This is a primer to the 5th season of a popular show.
The Walking Dead is originally a comic book series created by the writer Robert Kirkman and visually designed by the artist Tony Moore. Despite being a thematic series revolving around zombies, Kirkman developed a novel alike writing focusing on human nature, as well as the extreme relationships settled in the post-apocalyptic scenario he developed for the universe of the series. The first issue of the comic series was released in 2003 and so far, there are over 20 comic volumes already released. The success of the comics would inspire the adaptation of the story to other medias, like television, a novel series and a video game series.
Most of The Walking Dead’s plot is settled around the survival of the character Rick Grimes, his family and companions. He introduces the reader to the the post-apocalyptic world of the series after waking up in a desert hospital of his hometown Cynthiana, Kentucky.
He was shot in line of duty and hospitalized but, despite it is never too clear how it happened, it seems to be the result of the imminent chaos spread around America after the zombie event.
During the first volume of the comic, Rick reunites with his family, his son Carl and wife Lori, as well as he establish a relationship with most of the main characters of the series.
The plot’s arch of each comic is settled around how Rick and the survivors will handle their lives and establish themselves once again in the brutal scenario of chaos left behind.
Kirkman develops the story in an elliptic fashion about what is going on in the world outside the lives of the characters, being unclear whether the zombie apocalypse is happening only in America or around the world. As the story advances throughout the series’ volumes, the plot thickens and more complex arches are introduced to lead the scenario of the series to a denouement.
Despite being centered on Rick’s journey, The Walking Dead has a set of main characters that become remarkable for the story. He will be often seen besides his son, Carl, whose growing up journey will also be a main key of development since he starts the series as a 10 years old kid and becomes a meticulous killer man.
Rick also would met characters like the scavenger Glen, the religious farmer Hershel, the tough and skilled Andrea, as well as the mysterious and iconic Michone, who becomes a second main character along the story famous for her killing with a katana sword.
Some villains of the comics are also famous and iconic for the lore of the series. During one of the first volumes, the introduction of the character The Governor would be one of the most thrilling and well received arches of the series.
A psychopathic and tyrannic alike kind of villain, the Governor sets new grounds for the developing of the series when the story leaves a more centric and character-focused development to a pillage war style of narrative. From 2011 to 2014, Kirkman and Moore would release two novels centered around the Governor.
The TV Show
Though today the comic books of the series are quite famous, most of this mainstream success was brought to the the series thanks to its adaptation to television in 2010. The Academy awarded film-director and screenwriter Frank Darabont teamed up with Kirkman to adapt the story to a television show narrative.
The TV series premiered in October 2010 on AMC channel as a 7 episodes only first season. At the time, AMC was a growing cable TV channel and the budget for that pilot season was moderate. Nevertheless, the rates were quite expressive and the show was promptly renewed for a second season.
Darabont and Kirkman’s work in this first season was not too much far from what the comics have established in therms of plot, despite some character choices have been done for the TV show that would take new turns for the story. This kind of decision making about characters would lead to Kirkman decide to build an alternative universe for The Walking Dead set on the television spectrum. From Season 2 on, what would be seen on TV would not be predictable by the comics.
The show would also have an emphasis in some characters in detriment to others and would spontaneously have its audiences turning some of them into bigger icons. Daryl, who doesn’t exist in the comics, is one of the most famous characters of the show.
An unanimous aspect of both comics and TV series is the themes that are overall explored. Despite being a zombie story, The Walking Dead is much more about how dangerous and extreme human beings can be. Often the main dangers of both stories are the people alive, something Kirkman extensively develops creating a symbolic relation between the savagery of these undead cannibal creatures and the people who remain alive.
A moral debate also happens when characters like Rick question whether they are good or bad, since they are alive in a hostile world and that requires cold blood and ruthlessness to survive, as well as it brings out the worst of everyone. In both stories we witness Rick’s moral decay, or perhaps, a humanist decay while his persona departs from a figure of law and order to a merciless predator and defender of his band. The concepts of innocence are also explored with Carl’s journey as he becomes tougher as his father and the several episodes of infanticide, also a recurrent theme in the comics and the show. Later, the cannibalism discussion takes place as alive people in both stories adopt as a living skill the habit to eat human flesh, once again emphasizing Kirkman’s comparison of savagery and monstrosity.
However, the comics are more brutal and honest. The depiction of each of these themes is rawer. Also, themes like rape and torture are boldly and graphically explored in the books while in the show they are quite lite or noexistent.
The TV show would face some challenges after its first season related to Kirkman decisions to change the spirit of the story on TV. Some antagonists characters that would be dead in the first volume would still remain alive in the 2nd season. Also, Kirkman tried to keep it demure for TV when it comes to violence and this was not well received by critics who considered the show’s journey closer to soap opera drama than to the realistic/psychological aftermath of the comics books.
The comics are quite graphic and brutal. While one of the first killings happens in front of Carl’s eyes, in the show it is eclipsed from the child’s view.
(If you haven’t seen the TV show or read the comics, be aware of spoilers about characters and plot ahead)
In the comics, Rick’s best friend and also antagonist, Shane, is later known in the story for leaving Rick to die in the hospital. He has an affair with Rick’s wife and tries to be the alpha man of the zombie Apocalypse’s aftermath. Rick would find out about his betrayal and shoot him in the head before the end of the first volume. In the TV show, Shane would be killed only in the end of Season 2 and not in front of Carl.
Andrea, which is in the comics a romantic interest of Rick and later bond to Dale – another main character – is also adapted differently. While in the comics she is often extremely skilled and resilient, her depiction in the TV show is more vulnerable and nihilistic as well as humanist and controversial than usual, as she will often be polarized between antagonists and Rick’s group. She would have a love affair with The Governor in the show and get killed by him because of her indecisiveness. In the comics she is a regular character and never teamed up with the villain.
Her outcome as a bipolar alike character in the show would even generate some sarcastic backlashes from the fan’s community. Andrea’s picture is often used in disambiguation pages inside the Walking Dead official wikis, in reference to how Kirkman wrote her ambiguous in the show.
Another female character from the comics was also depicted in a radical way in the show, or perhaps, overused. Carol, who dies in the first volumes of the comics and is a fragile mid aged women, seems to actually take Andrea’s personality in the show. She is a recurrent character on AMC’s adaptation and has managed to survive alone, growing stronger and colder as a killer. In the future seasons she is supposed to play a strong, polarizing role in the story of the show.
(end of spoilers)
This kind of controversial changes has lead to criticism of the television adaptation. While the viewers ratings exponentially increased along the seasons, there was some rejection towards these character changes coming from the comics’ readers. Frank Darabont would even be cut off the project after season 2 in an attempt of AMC to solve narrative problems, though is Kirkman who is in charge of this kind of narrative choices and who kept altering the course of the show. The audiences of the AMC’s Walking Dead and the comic’s one have also become distinct from one each other through the years.
The AMC’s show released its 5th season in October 2014 but is still unclear for how long they plan to keep the show going on as the rates are really high and stable. Since the comic series has over 20 volumes, Kirkman is brainstorming to sum up, as well as to skip, many plots to write the rest of the show’s arches denser and closer to a resolution before the show looses its uniqueness.