This is the first part in a continuing series. Spoiler Warning - although the comics often differ, there may be potential spoilers included.
Despite a few grievances, I am a committed fan to The Walking Dead TV series. My biggest applause for the series is how they've found a balance between staying true to the essence of the graphic novels, while also converting the stories to more compelling narratives for TV; and all the while, keeping fans of the graphic novels guessing. For the purpose of this series, we'll compare a few of the adaptations between the graphic novels and the TV series to see what has worked and what has not.
First up: Shane, Rick & Lori, and Glenn & Maggie.
WORKED - 7 out of 8 zombie heads.
The biggest difference in the first two seasons is the development of Shane's character. Let me start by saying, I loved Shane, and I still miss him being on the show. One of my complaints with The Walking Dead is that there aren't enough characters that I truly care about what happens to them. I knew from the graphic novels that Shane would not have longevity on the show, but I was hoping the writers would at least keep him on through Season 2, which they did.
Shane's presence on the show allowed for more in depth exploration of the theme: holding onto humanity (Rick) vs. survival (Shane). This theme arises in the pilot episode, with Rick killing the half-eaten zombie as he says, "I'm sorry this happened to you." It continues through the second season, as the survivors debate on how long to search for Sophia. Shane thought everyone was delusional for thinking Sophia was still alive after weeks on her own. But Rick refused to stop looking for her, and put other people in danger by searching in the woods. Now, I'm not saying I would have been willing to tell Carol that she needed to leave her daughter behind either, but Sophia winding up in the barn as a walker proved Shane's point that in this "new world", optimism and self-sacrifice is not always the best option.
Most zombie-related stories don't examine this human side to survival. The Shane storyline that surrounded this theme made the TV series stand out; it gave it more depth than what's possible in a graphic novel.
What was so interesting about Shane was that more often than not he came across as a "bad guy" who killed Otis and tried to kill his best friend Rick; but at the same time, he saved Carl's life, he saved Lori's life, and he also was almost always right. It's the same thing that draws us to hate and root for the Tony Sopranos in the gangster genre; characters with the dichotomy of being bad people, but who have redeemable qualities that you can relate to are the most interesting characters to watch.
Keeping Shane around longer, and weaving his relationship with Rick more deeply, facilitated Rick's transformation from the good-hearted sheriff in Seasons 1 & 2 to the colder dictator he starts out as in Season 3 of the series. At the beginning of Season 3, Rick appears to be more "Shane-like" than he ever was before.
SOMEWHAT WORKED - 4 out of 8 zombie heads.
Rick's relationship with Shane also affected the relationship with his wife, Lori, in a very different way in the TV series. Shane's affair with Lori in the graphic novels is more of a one-night stand, with Shane obsessing over Lori who is only going to him for comfort. In the novels, she spits on Shane's grave after his death; whereas in the TV series, her anger towards Rick for killing him pulled them apart so much that they were unable to reconnect before her death early on in Season 3.
The downside to this is that Lori's character in the series is much less likable than in the comics. Despite my distaste for Lori's decisions and flip-flopping (you should kill Shane / you killed Shane?? I hate you), I still cared about what happened to her, even if it was more for Rick and Carl's sake. But the comics did a much better job of creating sympathy for Rick when she died.
Lori's death during childbirth was another interesting change from the comics – and another example of how the TV writers are keeping comic book fans on their toes – as she lasts through the entire prison storyline in the comics. In the comics, the prison becomes a time for Rick when he truly starts to care most about protecting his own family, rather than worrying about the entire group. This makes the loss of Lori, and their baby Judith, during the Governor's attack even more devastating. The writers have made an interesting twist to Rick's character here, as he appears to care more about his family in the first 2 seasons in the TV series, and feels more responsible for the group once they get to the prison.
I'm curious to see how his relationship with Carl will develop with this twist; and if you've read the graphic novels, I'm sure you're also just as curious as I am to see how they handle the fate of poor little Judith. Something tells me that the graphic novel version will not translate well to the screen in this case.
WORKED - 8 out of 8 zombie heads.
Unlike Tyreese and Rick, Glenn and Maggie's relationship on the screen remains very true to the comics, probably more-so than any other relationship thus far. Watching Glenn evolve from the timid follower who let the group treat him as "zombie bait" to the man who took down a zombie while tied to a chair has been one of the best character developments of the show.
I've come to care more about what happens to these two characters this season, especially as they were whispering "I love you" through tears while waiting to be executed by the Governor's men, more than I care about what happens to any other of the shows' characters. And therefore, I commend the shows' writers for staying true to this storyline of the graphic novels.
PART ONE CONCLUSION:
The graphic novels clearly move much faster, there are more characters introduced throughout, and as a result, many more deaths. The need to get to know and care about the characters is a more important facet of television, which the series has done a decent job with so far. But with the current season's body count, they will need to find more likable characters in the near future to sustain the interest in them.
From examining these three characters, the TV series has done a great job in knowing which characters to keep true to the source material and which ones to adapt. Check back next week as we look at three more members of Rick Grime's crew. In the meantime, if you haven't checked out the graphic novels click here to get started.