smoking his cigar. Safe to say she’s working out a big picture plan?
Yes. I think at this point, as much as I have changed, there are things that I still lean on. One of those things is my ability to calculate. I say way back in Season 4, “I do the math, and I don’t gamble.” That is a strength of mine that has been kind of altered since I’ve changed. … Now I can use it for the greater good. I am doing the math and making sure that every step of my plan is well thought out so that it will be perfectly executed, because it is vital.

You and Michael Cudlitz have such wonderful chemistry, and the Sasha/Abraham relationship promised to be so much fun. How has it been for you shooting the new season without Michael there, without Steven [Yeun] there?
That’s the hardest part of the job, losing people, losing our show family members. We don’t get to see each other at work in this particular story. Obviously the friendship will always be there, but sharing in this particular story in this particular moment in time, that comes to an end. That’s very, very sad, but because of the impact that Steven has had on the show and that Michael has had on the show, there’s almost this feeling that they didn’t leave. That’s been quite interesting. Then on the flip side of it, it’s very weird that they’re not there. It’s the part of the job that we would rather not have to deal with.

Do you wonder what would have happened with Sasha and Abraham as a couple?
Yes! I actually think I know exactly what would have happened. I think that would have been it for the two of them. I think they would have gotten married. I think they would have eventually had children. I think it would have just been, “This is it,” as happily ever after as you can get in the zombie apocalypse. That was a life commitment that was made, at least from Abraham. He basically proposed on the porch, and I accepted. It was building to that, which makes it that much sadder.

It does, and I keep going back to Season 6 and “Always Accountable,” when their relationship really began. Do you think Sasha knew she had feelings for him before he made that big move in the insurance office?
I think at that point, it was apparent to me that he was me in a lot of ways. I had just come out of the dark. Here I was in the light on the other side, and then I see across to this person who seems to be in the same place that I was once in. For the first time, I was able to be that person that offers my hand and say, “I’m going to pull you to your potential.” Then the beauty of our relationship is that that happened 100 percent. He even says, “I like the way you call bullshit.” He was impacted, and then it became reciprocal in that way. It’s kind of like the warrior recognizes the warrior and the leader recognizes the leader; the kindred spirits unite in that way.

I think at that moment in time, it was more just about recognizing this person being in the place that they were in, being outside of myself enough, finally. Being able to see someone else and being able to really look at them and see where they are, even be in a state of wanting to help. Even wanting to help takes engagement. He was kind of a test for me, in a lot of ways. He was an opportunity for me, also, in a lot of ways. “OK, if this is the new person you are, how about this man right here? Are you going to open up to him?” Then eventually saying yes to the relationship was the last step in my healing process. It’s what solidified it for me. It’s like, “Yes, this is who I am, and this is who he is. This is who we’re going to be together.”

Sasha is one of the few characters on the show who’s not in the comic book. Storylines are mixed around all the time, but there’s not even that kind of rough road map for where she might be going in terms of source material. Do you wish that there were, or is it freeing that you don’t have that for Sasha?
I do find it freeing, actually. Obviously the source material is dynamite. I heard one person say that it’s like the highway, that the show takes detours and exits, but then gets back on the main highway. I do love that. But I do find it quite liberating that I’m not in the comic. Anything is game. You don’t have anything to even just compare your story to, because everyone has quite a different story in the show than their character does in the comic. You can still draw from it in some ways, but I think it’s cool to just be completely in imagination and just having what’s on those written pages in the script to build my [character] on.

Last question: What can you hint about where we will end up at midseason?
Let’s see, what can I hint? Like we were saying earlier, you see the women, and you see them being decisive and making these tough decisions about moving forward and deciding that they’re going to take on the mantle of rectifying this wrong. Everybody’s journey with that, everybody’s journey with what life looks like now, now that Negan is here, you’ll definitely start to see where all those paths are going to lead people.

The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on AMC.