You know how it is, when you find yourself loving a particular TV show or movie and someone tells you “you should really check out the original”? Well, that has happened to me three times now; first with The Lord of Rings, then with Game of Thrones, and then shortly thereafter with The Walking Dead.
From these three experiences, I’ve come to learn that I have a sort of rule of threes. Basically, if three friends tell me I need to read the original source material, then I definitely do! And in all cases, I came to identify with the self-professed franchise geeks who acted they had some prized inside knowledge and were insufferably critical about the adaptations.
And now that I’ve read the entire series, all 112 issues that have been published so far, I feel I am in a position to do a comparative analysis to the show. But for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I figured I would only cover the material that has been adapted into the miniseries thus far. So if it hasn’t happened beyond season three of the show, you won’t have to worry about it being mentioned here.
Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead:
*Note: For simplicity’s sake, I will be breaking down the plot of the comic book series by trade paperback volume. So far, Kirkland has released 112 issues, the first 108 of which are available in 18 volumes, each one containing six issues grouped by common theme. The show has so far adapted material from the first 8 volumes or 48 issues.
Volume 1 – Days Gone Bye:
The story begins in Georgia with the story’s protagonist – Rick Grimes, a sheriff – being wounded in the line of duty. He awakens sometime later to find the hospital apparently deserted and comes to a set of barred doors. Inside are a mess of zombies that try to bite him, and he is forced to flee. Once outside, he realizes the chaos has effected the entire town, and finds more examples of reanimated corpses as he heads for home.
Once he gets there, Rick can find no trace of his family and it appears as though every house is deserted. He is then nearly killed by a young boy who hits him in the head with a shovel but is saved when the boy’s father sees that he isn’t a zombie and takes him in. This good Samaritan – Morgan – tells Rick that he and son son Duane have been held up since the trouble began and explain to him what they know.
Rick learns from them that the zombies are basically reanimated corpses that are the result of some new type of virus, a virus which spreads through bites and scratches from the afflicted. He also learns that the government, before all TV and radio broadcasts went dark, urged citizens to converge on major cities where the armed forces would be doling out services and providing protection.
After going to his old police station and dividing up the weapons that remain, Rick decides to head out in search of his family, who he assumes will have gone to Atlanta. After quickly running out of gas and finding the local stations tapped out, Rick procures a horse and rides to the city limits. He quickly realizes the city has been overrun and is beset by hordes of zombies which kill his horse and try to eat him.
Rick attempts to flee and is once again saved when a young man named Glenn pulls him into an alley. After escaping, Glenn explains to him that the cities have all been overrun, and he only ever goes in to do supply runs for his camp. He proceeds to lead Rick to it on the outskirts of the city, where he is shocked and relieved to see Lori and Carl – his wife and son.
His best friend and ex-partner Shane is there with them too. After the disaster struck, they feared the worse and assumed he was dead and came to Atlanta. But having found the city in a state of crisis, they formed a camp with some others. This includes Dale, a retired man who owns an RV and who has been keeping company with two sisters, Andrea and Amy; Allen and Donna, a married couple and their twin boys, Ben and Billy; Jim, a distant man from Atlanta who lost his wife; Carol, a woman who lost her husband, and her daughter, Sophia.
Rick is greeted by everyone but is warned by Dale that Shane is not as happy to see him as he would like to think. As the days come and go, Rick and Shane hunt while the women do laundry, and everyone tries to maintain some degree of normalcy. It isn’t long before the camp is attacked by a single Walker and Dale manages to take its head off. But this fails to kill it and they quickly realize that taking out the brain is the only way to kill them.
Rick begins to accompany Glenn on supply runs into the city, hoping to find guns and ammo to outfit the camp. This proves difficult as the city is choked by Walkers and the two have to get creative to survive – which includes smearing themselves in the gore of dead Walkers. Back at camp, Lori and Shane discuss Rick’s arrival and the subject of a romantic liaison between them comes up. Lori tells him it was a mistake, and Shane is heartbroken.
Having made it back with guns and ammo aplenty, Rick and Shane begin to teach the camp how to shoot. That night, as they sit around the camp fire, they are attacked by Walkers that bite Amy and wound Jim. Andrea shoots her dying sister in the head to keep her from turning, and Jim is asked to be left on the outskirts of the city to await his fate.
Back at camp, Shane and Rick get into a confrontation and Shane begins to lose it. He almost shoots Rick, but Carl fires a shot through Shane’s neck, killing him instantly.
Volume 2- Miles Behind Us:
The second volume opens Lori having flashbacks to the night she and Shane slept together. Apparently, it happened on the night that they came to the outskirts of Atlanta, and between thinking Rick was dead and fearing for their safety, she took comfort in his arms. She also remembers that he told he’s always had feelings for her. Coming back to the present, we see them having a service for Shane, where she curses him and spits on his grave.
Afterward, they pack up Dale’s RV and decide its time to move on. With winter now upon them and no signs of help coming, they seek out in search of more permanent shelter. While on the road, they run into another group of people – Tyreese, his daughter Julie and her boyfriend Chris. They ask to join Rick’s crew, as they are also in desperate need of food and a place to stay.
They quickly integrate with Rick’s camp, as Tyreese proves adept at killing Walkers with his hammer, and he and Carol begin to hit it off as well. After clearing a field of Walkers, they sit around a fire and enjoy some supplies Glenn picked up. Things seem to be going well, but Lori tells Rick in private that she’s pregnant. Worse yet is the fact that it may not be his.
After days on the road, killing Walkers hand-to-hand fashion, siphoning gas, and grabbing whatever they can from abandoned vehicles, they come upon a suburban development called Wilshire Estates. The gated community appears to be deserted except for a few Walkers. After clearing them out, they settle in. It also become clear at this time that Andrea and Dale have started a relationship. Tyreese and Carol appear to be getting closer too.
Things appear to be looking up, until Rick notices a sign at the front gate that says “All Dead, Do Not Enter”, which had previously been obscured by snow. Rick runs back to alert people, but is too late to stop them from being attacked by Walkers who begin emerging from one of the houses. Donna is killed and her husband Allen fires off his gun, which alerts more Walkers.
They throw everything and everyone back into the RV and head for the road, stopping many times along the way to try and pick up food. Finding most places picked clean, they decide to pull in near a wooded area and mount a hunting party. However, while in the woods, Carl is shot by a hunter who mistakes him for a Walker. Rick nearly kills the man, but stops when Tyreese tells him Carl is still alive.
The man tells him his name is Otis, and that he lives on a nearby farm owned by a veterinarian who has some experience dealing with bullet wounds. He and Rick begin carrying Carl to the farm while Tyreese doubles back to let the others know what’s happened. They meet up at the farm where Herschel, the farm’s owner, goes to work and is able to save Carl. With everyone together, introductions follow…
Herschel introduces his six children – his oldest daughter Lacey, son Arnold, Maggie, youngest son Billy, Rachel and Susie. Otis and his girlfriend Patricia are their neighbors who moved in when the trouble began and have lived with them ever since. Rick’s crew begin to settle in, Andrea attempts to speak to Allen, who is despondent after Donna’s death, and Carl soon wakes up.
In the days that follow, the two groups begin to bond. Glenn finds a willing partner with Maggie, who is about his age and also feeling lonely after being surrounded by nothing but relatives for so long. Meanwhile, Rick begins to talk to Herschel about his farm and learns that they have a special barn where they keep their dead… their living dead!
He’s naturally appalled by this, but Herschel is similarly appalled that Rick and his crew have been killing the them at every encounter. After a heated fight, Herschel storms off, but in the morning, they talk it out and Rick agrees to respect his rules while they stay on his farm. However, this proves difficult, as Rick’s crew begin doing practice shooting again which draws a Walker.
Herschel attempts to stick it in the barn rather than let Rick shoot it, but this allows several Walkers to break out. Pandemonium ensues as Arnold tries to save his father and is bit, forcing Herschel to shoot all the Walkers and Arnold himself. He tries to shoot himself next, but Rick stops him. They bury Arnold and Herschel tells Rick he was right. Everyone is given their own gun to carry from this point onward, and Julie and Chris agree to a suicide pact.
In the aftermath, Rick appeals to Herschel to let them stay on, but Herschel is determined to see them go the moment Carl is healed. Lori confronts him and things become very heated, and Rick agrees that they’ll leave to prevent violence from breaking out. They hit the road shortly thereafter and drive for days. They then spot a prison not far from the road and Rick tells them to stop. He tells them they’ve arrived home.
Difference to AMC’s The Walking Dead:
Even at this early juncture, the difference between the comic book and miniseries are very noticeable. For the first few episodes, things seemed largely consistent with the source material. But by the end of the first season, there were some wide divergences that could not fail to go unnoticed. In some cases, the reasons for obvious, having to do with the vagaries of television.
For starters, Shane and Rick’s confrontation was something was resolved relatively quickly in the comic book series. And while his eventual break was certainly hinted at in the show, it took a very long time for it to manifest itself in his decision to kill Rick. This was something I found annoying frankly. It was like, how many more episodes do we have to endure where they argue, fight, and he sneaks off to talk to Lori before they finally try to kill each other?
Shane being around for what was essentially volume two material also meant that the story in the second season changed drastically. Not only was the conflict between him and Rick prolonged, he was also a source of conflict between their camp and Herschel and the reason the barn was opened in the first place.
On top of that, he was responsible for killing Otis, a character who survived far beyond the farm thread in the comic and later returned. The fact that they had to go out to find penicillin and other medical supplies was due to Carl’s wounds being made life-threatening, which they weren’t in the comic. They also killed off Dale and Sophia in this season, which seemed rather odd since both lived on in the comic and played a rather important roles.
Second, there was the final episode in season one where the camp travels into Atlanta to go to the Center for Disease Control. Personally, I liked this episode best of the first season, so I was a little disappointed to not see it in the comic. But of course, it was easy to see how this episode was expositional. Since the CDC is in Atlanta, the show writers no doubt saw an opportunity to address the disease itself and lend it some mystery and background.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, their was the shuffle they did with characters. In addition to not introducing Tyreese until much later in the series, they also added characters who were not in the original. Daryl and Merle I could understand; these two were colorful, dynamic characters that added to the story. But Tyreese was central to the original story and its dynamic, so dropping him seemed inexplicable.
Then there was also the addition of such people as Carol’s husband Ed, who was an abusive butthole, Morales and his wife Miranda, their two kids, Jacqui, and of course T-Dog. With the exception of T-Dog, all of these people died within the few episodes, Jacqui having committed suicide by the end of season one and the latter who lived well into season two but never seemed to get a back story. As a friend of mine said, “he was the highest paid extra in television”.
Between all of these characters, I have to wonder what the point was of including them. Was it just to pad the story? If so, why kill them off so casually? Why not simply incorporate Tyreese, Julie and Chris? Oh yes, and having Daryl and Merle meant there was more time spent in Atlanta, which led to the introduction of the small community of apparent gunmen who were in fact good Samaritans that were protecting a group of senior citizens. Again, a departure, but not a bad one.
Last, but certainly not least, the farm thread was also extended considerably and – in my opinion – unnecessarily. After the showdown at the barn, there was no reason to expect Herschel would allow Rick and his group to stay. But instead, the season went on, introducing a group of roamers that wanted access to Hershel’s farm the moment they learned about it, Rick and Shane’s showdown, and a massive Walker attack that divided the group in two and sent them running.
None of this happened in the original. Rick and his crew packed up and left as one group because Herschel could not bring himself to trust them. What’s more, he and his family did NOT travel with them to the prison. Glenn, however, did stay behind to be with Maggie.
And that brings us to the end of part I of this comparative review of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Stay tuned for the next installment which will cover volume 3 and 4 of the comic book series and the first half of season three of the show. I was hoping to wrap this up in a two installments – but hey, I’ve got to be realistic!