The Walking Dead is heading towards the end of its television run, even as the producers continue various television spin-offs. It’s been a long run these past 11 seasons, yet we’ve endured just like our protagonists.
As we look back at the entire show, those familiar with the comics can see how the show differed, for good or ill. But not everyone is as aware of the stories that inspired the show and what made it into the series.
So, in honor of the end of the journey (at least on the main show), it’s time to explore The Walking Dead, from the comics to television.
This article is the first of eleven, each one analyzing a TV show season and how it matches the comics. Without further ado, let’s begin with the beginning and Season One.
Season One was likely the first and only time the television series remained close to the original material. Many fans and writers have matched the six episodes to comic issues 1-6 that made up Vol. 1: Days Gone Bye.
Even then, the timeline between the two versions varies greatly, focusing on when Rick awoke and how long the group stayed at the Camp.
The television series states that Rick awakes around four to five weeks after the shootout that put him in the hospital. This claim would mean the first episode starts several weeks after the outbreak and lays out the timeline for much of the season (and show).
In the meantime, the comics are even more ambiguous. The original intent was for the apocalypse to occur around October, with Rick waking in November; however, creators ended up retconning the start of the outbreak to July with both the Telltale Games and the Morgan Special. This change puts Comic Rick in a coma for months instead of weeks, which stretches credulity.
Either way, the TV series finishes Season One only slightly over two months after the outbreak. Meanwhile, the comics end their first arc almost half a year into the apocalypse.
The time spent at the Camp varies greatly regardless of when Rick officially woke up.
Episodes One through Five occur over a mere few days before the group moves on after losing people during the walker attack. In the comics, Rick arrives in the autumn, and they spend weeks together (to the point it’s snowing). The group even stays well after the attack and doesn’t leave until Christmas.
Why did they change the timeline? What happened to the months at the Camp and winter?
Most likely, the writers felt the need to push the storyline and not deal with the hassles of shooting in the winter. One can only wonder, however, if they’d forgone the CDC filler (created for the show) and spent a little more character building at the Camp.
Season One did not suffer from the pacing issues that plagued the series and drew the ire of critics and fans later in the show. Although the TV timeline was condensed, having everything occur over a few days kept the show moving.
It might have been nice to skip the unnecessary CDC plot at the end and spend more time exploring the character dynamics and world. With the addition of characters and encounters not in the original material, however, the show did well with what it could.
Some of these changes to the cast were unnecessary, but they also gave us two long-time fan favorites.
Fans of the comics were greeted with a mostly familiar cast, but there were many new faces and some missing ones.
The Grimes family remained the same, except for an aged-up Carl; Rick’s son is seven in the comics (retconned to nine later), compared to the 11-year-old Chandler Riggs in the TV show. Glenn, Shane, Dale, Andrea, Amy, and Jim also fulfill similar roles to their comic counterparts.
One significant change would be Carol’s (and Sophia’s) personality and situation by adding Carol’s abusive husband to the TV show. Her comic counterpart’s husband was already dead (and nothing like Mr. Peletier); she was more of a bubbly, clueless housewife than the meek survivor of domestic violence we met in episode one.
Further changes were seen with the replacement of Allen, Donna, and their twins (characters who would be poorly adapted later) with the Martinez family (who would hold unknown fates until years later). The cast would also add Jacqui and T-Dog, characters with potential but who fell victim to the revolving door of Black characters.
However, the brothers Daryl and Merle are the most significant additions. Although the latter would disappear for a couple of seasons (only to die for real), Daryl would become the fan favorite of the entire series.
Season One was nearly a beat-for-beat match to the original volume of Walking Dead comics, from Rick waking up and meeting Morgan to the initial encounters in Atlanta and the decision to leave the Quarry after people died. Two major plot points, however, messed with the adaptation, and not necessarily in good ways.
First was the inclusion of the CDC in the last two episodes of the season. The entire plot felt like filler, adding nothing and serving as a nonsensical way to kill off characters.
The death of Jacqui, not to mention waving modern comforts in the face of Rick’s crew (only to take them away because “plot”), was annoying. The biggest concern, however, was the change to a significant character: Andrea.
The scene where Andrea almost stayed and died also revealed that the TV series was taking a drastic (and negative) direction from her comic counterpart. While the original Andrea was distraught over the loss of her sister and was in a depressive state, she was far from suicidal.
The second choice that threw things askew was when they did not kill off Shane at the end.
While both versions of Shane wanted to be with Lori, the comic version had only experienced a one-night stand and was still trying to pressure her into a relationship. In the TV series, when Rick returned, Shane had been in a relationship with Lori and even became a father figure to Carl.
Comics Shane’s loss of his unfulfilled dream led to his attempted assassination of Rick before the group decided to leave the Quarry. In comparison, the TV show decided to keep Shane around well into Season Two, causing further antagonism (and death).
In the end, TV Shane died the same death he should have had six episodes earlier, for no good reason other than to add more drama.
Overall, the adaption from comic to show in Season One wasn’t bad, and ratings suggest this was the “best” season of the entire series.
The timeline was pretty close, although the show chose to rush through the Quarry and add an unnecessary CDC plot. The comics, instead, spent more time in the Quarry, which helped build up character development until the actual big reveal: Shane’s betrayal.
The cast was pretty close, although new faces were added, others were missing, and some characters took on different roles and styles. Season One did lay the groundwork for the power duo of Daryl and Carol, but it also began the massive shift in Andrea that would lead to an early loss of a critical character.
When we return, we’ll look at the mess that was Season Two, which dragged six issues of comics into 13 episodes.