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by John Lichman
March 19, 2012 1:24 PM
36 Comments
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How 'The Walking Dead' Became a Better Show By Tossing the Comic Book in the Flames

'The Walking Dead' Gene Page/TWD Productions, AMC

[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?

'The Walking Dead' Gene Page/TWD Productions, AMC

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."

'The Walking Dead' Gene Page/TWD Productions, AMC

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.

36 Comments

  • wallkingdeadshowisshit | February 17, 2013 10:47 PMReply

    the show is absolute boorish shit. the only reason there are still viewers is because their audience is so retarded they can't be fucked to read a simple comic book.

  • a | March 22, 2013 12:08 AM

    Fuck you bitch.

  • a dude | October 9, 2012 4:55 PMReply

    also, it's Merle, not Meryl. He is not a woman, he is a redneck. The way you spell his name makes it rhyme with Daryl. It is pronounced "murl," not "Mare-ill." Redneck, not famous actress Meryl Streep. Redneck, not outdoor shoe company Merrel.

    Check the show's web page. Merle. one syllable. Man's name. Meryl is a woman's name.

    sheesh, every article I read gets his name wrong.

  • a dude | October 9, 2012 4:48 PMReply

    I saw the show before reading the comic, and after reading the series (thank you internet and folks with no regards to copyright laws), I am surprised that this show was even made in the first place. Aside from having a good premise (showing us what happens after the initial zombie attacks and how people have to work together- or not- in order to survive) the comic is pretty bad. The dialogue is childish, and characters do things for seemingly no reason at all, other than the authors wanted someone to stir things up. The comic is waaaay too concerned with sex as well. Every character needs to be paired off as soon as they are introduced into the comic. It's worse than a soap opera. It became a poor Mad Max ripoff by the 30th issue. I really don't get when people complain about the pace of the show. I feel it's pretty realistic. It's the pace of the comic that is insane. Things happen WAY too fast in the comic and the characters are all one dimensional. I hated Shane in the show, and was happy to have him killed off. In the comic, we barely even get to know his character before he tries to kill Rick, seemingly out of the blue as well. In the show his motives are well defined, as sick as they may be, we believe that this guy has gone off the deep end due to REPEATED incidents of insane and irrational behavior. In the comic, he literally gets mad at Rick ONCE, then confesses his feelings for Lori and pulls a gun on Rick. It comes out of nowhere. This type of thing is pretty par for the course in the comic. Characters just do stuff for no reason other than the authors just deciding that they want someone to do something. There is no consistant behavior from any characters in the comic aside from their defining trait. other than that, any character can go nuts at any point, then be perfectly normal the next, and so on, and so on, etc (actually, that is Rick's character in the comic.)

  • A | November 23, 2012 9:23 PM

    The graphic novel is awful tbh. The increasing nihilism combined with the cartoonish dimensionality of the characters made me wonder why I should even care. I just wanted the walkers to eat everyone tbh. Character development is awful and you rightly compared it to Mad Max. TWD in graphic novel form is the equivalent of pulp fiction. It could be so good considering the fact that dystopian fiction exists as a space where life is subverted and thus, everything can be subverted. But lol nope. There's a bunch of cartoon badass protagonists and antagonists who just do shit because well, we don't know why. I'd recommend Y: The Last Man for a look at a decent portrayal of a dystopia with good character development and plot.

  • ad | November 6, 2012 12:06 AM

    Fuck you.

  • DFAD3R | August 6, 2012 6:40 AMReply

    having just finished reading issue 100, i feel that the comicbook has run its course its turning into a really poor Mad Max rip off now and not sure where it can go next. its seems to follow a path of Rick and the gang moving to a new place, finding happy people then turning it to s**t and moving on to the next.

    The Tv show on the other hand only got good after 1 season and 6 episodes. really happy that they killed Daryl off as his moaning was starting to annoy me.

  • Some guy | July 3, 2013 8:51 PM

    Yeah i agree fuck you, oh and it seems like you were lying a lot during that whole comment youre not supposed to put tbh after every sentence! Oh and what do you mean by shane just suddenly wanting to kill rick he has plenty of violent outbursts and acts a bit on edge before he tries to kill rick. Oh and its not nearly as fast as you think it is coupled with things arent gonna be slow in a zombie apocalypse.

  • a | March 22, 2013 12:10 AM

    Daryl didn't die yet you stupid fucking cunt.

  • Qwop | June 22, 2012 11:12 PMReply

    Yeah, some of the changes were ok, but Carl and Sophia's little relationship was always so funny and cute! So for that, the comic wins in my book.

  • lionsfan | March 20, 2012 4:52 PMReply

    Ii agree with this article, i think the show is much more realistic, but they really need to work on the dialogue sometimes. Lori freaks out about carl in every episode, get that boy a leash!

  • L Deezy | March 20, 2012 3:06 PMReply

    I love the show because it prepares me to be ready for a zombie apocalypse when it does happen. I bought a machete, 9" bowie knife, hatchet, and metal bat. I will also be the leader of the group and tell them that there will be no democracy cause I'm the man. I'm gonna try and see if I can buy a tank on craigslist so I will be prepared.

  • Guestty | March 20, 2012 1:50 PMReply

    The comic presented scenarios in which reaction wasn't decided by a room full of people 6 months before they start filming. Kirkman wrote what people would do without thinking, which is what a chaotic situation creates. The tv show also was limited by a budget (AMC proving they are the most poorly run cable network by throwing 30 million at the creator of a show that is on the low end of cable demographics) and creativity limited by tv. Obviously, they aren't going to show one of the more shocking double deaths that takes place on the prison, the way the comic did. The comic, like the show, had piss poor dialogue. The show (at least season 1) had some of the better cinematography on tv. Comic is limited by sweeping landscapes and dialogue, the show has no excuse for the dialogue. In the end, they are both around the same. Each has their highs and lows. Comic, however, took the risks the show is afraid to do. You think killing off Dale mattered? Dale was the most poorly used character on the show, he had no purpose. If Frank was still involved, season 2 would have been fantastic. Instead, we are left with an average show with 2-3 good episodes and one great episode. Walking Dead needs to take a page out of Breaking Bad and learn to sack up and take a risk on some stories, stop the isolated poorly written conversations and insert zombies. It's a zombie show, it shouldn't be this hard to do it well.

  • Tri | March 20, 2012 12:57 PMReply

    I'm not sure the writer of this article adequately qualifies why it's "superior" to the comic. On several occasions he says that it "surpasses" the source material, and doesn't elaborate on why. He could mention that the stylistic shifts from medium to medium accommodate this new version of events, or that the medium of film has the possibility of offering a different narrative style that might improve on a strictly visual form. He does none of these things. In fact, he hardly applies any form of criticism to either form of the text and simply recalls various memorable moments like he was comparing the first season to the second. I'm not even sure he's even actually read the comics.

    A disappointing assessment that kind of lacks critical thinking,
    shame shame.

  • Animon | March 20, 2012 1:40 PM

    it seems to me like he's saying that its okay the two are different, rather than one being superior... a new title needed perhaps?

  • gheg | March 20, 2012 11:34 AMReply

    awsome show

  • John | March 20, 2012 11:21 AMReply

    Ha!....whatever.

  • Jordan | March 19, 2012 9:14 PMReply

    "There's no contest: the TV series is superior" Ha what a joke, the tv show is good at best. I'd rather read a new issue every sunday, then watch this averagely written show. The only solace I have is in knowing the comic will out live the series.

    As for JOHN LICHMAN, the fact that you were probably paid for this review, kind of makes me sick.

  • Rehjul | July 9, 2012 12:01 AM

    @Pantaloon
    He didn't insult the show. If you weren't so aggressive in your defense, you'd have realized that. You insulted the comic. Typically, when a person is that eager to defend something, it's because they believe it needs defending. In your case, that's correct. Jordan stating that the show was 'good' was an overstatement. The show was *mediocre*, at best.

  • pantaloon | March 20, 2012 1:44 AM

    id rather watch this "averagely written show" that read a poorly written piece of rubbish. Dont be thick...

  • Paroxysm | March 19, 2012 8:11 PMReply

    Just because the show has now had 3 or 4 good episodes doesn't mean we suddenly forget about the season and a half of some of the most poorly written, directed and performed shit on television. Exploding magic lab? HE TALKED ABOUT THE DEER!!!?

  • sarah.j | March 19, 2012 6:14 PMReply

    Agree with this article entirely! The comics suck compared to the show!

  • a | November 6, 2012 12:08 AM

    Fuck you and him you bitch.

  • Rods | March 19, 2012 5:29 PMReply

    I completely disagree with your opinion, i think source as this season, is completely superior.

    I agree with the commenter bellow, the show is such different mood that should be considered 'a coisin'.
    I like the show, liked the season finale, but TWD TV just gets all the interesting points in comics and transform into clichés more suitable for mass public from Television.

    Where the comics shows that ethics and morals crumble into the need of survival, the TV go into the cliché 'no matter what, we are humans able to be human and care each other over all the problems'.
    Thats not realistic and bs, the comic explores better what really happens when you are in a corner.
    TWD comic reminds me the World War, with Jewish families turning upon family members to survive. Its sad but that what fear of loosing ur own life and imediate relatives changes you.

  • GEORGIEPORGIE | March 19, 2012 5:21 PMReply

    The T.V series is VASTLY superior.

  • Rehjul | July 9, 2012 12:02 AM

    You don't seem to be the most intelligent of people... I can see why you'd say that.

  • GEORGIEPORGIE | March 20, 2012 12:20 PM

    awwww now dont be bitter. I have read the comics, and they are sillier than my name! And you are still a silly little boy!

  • Tony | March 20, 2012 12:04 PM

    Being called silly by someone named GEORGIEPORGIE is ludicrous. You probably haven't even read the comics. Enjoy the show.

  • GEORGIEPORGIE | March 20, 2012 12:20 AM

    rather, it shows I was desperate to mock your pathetic statement earlier you silly little boy!

  • Tony | March 19, 2012 11:06 PM

    Using caps doesn't make it true, but only shows that you are more desperate to make your point.

  • Housport22 | March 19, 2012 4:06 PMReply

    I am also up to date on both the comic and series. It's difficult to compare the two, because the stories and mood of each has already diverged to the point that they seem to be "cousins" related only through the loose bond of the "Walking Dead" franchise name. The comic almost immediately throws the reader into a tragic accounting of the survivors' unfolding fate. The series, rather, has this latent sense of hope. My family loves the show, but had no knowledge of the comic. Seeing them experience the series...hoping that Sophia is found, wanting Glen to end up with Maggie, waiting for Shane and Rick to finally face off, and hoping Rick wins out...all these events are new to them. And in each case, the show allows first-time fans to hope their favorite characters survive. I am a huge fan of the comic, but admit that the series allows me to share that fandom with my wife and teenagers.

  • Brock | March 20, 2012 1:52 PM

    They definitely have radically diverged in terms of mood and messages. The comics at times approaches a cross of The Road & A Boy and His Dog - TV Series sticking to any standard Zombie Apoc-Film. In the comics, the time on the farm is translated into luring the survivors into a false sense of idyllic peace. The TV series never lays off the dread and melodrama and it should become apparent after the barn incident or Dale dieing that the farm was indeed entirely unsafe with the sheer number of random walkers and absolute lack of protection. The motivation and reasoning behind their actions in the comics is tight and well thought out. In the series it feels episodic and ever-changing on a whim.

  • Tony | March 19, 2012 3:10 PMReply

    The comic is vastly superior.

  • GEORGIEPORGIE | March 20, 2012 12:23 AM

    False.

  • Brock | March 19, 2012 2:03 PMReply

    I don't know about better. I watch the show and am up to date on the comics. There are elements from both, but as a whole the comics are better. There have only been three really good episodes of the show so far - the opening and the last two episodes. Too much talking, too much introspection and brooding melodrama. Certain characters are vastly more interesting in the show - Shane, while others just feel like a weak candle to what they are in the books - Glenn & Carl. For every great addition such as Daryl Dixon there is the inclusion of something awful like boy-scout minded vatos gang members and the whole CDC thing. Next season will be very interesting as the show will be forced to deal with prison, governor and the first real signs of survivor syndrome.

    Hopefully they can do it without falling into the trap of do something in the last 5 minutes. Talk about it for 40 minutes in the next episode. Repeat. It was only the last two episodes of the season that finally broke that awful mold.

  • Housport22 | March 19, 2012 4:12 PM

    Though my family and I are fans of the show, I fully agree about there being too much introspection and filler. Hell, about 40% of every episode is (a) someone making a "deep or meaningful" speech, (b) Shane staring at Laurie, or (c) Carl being somewhere he shouldn't be.