Since ‘The Walking Dead’ TV series has exploded into a phenomenon, it seems that every Monday I find myself chatting with co-workers about the gory events of the night before’s episode and once it became known that I had read the comics, the most frequently asked question of me is “How is it different?” Hoo boy! (Spoiler alert, this will address the events of the first two seasons of the show. I will NOT be spoiling any comic events that haven’t happened yet on the show.)
Before I start, I don’t think one is better than the other. I think the show benefits from the comic having already happened, so they can learn from any “mistakes” that were made the first time around. The comic’s creator, Robert Kirkman has said, on the DVD of Season Two, “There are things that happen in the comic that you absolutely have to put in the show, otherwise you’re not doing the comic justice. But maybe we move it up, maybe we move it back, we add different characters into the mix. We just do little adjustments to make it a little more compelling for the audience that is invested in the source material.” The result has been a roller coaster for comic fans who initially expected a more faithful adaptation. But having seen the first two seasons and the first two episodes of the third, I’m satisfied with the changes.
That said, what changes were made? Well, the biggest difference is simply the pacing. The show…
…than the comic. I remember when Season One began, my fellow geek friends and I were all looking forward to the season finale, because surely that would mark the debut of The Prison. I mean, what better a climax than that? Boy, were we in for a disappointment! In the comic, The Prison first appeared in issue #12. That’s right, one year in, and they were already on to that storyline. And keep in mind a comic book takes about 15 minutes to read. The first year’s worth of stories add up to roughly three hours of reading. (Probably much less than that.) On the other hand, the TV shows are all an hour long. The first season, as short as it was at only six episodes, was SIX hours of viewing. And yet, they didn’t even progress to the sixth issue’s story lines, much less the twelfth.
Instead, the TV show took a slower pace. Some of the additions helped further flesh out the story and expand the characters, for instance, Morgan’s zombie wife, a tragic tale that helped humanize Morgan more than he ever was in the comic. Also, the character Shane was killed off in the sixth issue of the comic. (More on that in a sec.) Instead, he was front and center for almost two entire seasons, cementing himself among the other survivors on a much deeper level than the comic book character. The comic book version didn’t have the personal connections to Carl and Andrea for instance and had far fewer moments in the spotlight, many of which had TV viewers buzzing on message boards and blogs.
Other developments, felt like filler. In the comic, Rick did not drop his sack of guns in Atlanta, necessitating a return to retrieve them (and to check on Merle, but once again, more on that in a sec). The biggest deviation, in my opinion, was the really awkward interlude at the CDC, where Rick learns that everyone is infected with the “zombie disease” and that they will all turn when they die, whether or not walkers are involved. They wouldn’t come to this conclusion until much later in the comic series.
Also, characters keep dying at different rates. Comic readers were taken back by Jon Bernthal’s version of Shane’s prolonged storyline, working side-by-side with Rick, while nervously harboring the secret that he’d boned Rick’s wife Lori (a lot) and also slowly coming unhinged, after Rick usurps his position as leader of the band of survivors. His method of dying is also a sore subject for readers. In the comic, he was gunned down by Carl, marking a shift in the boy’s personality, as he stepped closer to being the one person for whom this zombie apocalypse is business as usual. Shane also didn’t immediately turn. He was buried and Rick later had to go dig him up and re-kill him.
Dale’s death really blindsided comic fans, as that character lasted a considerable bit longer in the book, eventually developing a loving relationship with Andrea. (This, I assumed, was the reason Andrea was made older on the show. She’s in her early twenties in the book, and some viewers might have been put off by a romance with a much older man.) Instead, on the show, Andrea and Dale had a fairly contentious relationship and she actually hooked up with Shane.
In a later storyline in the comic, Dale’s ankle was bitten by a walker and the others had to chop his leg off with an ax. Viewers of the show, of course, know that this just happened to Hershel on the show. Now, whether things will play out the same for Hershel as they did for Dale remains to be seen, but the overall setup is already different.
Speaking of differences, like Andrea, Carol is also depicted as being older on the show than she was in the comic.
And then there’s Sophia, a focal character during the first half of Season Two– largely because of her absence– she shocked viewers when she staggered out of Hershel’s barn… as a zombie. In the comic? She’s still alive. And kinda crazy. Honestly, I could live without her. I don’t know if they’ll follow suit and kill her off, but if they did, it would be no big loss to the comic.
Finally, there’s Otis. The TV version of Otis is considerably older and heftier than the young, scrawny redneck in the comic. That Otis is just dating Patricia, who is also a lot younger in the comic; they aren’t an old married couple. In the comic, Otis survived all the way up to the prison, but on the show, his death, after he was betrayed by Shane, was a controversial turning point.
Not only are the characters dying at different rates, some characters from the comic have yet to appear on the show, while some characters from the show are original and have never appeared in the comic. One entire family was omitted, Allen, his wife Donna and their twin sons Billy and Ben, who are actually younger than Carl. Their storyline is sort of twisted and gruesome, so I’m not overly surprised that they were left off the show. Also, who needs four kids running around? Sophia proved that two were too many for this show.
Hershel also had two really young daughters, Rachel and Susie, who didn’t do much at the farm, but who would prove to be a major plot point at The Prison. (I’m gonna put a SPOILER alert here, even though these activities will most likely not play out on the show.) This was how, in the comic, the survivors realized that everyone returned as a walker, regardless of how they die.
With the recent introduction of Michonne, the most glaring omission from the comic is Tyreese, a former football player who, along with his teenage daughter and her boyfriend, joined up with Rick’s band shortly after they left Atlanta. Tyreese is physically powerful, intelligent and charismatic and quickly becomes Rick’s right hand man, a role on the show occupied by Shane for a protracted period of time and now, increasingly occupied by Daryl Dixon. Some fans wonder if the character Theodore “T-Dog” Douglas, played by IronE Singleton is supposed to be Tyrese, but show runner Glenn Mazara states that Tyreese may still be on the way. “I think the Tyreese character is someone we are interested in introducing at some point,” he said. (ComicBookMovie.)
On the other hand, at the beginning of the first season, several original survivors are introduced. Most notably is the aforementioned T-Dog, along with Jacqui (a nurturing African American woman) and Carol’s husband, Ed, who had already died off-panel before the comic started. There was also a Hispanic family that included a patriarch named Morales, his wife Miranda and their kids Eliza and Louis, whom I had 100% forgotten ever existed and even after researching this article and reading about them, I still don’t remember. The Morales family simply chose to leave and not continue on with Rick’s crew. The rest… well, died. The only remaining made-for-TV survivor is T-Dog, and he is the absolute least developed character on the show. He doesn’t even speak most episodes! Oh, actually there were two others that were created for television…
While T-Dog is still a strong, silent cypher, redneck brothers Merle and Daryl Dixon have connected with fans and become favorites. Racist Merle Dixon instantly proved to be an antagonist to Rick at the beginning of the series and as a result, Rick handcuffed him to a pipe on the roof of a building. Daryl kept pressuring Rick to go back for him, but by the time they got back, Merle had freed himself by the only means he saw possible… he sawed off his own hand! This wasn’t the last we’ll see of him, though. He’s due to return next episode and you can bet he’s not happy about being left on that roof and having to cut off his hand!
Daryl stuck with this group, remaining something of a loner, holding his tongue for the most part, but when he speaks up, he proves his “street smart” intelligence and loyalty and by the opening of the third season, this crossbow-slinging outdoorsman has seemingly stepped up to the role of Rick’s right hand. His loner nature taps into that Han Solo/Wolverine bad boy role and fans have responded favorably. Let me put it this way, he got an action figure before the majority of the comic book’s cast.
The first season of ‘The Walking Dead’ was somewhat infuriating to longtime readers of the book, with it’s decidedly slower roll-out. Every reader knows that this series really began with The Prison, so it was a natural assumption that the TV series would dispatch Shane and fast-forward to The Prison ASAP. That didn’t happen. The TV creators chose to take their time, add additional story lines and further develop Shane to make his existence and death more impactful. Familiar side characters were eliminated and replaced by… other side characters.
Of course this is the type of frustration born out of passion. Readers know the world of ‘The Walking Dead’ is rich and filled with hundreds of people that will impact Rick and his crew in many different ways, good and bad… or even horrible. We’re just anxious for our TV-only brethren to get a chance to glimpse what’s really so amazing about this world. Trust me, this party is just getting started! You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!