Here’s Why The Walking Dead Comics Are Better Than the Show
Recently, I have reawakened my obsession with the Walking Dead. The AMC show has been streaming on Netflix, and I’ve been puffing and binge-watching like it’s nobody’s business. I also managed to snag used copies of the first 3 Compendiums of the graphic novel for around $15 each on Amazon. So I guess you could say I’m a bit obsessed.
The Walking Dead has created quite a franchise for itself. As one of the highest viewed and popular shows in television history, it has garnered everything from TV spinoffs and video games to various merchandise such as board games and clothes. Its popularity is so vast that it received a spot in the television collection at the Smithsonian back in 2017.
AMC announced that season 11, which will air sometime this year, will be the show’s final season. And while it might make fans sad to see it go, it was also announced that a new slew of TV spinoffs and movies are being planned for the next 10 years.
This all sounds like a lot, but the show is a masterpiece and deserves every accolade it receives. It has managed to redefine the zombie genre and presented a show that has surprisingly helped make the horror genre more mainstream. But like many American shows, it has had a tendency to be hit or miss over the years and at a certain point it feels like it may have “run its course”. Over the years, the series has seen dramatic drops in the number of viewers for various reasons, some justified by fans and some not so much.
The comic version, created and written by Robert Kirkman, was the OG of the franchise and has served as the loosely based source material for the show. Its first issue released back in October 2003 follows Rick Grimes, a police officer from Georgia who awakens from a coma to find himself in the throws of the zombie apocalypse. While this sounds like a run of the mill zombie story we’ve all seen before, the depth of the show and the characters is what truly sets it apart from the rest. Kirkman seems to emphasize the psychological tolls that such an event would have on average people and uses it to create narratives that feel truly original to the genre. The comic also has sort of ruthlessness to it, reminiscent of Game of Thrones, when it comes to killing off characters and destroying any type of hope readers might have for them.
While some of the best aspects of the graphic novel series has translated fairly well to a television format, there have been a handful of times that it either fails to do so or tries new things that just don’t work out. So in this article, we will take a look at a few differences that I believe make the comic series a bit better than the TV series.
SPOILER WARNING – I will do my absolute best not to spoil any plot-related things but at times it may be unavoidable. If you have not read the comic yet but plan to, I’d advise passing on this one.
The show has some incredibly brutal moments that will make your jaw drop and are hard to forget after watching. There are so many times throughout the series that I thought “how the hell did they get away with that?!”, but the comic almost makes the show seem like child’s-play at times. Many critics have attributed the drop-off in viewership to some of the show’s most brutal killings and nixing some of the fans’ favorite characters… which is pretty damn lame.
The truth is that comic readers and television audiences are very different. AMC is a major cable network channel that creates major limitations when it comes to displaying scenes of violence and sexuality. Comics and graphic novels, on the other hand, are a bit of a more loose format allowing creators to go to the furthest depths of depravity if they truly wanted to. There are a handful of horrific scenes in the comic that was either left out completely or rewritten for TV audiences, and in some cases, they end up missing out on opportunities to create unforgettable moments. But once you read the graphic novel, you’ll quickly understand in most cases why the changes had to be made.
The Show Takes Risks… That Sometimes Fail
While there are major similarities between The Walking Dead show and comic, many say the show is just loosely based on the graphic novel series. So at times, the show will create characters or scenarios that did not come from the comics. Sometimes it works out – for example, the show’s telling of how Shane and Rick end up falling out, the doomed fate of Herschel’s farm, Carol’s character ark, and the addition of characters like Daryll are all big detours from the comic.
But then there are scenes like the one that ended season 1 where Rick leads his group to the CDC compound outside of Atlanta. What seemed meant to be a big epic ending to a fantastic kick-off for a show, ended up feeling forced and a bit cheesy. The show also has a tendency to add characters that don’t exist in the comics, such as Sasha and T-dog (was anyone else bothered that in the beginning the only black character was called T-dog??), and create relationships, like Michonne and Rick. And then there are the subtle rewrites, such as many events that took place during the time Rick’s gang took on Woodbury and the killing off of some characters while choosing to keep others alive.
Sometimes these things work – there are a handful of characters created in the show that has allowed writers to give new and sometimes really good side stories. But sometimes it feels a bit forced and contrived. Michonne and Rick’s relationship is a great example – while it somehow kind of works on screen, it still feels a bit weird.
The best aspects of The Walking Dead arise in moments where the comic is used directly as source material, more so regarding the characters that exist in both. Michonne’s character, in my opinion, suffers the more it strays away from the brooding, questionably crazy badass of the comics. The rewriting of Tyrese’s character falls short in the show, making his character seem a lot more disposable than the comic version, where he is almost just as important as Rick in the beginning.
When Killing Characters Goes Wrong
I would imagine that managing the cast of a big show such as The Walking Dead would be incredibly difficult and present a lot of challenges, way more than drawing a comic version would. The cast may have eventually had other ambitions and want to move on to different projects, or demand more pay due to their increased popularity. Whatever the reason, there have been some times where the show kills off characters and it feels a bit rushed, as if it was compensating for an unforeseen loss.
When it comes to the comics, everything happens at the pace at which Robert Kirkman writes them. So even if fans disagree with why he made certain writing choices, it can’t be any more than just a disagreement. The characters don’t have feelings or careers to think about. There is usually no ulterior motive to be found. It’s just what he decided to do with his creative vision. While comic artists and writers would love to please readers and grow their audience as much as creators of a show, the roadblocks it is up against are far less.
The best example of this is (SPOILER!) the decision to kill off Carl in the show. Rick’s son plays such a large role in the comic and while the show tries to create other characters to carry out his story, it loses its true emphasis Carl’s comic story had on the plot at large.
The Show Has Way Too Much Filler
The show suffers from that thing that a lot of American television suffers from – which is having long, sometimes drawn out season lengths. Just about every season is 16 episodes long, with most episodes clocking in at 45 minutes or more. That is a lot of content to digest for viewers, while at the same time being a bit of a limiting framework to create with.
The show writers have to come up with ways to keep audiences engaged and not get bored, so a lot of characters and stories are introduced to keep things spicy but it sometimes ends up just creating filler content. Seasons 6 and 7 fall to this fate a bit – as amazing of a character as Negan is, on-screen and in the comics, the story of the saviors feels incredibly drawn out and long for no reason.
In my opinion, season 10 does it the worst – (SPOILER!) after Rick’s character…. disappears, this entire season goes on to tell how the group has split among different settlements and how those settlements come together to create one entity. This season almost feels frozen in time due to how slow and boring it is.
Both The Walking Dead show and comic will go down in pop culture history as one of the greatest of its time. Although I have some criticisms of the show and I am one of those fans that feel it has fallen off a bit in later seasons, it is still incredibly engaging and what I would consider the best of both the zombie and horror genres.
If you haven’t seen either the show or read the graphic novel, I would recommend viewing the show first. Because I feel the comic is superior in some regards, it creates a bit of expectation for the show that may leave you disappointed. But seeing the show first will allow you to see the comic as more of a compliment to navigating the world of The Walking Dead.
Although I’m a bit unimpressed with season 10, I do really hope that the show’s last season sends it out with a bang, and I’m really looking forward to what the future holds for the franchise. One thing is certain – it has been one hell of a ride so far.