As we wrap up the final episodes of The Walking Dead, we continue to look back at how the comic was adapted to the screen.
Last time, we discussed Season Five, when the showrunners blew past an overhyped Terminus and pushed the protagonists northward to Alexandria. The season was wasted on the made-for-TV Hospital arc and killed off popular characters, but it also set up a larger world and a new version of Morgan.
In this sixth article (of eleven), we discuss Season Six, which became closer to the original material and left audiences with one of the most distressing cliffhangers.
At this point, Gimple was known for adapting the comics well but also for putting in unnecessary shock value.
Season Six’s timeline starts a couple of months before the comics, still in the second year since the outbreak. By the season finale, however, both would be much closer aligned.
Season Six again begins right after the Season Five finale, with the aftermath of the execution and the arrival of Morgan.
Episodes 1-9, including the Wolves and the herd, happen in a single week before jumping forward to Jesus and the Hilltop a month or two later. The next couple of weeks is spent on the Hilltop, attacking the Saviors (or at least their outposts), until the dreaded first meeting with Negan.
The comics mirror the show, spending about a week dealing with the Comics Scavengers and a herd, but then there’s a considerable time jump of a few months before everyone encounters Jesus. Hilltop and Negan’s brutal introduction occur within the next week or two.
As the arcs pause on Negan and Lucille, both versions of the story are pretty close, set about two-thirds through the Year Two into the apocalypse.
From comic issues 78 – 90, the writers finish up Vol. 13 (Too Far Gone) and then rush through Vols. 14-15 in the first nine episodes. The remainder of the season adapts issues 91 – 100, covering Vol. 16 (A Larger World) and over half of Vol. 17 (Something to Fear).
There’s less filler and waste in Season Six, but Gimple and the writers still make questionable choices that affect the pacing.
Glenn’s fake-out “death” in Episode 3 felt completely unnecessary, especially since they knew they would end the season on the cliffhanger (and his actual demise next season). Like that finale, it seemed it was done for ratings and shock value rather than good storytelling.
Also, using the start of the herd for the mid-season finale, rather than the gory end (including Carl being shot), seemed a missed opportunity. Especially since they do a significant time jump between the mid-season premiere and its subsequent episode.
After Hilltop is introduced, the show spends too much time on “fake-out” Saviors until the big reveal at the end. As mentioned, while the Negan cliffhanger made people come back, it ticked off a lot of fans who would’ve preferred a more conclusive finale.
Overall, though, Season Six was less about pacing issues and more about how they used it.
Season Six introduced a slew of new characters, too many to mention, but with a few critical notes.
The Wolves were the show’s translation of the Comics’ Scavengers, but wildly different. Whereas the Scavengers were simply a local gang, taking (and murdering) others for their resources, the Wolves were much more feral and psychopathic, killing others because they’d lost any hope for humanity.
Ironically, the Wolves’ ideology would feel similar to later groups, including the TV Scavengers (unrelated to the comic version) and the Whisperers.
Most Alexandrians reflect their counterparts or fill in for them, with Enid and Nicholas the most standout differences.
As a made-for-TV character, Enid initially appears to be a possible relationship for Carl, replacing the long-dead Sophia. Nicholas, meanwhile, fulfills his comic role as an antagonist to Rick but seems much more cowardly than his counterpart.
Meanwhile, Jesus and the Hilltop remained pretty faithful to the source material.
Previously, we mentioned that TV Morgan is entirely different from his comic counterpart, with Season Six providing a flashback episode to explain what happened. The changes are much appreciated, especially as Comic Morgan dies from blood loss around this point, while his TV version lives on to become a fan favorite in two series.
TV Abraham, however, outlives his character counterpart, at least by a short bit. Comic Abraham is unceremoniously shot in the head by Dwight, a fate given to Denise, a made-for-TV Alexandrian.
Once the Saviors show, most are outposts full of background characters until Dwight is introduced and Negan in the finale.
As with previous seasons, the story in Season Six hits most major plot points:
- An outside group attacks Alexandria
- A herd breaks through, and multiple people die
- Rick and crew take over Alexandria, despite opposition
- Jesus meets everyone and introduces them to Hilltop
- Rick’s group begins to fight the Saviors, only to find themselves outmanned and captured
The initial plot points are slightly out-of-order, as the comics’ Scavengers are dealt with swiftly rather than the amount of time spent on the show’s Wolves. Once the herd breaks through, with the loss of multiple Alexandrians (including Rick’s love interest, Jessie), the story continues similarly to the comics.
Once more, if Season Five had focused exclusively on the journey to Alexandria, then Season Six should have been entirely about integrating into the community. Jesus would have been saved for the season finale, leaving hints of the larger world for Season Seven.
Season Six shows Gimple and the writers focusing more on comic accuracy, albeit now with cliffhangers meant to draw audiences. Although the lack of filler is appreciated, these shock moments and fake-outs were just as controversial among fans.
Despite still being off-arc for the mid-season finale, the pacing, story, and characters were the closest they’d been since Season One. Even with some made-for-TV characters filling in various roles (or fates), the show hit almost every beat expected by comic fans.
When we return, we’ll look at Season Seven, which received criticism over several choices, but introduced popular characters and ended on a massive, pleasing finale.