SPOILER ALERT: If you’re not up to date on The Walking Dead, you’re going to get hit with some spoilers in this post. Also, why aren’t you up to date on The Walking Dead? It’s almost back on!
Last November, the mid-season finale of The Walking Dead, “Pretty Much Dead Already,” ended in a not-so-sudden swarm of ‘walkers’ and a very intentional hail of bullets — a fitting cliffhanger for any zombie-related doomsday medium. In the final moments, as the dust settles and Rick, Shane and crew survey the carnage, the child Sophia, who has been the subject of an exhausting search for most of this season, makes her zombified appearance and catches a bullet in the head for her trouble.
What the hell?, I thought to myself, This never happened in the books!
This Sunday, the AMC horror drama returns, with episode 8 of 13, “Nebraska,” which, however minute the digression, will only take the show further away from its printed source material. If you keep up with the original series of comic books — 93 issues and almost nine years strong, and still going — you may have had a similar reaction(s) over the course of the TV version helmed by director Frank Darabont. The show’s writers have taken the storyline established by comic writer/creator Robert Kirkman and adapted the characters to suit television. It’s great news for fans of The Walking Dead universe, since it means you can enjoy one while simultaneously enjoying the other. The key lies in the differentiation: It’s not what the stories have in common — it’s what they don’t.
It’s not like this is the first time movie-makers have taken liberties with comic continuity. Consider Batman: since his inception in the mid-1940s, the Dark Knight has been the subject of multiple adaptations and creative treatments. You’ve got Tim Burton’s quirky Batman and Batman Returns; the gaudy, everything-in-black light gay Batman of Batman Forever and Batman and Robin (please note: I have no evidence that Joel Schumacher’s Batman is gay, but the nipples on the Batsuit were, just, weirdly unnecessary); Christopher Nolan’s latest, dark series of Batman films are certainly the best film adaptation of the character, but they take many serious liberties with Batman canon for the sake of a more realistic feel.
Playing with The Walking Dead’s continuity offers a lot of interesting opportunities for storytelling. I know many avid readers of the book series have pegged Darryl’s missing brother Merle as a possible candidate for the series’ first major villain, the comics’ infamous “Governor.” Andrea and Shane’s hinted tryst at the end of season 2 will create plenty of tension between Dale and Shane — tension that doesn’t exist in the book, since Andrea and Dale are firmly established as a couple in the first few issues. Fan-favorite Darryl doesn’t even exist in the comics, though word on the grapevine is Kirkman is busy writing him in as we speak.
The character of Shane has benefitted the most from the whole television series. In the graphic novels, Shane’s role is important, but short. Jon Berenthal’s portrayal of the character brings a whole new level to the show, creating a man ideally suited to survival in this apocalyptic scenario (not to be confused with an ideal man). He gives a strong counterpoint to Rick, who clings to the right and wrong morals of a world before walkers. As a fan of the books before there were even whispers of a television show, I can tell you that nothing compares to the television series’ take on Shane.
When the show killed off Sophia, readers of the comics were treated to the idea that they could still read their books and watch the series. It’s a great move on behalf of the writers, because you can go to each medium for a different kind of story. I’ll keep reading and watching The Walking Dead, they’re fantastic series. If you’ve experienced one but not the other, you’re in for something new either way. As long as Joel Schumacher doesn’t take over the show any time soon, it’s going to be great — and unpredictable from medium to medium — for a long time.
Image courtesy of Gene Page/AMC.