The Walking Dead: Comic Book vs TV Series
Transitioning a story from one medium to another is a tricky business. It never fails, when a book, video game, television show or movie is adapted into another format someone will always tell you, the original was better. Why is that? Is there some unwritten rule that once a story’s been told you’ll never see, read, or play a better version?
Over the next few months I’m going to explore that notion with one of my favorite stories, The Walking Dead. Before it became AMC’s highest rated program of all time it was already an award winning comic book series. Both mediums tell the story of a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse, but how they’re presenting their story is completely different. Not only are there the inherent differences between a comic book and television series, but the TV series has taken certain liberties when it comes to adapting its source material. Not surprisingly, some fans have taken issue with this.
Each article in this ongoing series will focus on an episode of the TV series, discuss what was comic book inspired, what’s a deviation, and whether it’s good or bad. Plus, which version had the most gruesome zombie kill! Y’know, for the kids. It should be noted these posts will contain SPOILERS for the TV series as well as all corresponding comics.
EPISODE ONE: Days Gone Bye (runtime 67 minutes, 37-38 pages of comic book covered)
Moments Straight Off The Page
Throughout the first minutes of “Days Gone Bye” fans of the comic will see much that is familiar, but the first moment that feels as if it’s been ripped right off the page is Rick waking up in the hospital.
As Rick stumbles out of the deserted hospital looking to go home he comes across a bicycle, and right next to it the upper half of a dead, yet still moving, woman.
After what he’s seen at the hospital and the close encounter with the remains of the zombie woman, Rick has a totally understandable and expected breakdown. In the comics this happens just down the road from the zombie woman, while the television show moves this scene into Rick’s abandoned home.
When Rick exits his abandoned home he’s smacked upside the head with a shovel! The culprit is a young boy, Duane, who mistook Rick for a zombie. He and his father, Morgan have been living in Rick’s neighbor’s home. Morgan brings Rick inside where he fills Rick in on what’s happened since his time in a coma.
As payment for Morgan’s kindness Rick takes both him and Duane to the police station where they load up on guns, ammunition, and Rick lends them a police car. They part with intentions to see each other again, though no definite plans are made and Rick does not give him a walkie-talkie as he does in the televisions series.
On his way out of town Rick goes back to where he saw the half-woman zombie and shoots her, putting an end to her misery.
While traveling to Atlanta Rick runs out of gas and finding no working gas station, seeks out a local farmhouse for help. What he discovers there, the horrible scene of a family’s group suicide, is literally, gut-wrenching.
The silver lining to his stop at the farmhouse is the horse he finds in the barn, completely unharmed. With his trusty steed Rick continues on his way to Atlanta to find his wife and son.
The final moments of “Days Gone Bye” mimic the comic very closely, even depicting Rick entering Atlanta exactly as it’s seen on the page. Once inside the city Rick and his horse are quickly overcome, and sadly, the horse bites it. But its sacrifice buys Rick enough time to scramble to safety.
Moving In A Whole New Direction
From the very start the television series begins with completely original scenes. While Rick does stop at a gas station in the comics his encounter with the young zombie girl is all new.
After the credits we switch back to a pre-zombie world where we get to see Rick and Shane eating lunch before they’re called in to help end a high speed chase.
The roadside shootout itself lasts much longer and is more dangerous and intense than in the comic. Though we come to the same conclusion of Rick being gravely wounded.
Through the haze of Rick’s coma we see Shane visits him in the hospital. When Rick awakes, he doesn’t change into his own clothes but rather leaves still wearing his hospital gown. And while he doesn’t run into too many zombies, as he exits the hospital he finds massive piles of bodies.
When Rick awakes again after being knocked out by Duane and his shovel, Morgan is far less trusting than in the comics. Before they share dinner and catch Rick up on all that’s happened, Morgan threatens him.
Morgan’s wife is a completely new element. Not only has she died, but she also turned and now frequently haunts Morgan and Duane. During the scene where Rick goes back to shoot the half-woman zombie, Morgan tries to shoot his wife, but he’s unable to bring himself to do it.
As Rick travels to Atlanta he calls out on his radio for any survivors. He’s picked up by a small camp on the outskirts of Atlanta, but when they try to respond the signal’s already lost. At the camp are Shane, Lori, and Carl.
The entire scene at the survivors’ camp is completely new and establishes much earlier on Rick’s wife and son are alive, as well as the relationship between Shane and Lori.
When Rick enters Atlanta on horseback he spies a helicopter above the city (Yes, that’s not a fleck of dust on your screen but really a helicopter’s reflection). There’s also signs there was once a military presence. Once he’s attacked and his horse down, Rick loses the bag of guns he collected from the police station.
He escapes into an abandoned tank and while in there a voice comes over his walkie talkie, it’s Glenn.
The first episode scores big points for being an honest adaptation. Not only does much of the comic make it into “Days Gone Bye,” but what’s added actually enhances the source material. Believe me, I won’t be so kind to their deviations down the line, but here the new stuff really works. To begin with, the whole opening scene with Rick at the gas station and the little zombie girl is chilling. It sets up the mood for the series wonderfully, and by having the first zombie kill be of a young girl it lets the audience know to expect the worst. Anyone can become a zombie, and anyone can be killed, even little kids.
The extension of the shootout and the lunch scene between Rick and Shane is another good addition. Seeing Rick and Shane interact pre-zombies is nice because we can see these guys as bros, not as the competing alphas they are later. Much of what’s added here, the extended shootout and Shane’s hospital visitation, make Shane into a more relatable character. In fact, Shane is developed far more in those few opening scenes than he ever is in the comic. And uh, to avoid mad spoilers, I think you know why.
When Rick does awake in the hospital they choose to not have him change into his own clothes as he does in the comic. This is a fantastic, little deviation because it makes Rick seem more vulnerable. The Rick of the comic is more sure of himself, he’s confident he’ll find his family either at home or in Atlanta and things will turn out okay. You could argue comic book Rick is living in denial, while TV Rick seems lost, confused, and consumed by fear that horrible things have happened to his loved ones. This portrayal strikes a chord with viewers as it’s probably more like how we ourselves would react.
Morgan and Duane get a beefed up storyline as opposed to their comic book counterparts. The inclusion of Morgan’s wife is heartbreaking and personalizes the zombie apocalypse straight away. When combined with the scene where Rick shoots the half-woman zombie, Morgan trying to end the existence of the zombie that was his wife is powerful and I dare you to not choke up.
All in all, this first episode is an almost perfect adaptation of the comics. Much of the comic is represented almost exactly as it was visualized on the page and when they did make changes, they weren’t for the sake of making changes. The deviations and alterations in “Day Gone Bye” enhance the source material, and that’s exactly what you want from a good adaptation.
Now after I’ve praised the episode for being an almost pitch-perfect adaptation, the key word being almost, it wasn’t without problems. For instance, when Rick’s wandering through the hospital and discovers a door labelled, “Don’t Open, Dead Inside,” we miss out on what is a truly, gruesome zombie reveal. I usually like the less is more approach, but when the hands were reaching out of the door all I wanted was for the door to open and zombies to spill out. I wanted that first big reveal to happen in the hospital as it does in the comics. Somehow, presenting piles upon piles of dead bodies outside didn’t induce the same sense of fear as a cafeteria burstin’ with zombies.
When Rick, Morgan and Duane are leaving the police station a zombie comes up to the fence and Rick shoots him. In the comic Morgan warns Rick against shooting because the noise will only draw more of them. In fact, the TV show is really lax with their gun policy. In the comics it was made pretty clear you only use a gun when you have to, otherwise kill things the old fashioned way, by bludgeoning them in the head. That sensible policy made surviving in such a world more plausible, as the characters are taking real precautions. When anyone uses guns in the TV show it’s far more careless. But then, I guess it makes for better television.
Finally, the biggest deviation the TV show makes is showing us the survivor’s camp long before Rick gets there. We lose the suspense of whether or not Rick’s wife and son are alive and instead we get this unnecessary love triangle drama. The love triangle is played up BIG in the TV show. It’s already a dramatic, tension filled world and the love triangle bit feels like too much. People are dying and could die any moment, the dead are rising and terrorizing the living, survival is key; I don’t need so much focus on Rick and Shane vying for the same woman. But alas, television audiences do love picking teams and rooting for someone to get the girl in the end.
Most Gruesome Zombie Kill
And this week’s most gruesome zombie kill goes to the little zombie girl from the opening moments of the first episode. It was ballsy to show Rick shooting a young girl, zombie or not, within the first few minutes, but AMC went for it and it paid off, big time. Setting not only the tone for the series, but also the “anyone can become a zombie” rule. (.gif via UPROXX)
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