As Season 4 of The Walking Dead continues to supply ever more ingenious ways of offing walkers – pile up under the rear wheels of a car and gun the accelerator, anyone? – it seems like a good moment to stop and consider whether the TV show takes the same liberties when wasting walkers as when it adapts the source material for the screen. Just how faithful is the TV adaptation to the comics? (SPOILERS up through Season 4, Episode 4 ahead; you’ve been warned.)
In the TV show, Carol has turned into a stone cold pragmatist who thinks nothing of putting bullets into people who have been infected with a virus and threaten to infect the group at large. It’s a huge transformation, both from her Season 1 days suffering emotional and physical abuse from her husband and from the comics, where she is a bit of a looker (not the mousy, short haired and quiet character in the show), a total nut job and much feistier, flirting with and dating Tyreese and suggesting a threesome with Rick and Lori.
In the comics, the Governor has a Hispanic look, a face-dominating handlebar moustache and flowing, dark hair. David Morrisey’s TV version of the character is clean-cut in looks if not in morality and actions. He has a baby face, is sharply dressed and has short, cropped hair. The Governor’s pale features also play a part in the colder, more calculated derangement of the character on TV, in contrast to the raging hothead prone to more than his fair share of blow-ups in the comics.
Although Tyreese becoming a main player in the story once the group reaches the prison is consistent with both the TV series and the comics, the results of the suicide pact between his daughter Julie and her boyfriend Chris aren’t. This has a central impact on the character’s development in the comics, but it’s left out of the TV show. Chris shoots too early and only Julie dies in the comics; a devastated Tyreese then chokes Chris to death and ruthlessly dismembers him once he turns. Chad Coleman’s version of the character can be moody and unpredictable but not to the same extremes.
In both the comics and the TV show, Michonne is a one-woman, katana-wielding, bringer of walker slaughter. But Michonne is more sensitive in the comics, and she even pursues a relationship with Tyreese. The TV character is extremely detached and completely unavailable, emotionally and physically, to anyone.
Tomas is the TV show’s replacement for the comic’s Dexter. He is the alpha male amongst the prison’s remaining inmates, and his volatility is a source of concern for Rick. This culminates with Rick stabbing Tomas to death after they have cleared a number of walkers from one of the cell blocks and Tomas has opened a door to let more in. This event has a lasting impact on Rick’s ability to trust others, outsiders especially, as demonstrated by his reluctance to allow Tyreese’s crew into the prison.
Lori’s death in the TV show was greeted with cheers by many fans, as the character’s divisive, contradictory behavior rendered her untenable and just plain annoying in the eyes of many. If you read the comics, though, you’ll have to put up with her torment of the Grimes family even longer, since she doesn’t die until the Governor’s raid on the prison (and not before committing a final act of infanticide: falling on top of and crushing/smothering baby Judith).
Another controversial, female character in the television series is Andrea, whose initial indecision and emotional imbalance annoyed many viewers. Her decisions to relocate to Woodbury, to begin a relationship with the Governor and to leave Rick’s group riled many fans; it was tantamount to unforgiveable betrayal. But her death, or turning, in the TV show is pretty hardcore. This episode just doesn’t happen in the comics. Instead, Andrea becomes a sharp shooter and is central to the defense of the prison.
Dedicated fans of the comics might have been confused by our initial encounter with Merle Dixon (handcuffed and abandoned on the roof of an Atlanta department store by Rick et al.) in the TV show, since he isn’t a character in the comics. Instead, Merle seems to have been developed by writer Robert Kirkman to provide an antagonistic foil to Rick’s group and to test their moral compasses throughout the show. That is, until his whiskey-soaked, walker-trolling, Motörhead-soundtracked exit in a chromed-up Dodge, which is simultaneously awesome and dark as hell: “I ain’t gonna beg. I ain’t begging you.”
All good rivalries are co-dependent and center around mutual respect layered with animosity; Rick and Shane are no exceptions to this. Although his death goes down the same way in the TV show as in the comics, Shane sticks around much longer in the TV show, and his descent into psychological turmoil and pure villainy is explored in great detail. His death, or mercy killing, in the comics comes before the group even leaves Atlanta.
Another day, another Dixon brother developed especially for the TV series. Norman Reedus’ Daryl, the younger of the two Dixons, is the epitome of a badass antihero with his trademark crossbow and low-rider motorcycle. The character has become so popular that hardcore fans have made placards and t-shirts bearing the slogan: “If Daryl dies, we riot.”
God love him and his penchant for open Hawaiian shirts, bucket hats, that trusty RV and moral philosophy. Dale dies sooner, and far more suddenly, in the TV show than in the comics. In the former, a few walkers ambush and disembowel him as he takes an ill-advised walk through fields. In the latter, Dale’s demise is a more prolonged affair, involving two bites and an amputation to stymie the first.
Season 2 of the TV show is regarded by many critics and fans as the weakest season, since it was entirely set at Hershel Greene’s farm. This was a financially creative decision that needed to be made, but it didn’t serve the plot well and crippled any momentum the season could have developed.
Glenn’s selfless bravery and intelligence are vital in helping Rick and his group secure the prison at the start of Season 3. In the comics, however, Glenn stays behind on Hershel’s farm to help with mundane tasks, like burning walker corpses. His skills with cars (highlighted in Season 1 when he jacks a sports car) appear later in the comics after he enters the prison and displays a knack for siphoning gas.
The Morgan we meet in the comics is a level-headed, insightful tour guide for Rick, but Morgan becomes a paranoid fruit loop with a propensity for setting booby traps in the TV show. Morgan is so far gone, with the death of his wife and son contributing to his madness, that even the combined negotiating powers of Rick, Michonne and Carl can’t talk him into joining them at the prison. A lost cause if ever there was.
At no point in the TV show do the characters refer to “zombies;” it’s almost exclusively “walkers” (or “biters,” if you’re the Governor). In the comics, the “z” word does come up.
Season 1 of the TV show culminates in the survivors’ arrival at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta and their encounter with its sole surviving employee, Dr. Jenner. This provides the backdrop for an explosive finale and Rick’s revelation that everyone is infected, therefore, the living are “the walking dead” just as much as the walkers. This place doesn’t feature in the comics, and the survivors remain ignorant about the true nature of the outbreak.
It’s strange to think of Carl bleeding out on Hershel’s farm way back in Season 2, since he’s such a little tough guy now. It was Otis who accidentally shot Carl, necessitating the supply run into town in which Shane sacrifices Otis to escape a zombie horde. This episode isn’t in the comics, and it was probably created for the TV show to emphasize the flaws and moral dubiousness in Shane’s character.
When Hershel’s unexpected payload of barn walkers is dropped on the group, it’s a shocking twist. Shane offs most of them himself, but Hershel’s idiocy is much more disastrous in the comics (the walkers escape and wreak devastation on his family in a moment of tragic irony).
Ah, Sophia. We all remember you as the elusive killer from Season 2. If only the writers had stayed true to the comics, kept you human and allowed your childish romance with Carl to blossom. We might have seen some actual, adrenaline-fueled, ingenious walker carnage – you know, the gory, dismemberment stuff that viewers actually tune in for? – rather than loads of talk about feelings.
Well, Rick still has his shooting hand in the TV show. Almost as soon as Rick and his group arrive at Woodbury in the comics, the Governor callously hacks off Rick’s right paw.