Spoiler Alert: I want to be absolutely clear here: This piece is going to be chock-full of spoilers. The Walking Dead comics spoilers, The Walking Dead TV show spoilers—spoilers of every description. If you don’t want to know what has happened to date in both the comic and the TV show, then you should stop reading right now.
Now then. Years ago, way back in 2013, we wrote a list of 20 significant differences between The Walking Dead comics and the TV series, but it’s now woefully out of date. As season 6 has just come to a thunderous conclusion, it’s the perfect time to update said list with the most significant changes from the page to the screen. As someone who’s read every page of the comic and seen every minute of the TV series, I’ll be your guide in pointing out the differences and opining on which medium handled each instance better.
1. Stone Cold Carol Peletier
Carol, as a character, has the single largest deviation in her comics arc to her television show character, and it’s odd in the sense that the rift doesn’t really develop until we find out that she was the one who killed prison residents Karen and David before burning their bodies to stop the spread of disease. Before this, Carol hews fairly closely to the meek former housewife she is in the comics, a much-younger victim of spousal abuse who tends to be dependent on others. She’s so dependent, in fact, that after breaking up with Tyreese in the prison, she attempts to insert herself into a three-person sexual relationship with Rick and Lori. After being rejected once again, she effectively commits suicide by allowing a zombie to bite her. Pretty damn different, right?
Perhaps it was the way that the show disposed of her daughter, Sophia—who doesn’t die in the comics—that snapped something in Carol? Either way, she transforms on the TV show from would-be homemaker to the absolute hardest, most pragmatic, most utilitarian member of the Grimes Gang, becoming an incredible character in the process. She saves the entire group from certain death in Terminus, routinely takes on men twice her size and lectures anyone who will listen on how hard one needs to become to survive this world. She’s literally the most dangerous member of the group.
Of course, at the same time, the second half of season 6 showed us that Carol was still capable of unraveling somewhat under the pressure and constant reminders of her sins. Her abandonment of the group and self-imposed exile brought her face to face with death in the season finale, but my feeling is she’ll pull through. Carol is too awesome to stay licked for long.
2. The Death of _____ at the hands of Negan
Yeah, this is the one that everyone is going to be talking about for the next few weeks, but I wanted to make sure it was below the fold—just trying to protect those last few people from spoilers.
The death of beloved Mr. Glenn Rhee is a pretty big turning point in the comics series; the moment when the greatest villain the group will ever face, Negan, finally shows his face and demonstrates just how coldly callous he can be. Unfortunately, in bringing this key scene to the screen, the show’s writers opted to cheaply tease viewers, ending season 6 on a maddening cliffhanger and leaving us to wonder which member of the group met their death at Lucille’s business end. For the second time, we’re left wondering if Glenn is still breathing, but this time, it will be a matter of months before we get any answers. One thing is clear: Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan is a villain TV audiences are going to love to loathe.
3. Just About Everything to do with Beth
The character of Beth Greene was more or less created by the TV writers from the whole cloth—unlike in many other cases, her personality and characteristics weren’t clearly based on a different comic character. Instead, she was made solely for TV. In the comics, Herschel has quite a few kids—Maggie, but also Shawn, Billy, Lacey, Rachel and Susie. All but Maggie are killed in one way or another by the time the group leaves the prison, along with Herschel himself.
Beth, on the other hand, sticks around for quite a while, forging a bond with fellow TV-only character Daryl before being abducted into an odd subplot focused around Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. It’s a time-killing sequence that doesn’t show up in any fashion in the comics, but it serves to introduce another TV-only member of the Grimes Gang, Noah.
4. The Nature of Tyreese
The character of Tyreese in the comic and the one we see in the TV show render them as almost entirely separate people who happen to share the same name and physical characteristics. As is often the case with the TV series, the writers took personality traits and events from elsewhere in the source material and applied them to Tyreese, leaving the audience unsure of what would happen to him.
In the comics, Tyreese plays a bigger role earlier on, being one of the first members to join the Grimes Gang. He becomes almost a co-leader with Rick, a right-hand-man who shares characteristics of both Daryl and pre-psychosis Shane in the TV series. He’s an amorous character, striking up a relationship with Carol before cheating on her with a just-arrived Michonne. After Carol kills herself and his daughter commits suicide, Tyreese hardens his heart in the war against the Governor, before being captured. He’s killed as one of the Governor’s most prominent victims, beheaded in front of the prison in the same manner as Herschel on the TV show.
The televised version of Tyreese, on the other hand, is significantly more empathetic and emotional. He doesn’t have a daughter; nor does he become romantically involved with one of the major cast members. Instead, he reacts to the horrors of the prison’s destruction by withdrawing somewhat. In the wandering period that follows, the “conscience of the group” role is thrust upon him, and predictably he dies fairly soon thereafter. Principled characters who refuse to kill rarely make it too long on The Walking Dead.
5. Morgan’s Philosophy
...and speaking of characters who refuse to kill; hey Morgan! As with Tyreese, the televised portrayal of Morgan shares little DNA with his comics character. He does play the important role of being the first person Rick meets in the post-apocalypse, and he does eventually rejoin the Grimes Gang in the comic, but he’s a much more meek, background character who never truly amounts to a terrible lot of significance. The whole philosophical, stick-wielding warrior monk/aikido enthusiast role is purely a product of the television show, which makes it difficult to tell what kind of role the writers envision for Morgan in the future. Now that he’s firmly broken his “no killing” rules while protecting Carol, though, we can presumably expect to see his philosophy seriously shaken.
6. Rick’s Hand
The Governor gets a big introduction in the comics as the series’ first A-tier villain by taking something big away from Rick in the form of his severed right hand. It’s a very important moment for both Rick and the series, as the audience comes to the realization that the main character of this story has just become “handicapped,” ‘ala The Gunslinger’s maimed right hand in Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three. Everything Rick manages to accomplish from this point out is all the more impressive for the fact that he’s got one less hand to do it.
On the TV show, it always seemed more doubtful that Rick’s character would undergo such a loss, given the difficulty of filming with a prosthetic stump for the entire rest of the series. Instead, that idea was seemingly passed on to Merle, who could appear in a much more limited fashion with his knife-hand before dying for good. For a moment or two in season 6, however, it almost seemed like a one-handed Rick might come to pass, as Rick badly cut/injured the hand while on the road, running from both walkers and The Wolves. Seeing as it apparently healed, though, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever pull the trigger on this one.
7. The Wolves
Speaking of The Wolves—they’re a bit hard to get a handle on. No group of that particular name appears in the comics, although Alexandria is briefly threatened by an outside group who are simply referred to as either scavengers or “The Scavengers.” Regardless, The Scavengers hardly prove to be a legitimate threat, as a sharpshooting Andrea (still alive in the comics) blows most of them away before they can do any damage, and the Alexandria crew mops up the rest. In fact, the ease with which the Grimes Gang dispatches The Scavengers is probably a major part of why Rick is so overconfident in their chances facing The Saviors—he assumes his group has become so hardened that there’s nothing they can’t handle.
The Wolves of the TV series, on the other hand, are a nihilistic bunch who seem to believe that everyone needs to die. It’s hard to imagine how most of them survived as long as they have, but they certainly leave a substantial body count behind when they invade Alexandria and begin killing at will.
8. Judith’s Existence
It was a curious decision to keep Judith alive on the TV show, rather than having her perish with Lori in the prison, as occurs in the comics. A baby of course cannot be terribly integral to the plot of a zombie drama, except as a constant distraction and source of danger, and Judith has since seen very little screen time—she just pops up once every handful of episodes for just long enough to remind us that “Oh yeah, Rick has another kid.” It will be interesting to see if the writers have any plans for her in the long run—if the TV series follows the comics arc and eventually moves the timeline forward by a few years, Judith could end up being like the Michelle Tanner of The Walking Dead. No, I’m not looking forward to that either.