[Warning: Spoilers for the season two of “The Walking Dead” and volumes two and three of the graphic novel below]
The divide between “The Walking Dead” fans about the comic book canon and the show has, as of last night’s season-two series finale, been proven irrelevant. There’s no contest: the TV series is superior, thanks in part to the pre-established history created by the ongoing print version of the story. There’s been outcry about the changes between mediums from Robert Kirkman’s book and the world recreated by Robert Kirkman and Glenn Mazzara on screen, but they’ve proven to be for the better while also keeping source-material devotees on their toes by not always delivering the plot developments they expect.
The season premiere, “What Lies Ahead,” semi-shifted what comic fans knew when Rick’s (Andrew Lincoln) son Carl (Chandler Riggs) was shot and almost killed. Instead of dealing with winter and the aftermath of Shane’s (Jon Bernthal) death at the hands of the boy, as happened in the original, the second season presented and explored an alternative universe of “The Walking Dead:” what if Shane lived and was actually right?
It was a change that allowed the show to delve into the moral gray area that Kirkman loves to heap onto his characters. Scott Wilson’s Hershel Greene was fleshed out further as an aspiring leader along the lines of Rick’s sensibilities, but becomes the symbol of what’s weak compared to Shane’s emerging cult of personality.
The show’s success owes everything to Frank Darabont’s insistence that it exists in a different universe from the comic’s timeline. By adding Daryl (Norman Reedus) and keeping Shane alive (longer), while killing off other should-be survivors like Sophia, Otis and Dale, “The Walking Dead” proves that a good adaptation doesn’t have to be faithful. And the series wouldn’t have the same weight if readers of the comic book weren’t feeling comfortable thinking, “Oh, Otis is safe, because he doesn’t die until the fourth volume — so he and Shane escape.”
The second season clinched this with a finale that completely rewrote the universe to ensure that the survivors could never return to Hershel’s farm. Even in a bit of spontaneity — as Mazzara revealed on the after-show program “Talking Dead” that the burning barn collapsing was caught on film by chance — the show has evolved into an entirely new version of Kirkman’s world. He told The Hollywood Reporter as much after the mid-season finale, “There are going to be things that are exactly like they were in the comic book series, there are going to be things that are radically different.”
Glenn’s (Steven Yeun) relationship with Hershel’s daughter Maggie (Lauren Cohan) is the same on screen and on the page. But that moment where the pair escapes and Glenn takes control of the car without any of the other survivors? You won’t find that in the book. Nor will you find T-Dog, or Carl shooting a zombified Shane.
That’s not to say everything is changing for the sake of change: David Morrissey (“State of Play”) and Danai Gurira (“Treme”) have been cast as fan favorites The Governor and Michonne, who show up after Hershel’s farm — but the world has been altered enough that it’s worth watching to see what happens, as nothing’s certain.
There’s also the uncertainty brought on by the introduction of original characters, like Meryl (Michael Rooker) and Daryl, that blow away the original storyline. They even tie into the first season finale, “TS-19,” when Dr. Jenner tells Rick that everyone is already infected, just not dead yet, foreshadowing the series’ eventual but still unfilmed monologue from Rick: “We are the walking dead!”
The finale hammered another point of the third volume of the book — that Rick no longer cares about the group as much as he does the survival of his family. Even Hershel was allowed to change into a stoic gunslinger as compared to a man who remains on his unscathed farm with his daughters and Glenn. The second season of “The Walking Dead” not only blows away the first, but it’s the rare instance of an adaptation besting its source material. While there are still rewards for fans of the latter, it’s also safe for viewers to completely ignore the books and just wait for another moment of ownage from Daryl Dixon and his magical crossbow.