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 TWO: Guts

Moments Straight Off The Page

Glenn rescues Rick on the streets of Atlanta, and though it’s a little different from the comic, what with Glenn directing Rick out of the tank and down the street via walkie talkie, the imagery of Rick and Glenn bookin’ it down an alley and up a fire escape is pulled directly from the page.

 

In what is both a disgusting and rather genius plan, Rick and Glenn cover themselves in the guts of the undead in order to pass through zombie-filled streets unnoticed. In the comics this brilliant idea is implemented when Rick and Glenn need to reenter Atlanta, but it works just as well if not better as a part of their more elaborate escape plan.

 

This guts plan works great until it rains and washes away their disguise making them smell very appetizing to all the nearby walkers.

 

Moving In A Whole New Direction

Instead of only Glenn entering Atlanta for supplies and discovering Rick, it’s a group of six: Andrea, Merle, T-Dog, Jacqui, Morales, and Merle. Though, Jacqui and Morales might as well be called Black Chick and Hispanic Guy because they aren’t named once in the entire episode.

 

Of all the new characters introduced the most memorable is Merle. His blatant bigotry is dangerous to the group’s survival, as well as their general well being, and he’s an immediate obstacle for Rick.

 

Being a racist douchebag won’t earn you any friends and Rick handcuffs Merle to the roof of the department store to keep him from causing more harm. When T-Dog decides to release Merle so he too can escape with the rest of the group, T-Dog trips and loses the handcuff key down a drain pipe. D’oh! Merle, still handcuffed, is left behind.

 

Having more than only Rick and Glenn trapped in Atlanta requires a more elaborate escape plan. Disguising themselves in zombie guts becomes part of that larger plan which also includes stealing a truck to get out of town and a diversion in the way of a flashy, fast car with the alarm going off. The group, minus Merle, escapes infested Atlanta.

 

What Worked?

As you can see from only the first episode to the next, The Walk Dead television show is already making drastic deviations from its source material. But like I said, if handled right, that’s okay. There are three elements I felt worked incredibly well in this episode: Glenn’s knack for navigating the infected streets of Atlanta, Merle’s unabashed racism, and Rick’s ability to quickly take the lead in any situation.

Glenn is a fan favorite for many reasons. He’s funny and in the dire circumstances of a zombie apocalypse it can be just as important to be in good spirits as it is to be a good shot or well supplied. He’s a master of getting in and getting out without attracting attention. It’s mentioned more than once in “Guts” and at one point Glenn even calls the group out on being an impediment to his stealthiness. He brings a valuable skill to the group as well being an all around swell guy. Steve Yeun captures Glenn perfectly, and he’s won fans over in the TV show just as easily as Glenn did in the comics. From the standpoint of a faithful adaptation, they nailed it with Glenn.

From a character who’s easy to love to a character who’s easy to hate: Merle. He, in addition to T-Dog, Jacqui, and Morales, are brand new additions to the cast with no counterpart in the comics. Out of these new faces Merle makes the most impact. At times, literally. He’s a loudmouth racist with no qualms about letting others know how he really feels. He doesn’t take orders well and would seek to lead through intimidation and fear. Merle, and characters like him, reflect one of The Walking Dead‘s most often recurring themes: in a zombie apocalypse our greatest obstacle isn’t the zombies, but each other. It’s a theme the comic hammers home any chance it gets, and this won’t be last time it’s mentioned in the TV show either.

The inclusion of Merle and the immediate conflict he causes amps up the intensity of an already more exciting, more action-oriented version of The Walking Dead. It also provides yet another situation for Rick to prove himself a capable leader. Rick is the atypical reluctant leader, he’s a police officer with the skills needed to take charge and keep people calm, but isn’t likely to abuse his power. Sure, Shane’s also a trained police officer, and Merle too would likely have the skills to protect people, but in the end they would be more interested in helping themselves over the group. Rick has an exemplary moral compass. Twice in this episode he demonstrates an instinct to do what’s right. First, taking care of Merle and making the point there’s no room for such bigotry in the world, especially with the world falling apart. Two, he takes the time to remember the man who became the zombie they use for the guts, in a way honoring his sacrifice. The television show makes a strong argument for Rick as leader, something the comic also did well and early on. Expect things only to become more interesting as tougher and tougher choices are placed in front of Rick.

 

What Didn’t?

First of all, geeks? That’s the slang term they introduce for zombies? I almost feel like I should take a little offense to that. I mean sure, the term used to refer to carnival freaks who bit the heads off chickens for audiences’ amusement, but haven’t we claimed and repurposed the term? Anyway, it’s not a name the show sticks with for long, eventually adopting walker or roamer, but still, it’s odd and you can’t help being pulled out of the moment when your hear it.

I also question whether so many new faces was necessary. There are plenty of characters to pull from in the comic, but many of those peripheral characters don’t make it into the show and are instead replaced with new ones. Maybe their reasoning was to increase the diversity, which I appreciate, but then at least spend the necessary time developing those characters. Like I mentioned above, I had to look up Jacqui and Morales’ names because they’re never referred to by anything in the episode. And you know what usually happens to characters lacking  development in zombie movies, so, there you go.

I’ve already mentioned the television show has done a great job translating Rick and Glenn from page to screen, but there’s another character who debuts in this episode and her translation isn’t as smooth. The Andrea of the television show comes off as older, more mature, but most drastically far more of a hardass than her comic book counterpart. Laurie Holden’s Andrea is more like the Andrea of issue 10, 15, or 20 than the Andrea of issue three or four. And honestly, maybe I’m being a little too critical, but it’s because Andrea is my favorite character, behind Rick, and I miss her more gradual and at times tragic evolution. I will say Holden does a wonderful job capturing Andrea’s ferocity that’s tinged with sadness, even if it feels a little too sudden.

 

Most Gruesome Zombie Kill

When in need of a disguise their best idea is to cover themselves in the guts of a zombie allowing them to pass through the dangerous streets of Atlanta unnoticed. See, zombies, like the mighty T-Rex, hunt by smell, apparently. And sure, it’s not a zombie kill per se, but it is gruesome. It’s so gross Glenn barfs. Twice. (.gif via theashcan)