As we await the finale of The Walking Dead, we continue to look back at how the comic was adapted to the screen.
Last time, we discussed Season Two, which was the start of a decline in the series. The showrunner’s decision to drag a several-issue event into double the episodes of the premiere season was questionable.
In this third article (of eleven), we discuss Season Three, which was the opposite of the slow haul of Season Two. Instead, the showrunner and writers decided to rush the comic events. In the end, Season Three messed with the timeline, pacing, and characters while creating a strange trend of ending major story arcs on mid-season finales.
Glen Mazzara would remain the showrunner, but this would be his last season. Why he changed the pacing, we might not know, but it’s easy to theorize the negative response to Season Two caused him to swing too far the other way, from sluggish to frantic.
Sadly, Season Three proved Mazzara continued to have trouble adapting the material, which may have been one reason this would be his last.
Season Three’s timeline was jumbled because of two issues: simultaneous stories and the decision to introduce Woodbury early.
Unlike the TV show, the Governor wasn’t the first focus of the Prison storyline. Woodbury would not be encountered for another twelve comic issues (two whole volumes).
This storyline in the comics would start about eight months after the outbreak, with weeks focused on cleaning the facility, interacting with the prisoners, and tons of drama (and death).
The first encounter with Woodbury wouldn’t occur until over a month after discovering the Prison. Even then, the Governor wouldn’t find (and attack) the Prison until another month or two after the initial fight at Woodbury.
The TV show, instead, splits the series between two simultaneous plots happening almost a year after the apocalypse. Everything in the TV show happens over several weeks, unlike in the comics, which occur over several months.
By Season Three’s finale, the two timelines have caught up somewhat, with the similar comic issue sitting around 10-11 months after the outbreak. Unfortunately, the story arcs are out-of-sync, as the season ends before the tale of the Governor is completed.
This choice to run two simultaneous stories, which technically covered comic issues 13-44 (Vols. 3-7 and part of Vol. 8: Made to Suffer), created a new slew of pacing problems.
Season Three rushed (and outright skipped) comic arcs, barreling headfirst into the conflict with Woodbury and then dragging it out for much of the season. The writers also inexplicably shifted the final confrontation with the Governor until the mid-season finale of Season Four.
Far too much time was spent on the drama at Woodbury, specifically around Andrea and Michonne and building up the Governor. While a fascinating character (with his own novels), portrayed by a great actor, they could have easily saved him for Season Four and wrapped everything much cleaner.
Instead, the showrunner and writers decided to shift so much from the comics, from characters to plot points, to push the Woodbury story as fast as they could. In the end, they screwed major characters over and had to finish up loose ends a half-season later.
Season Three would have so many changes that the characters would not only be different than their comic counterparts, their entire fates would shift.
Carol would continue to develop into the TV version we loved, with Sophia a distant memory. This shift was one of the best, as Comic Carol, who’d struggled with relationships, ended up committing suicide by walker, leaving Sophia to be adopted by Glenn and Maggie.
TV Andrea, however, would finish her downward spiral away from her hardcore counterpart into a sad mishmash of bad choices. She’d continue her poor relationships, conscientiously ignoring the worst around her, and then die because of her foolish attempts at diplomacy.
Tyreese would be less competitive toward Rick, and they’d replace his daughter (and her boyfriend) with his sister Sasha. Luckily, being introduced so much later, we would have more time for both characters to develop on the show until Tyrese would fall victim to the dreaded “revolving door” issue.
On the other hand, Allen’s family would only reflect their comic versions in their names. Instead of an average family (like the Martinez’s) that faces loss over time, TV’s Donna would die within one episode, a single teenage son would replace their 5-year-old twins, and everyone would be unceremoniously killed in the finale.
Comic Michonne suffered notable mental illness, behaved as a loner (like TV’s Daryl), and was involved in unhealthy relationships. Danai Gurira’s version was also traumatized but showed much more control and concern over people and didn’t develop romantic interests until much later.
The prisoners would have minor changes, but they were all killed so fast that few had a chance to notice. Similarly, many Woodbury names would be familiar, but the various supporting and background cast didn’t matter.
More importantly, the death of other characters (beyond Andrea) at different times compared to their counterparts played a more notable role.
TV Lori would die early in childbirth, and Judith would live on; TV Hershel would replace Dale’s role in the comics, both as a successful amputee and as the wiser voice behind Rick. In the comics, all of them, as well as Patricia (still alive after the Farm) and Billy (Maggie’s comic brother), would die in the final assault by the Governor (an event delayed until Season Four).
As already mentioned, the story in the comics varied significantly due to the glossing over of two whole volumes and the decision to head straight into Woodbury.
The Prison in the comics was initially hope shattered by drama and trauma without ever meeting the Governor. People die from suicides, failed amputations, and a serial killer, leading to conflict between Rick’s crew and the prisoners as well as Rick and Tyreese (over leadership).
Once the group encounters Woodbury, one positive change is how the initial conflict with the Governor is handled. The original material, containing rape and mutilation, would barely meet premium cable channel standards. (Read the Comics!)
Not including the comics version of those events was an intelligent choice for television. That being said, it made it harder to portray just how far gone the Governor was and why Michonne reacted to him with that much hatred.
The worst story change, however, was to end the season on the failure of Woodbury’s first assault. The TV Governor murders his army (for no apparent reason), disappears until Season Four, has a supposed “retribution arc,” and finishes Season Four with another attack on the Prison.
Comic Governor made much more sense, as he was in a coma and didn’t know where the Prison was. Once he awoke and found it, the two assaults would occur within a couple of days of each other.
Again, the pacing wasn’t much better, skipping over tons of solid content only to drag on the Woodbury storyline for much of the season, ending with the Governor’s first assault making little sense.
When we return, we’ll look at Season Four, when a new showrunner attempts to fix the changes, to mixed results.