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 Eight, which ended with the fall of the Saviors and the capture of Negan. With the primary conflict over, the show leaped forward to a new era.
In this ninth article (of eleven), we discuss Season Nine, which massively diverged from the comics’ timeline. Significant time jumps and losing most central comic protagonists would lead to strange decisions.
With Gimple gone, Angela Kang would take over for the final three seasons. The mood in the TV series changed significantly, seemingly less about shock value and more about character drama, although not always for the better.
While the show and comic were relatively in sync last season, the show would deviate widely during Season Nine.
The first episode begins well over a year after the Saviors’ defeat before leaping a month forward over the next few episodes. The TV show then jumps ahead six years, setting everything else between the 11th or 12th Year post-outbreak.
In contrast, the comics start around three years after the war, and its events (and remaining issues!) continue from that point. This massive change leaves the source material in the 6th Year, five to six years earlier than the show.
While this change doesn’t affect the overall story, this time jump places the main series after its spin-offs. Events in both Fear the Walking Dead and Walking Dead: World Beyond occurred before the final seasons of The Walking Dead!
From comic issues 127 – 144, the writers attempt to adapt Vols. 22 (A New Beginning) through 24 (Life and Death). Unfortunately, they burn through one central arc in a single episode and then waste half a season before getting to the main antagonists.
Kang’s choice to do a minor time jump for the first five episodes, just for more drama, and Rick’s shocking exit, dragged out the season’s big reveal. Many viewers were waiting for Magna’s Group and the Whisperers, which didn’t show until almost mid-season.
Instead, the show rushed through Maggie’s issues at Hilltop and filled the rest with made-for-TV plots and flashbacks. Once more, TV Oceanside takes up a chunk of the story, not to mention Anne/Jadis and the helicopter, which remain a mystery until later spin-offs.
While Season Nine would pick up the pace with the Whisperers’ arc, again, the showrunner and writers made the inexplicable decision not to end on the shocking warning the Whisperers left. Instead, they tacked on a filler finale that did little.
This choice to drag the series with added episodes would be even worse in the final two extended seasons.
Season Nine would be responsible for massive changes to the roster compared to the comics.
The most significant losses were Rick and Maggie, the central protagonists of the entire comic series. Both actors had their reasons, from family to opportunities and pay, but it still left enormous holes for the writers to fill.
Many viewers believed this was the end of the Walking Dead between Carl’s death and the disappearance of these two. How could you finish the comic stories after removing the main cast?
Episodes later, the showrunner would kill another significant character when Jesus was written off (despite his comic counterpart also living to the end of the series). This decision was even worse, considering the actor chose to leave because of the direction of his character.
We did receive Magna’s group later in the season, and the effect was similar to Abraham’s crew. They looked like their counterparts, even if there were some (welcome) changes, like changing Connie to being Deaf and Kelly being her sister (rather than boyfriend).
The biggest shock was the massive time jump to a 9-year-old Judith Grimes (long dead in the comics), who would fill a role similar to her departed brother. Henry, the adopted son of Carol and Ezekiel, would also take the place of several plot points for Carl, including a relationship with Lydia.
Daryl would also begin to take arcs intended for Michonne, who was a loner and recluse at this point in the comics.
Much of Season Nine was filled with made-for-TV or other characters fulfilling roles of missing or dead comic counterparts.
Alexandria would be run by a council, instead of Rick, with Michonne continuing to fill the role of Comics Andrea. Jesus would run Hilltop, instead of Comics Maggie, with Tara taking over after his death.
Both the Sanctuary and Kingdom would be lost during this season, despite both communities continuing in the comics (and Sanctuary having a significant role!). Meanwhile, Oceanside would continue to look nothing like the seaside town that first appeared at this point in the comics.
When the Whisperers arrive, they are very similar to their comic counterparts. Alpha is a perfect mirror of the source material, although Lydia is less strange, and Beta is introduced early.
The penultimate episode presents the shocking death of many characters, just like in the comics. The difference in who died, though, was notable.
In the comics, the critical characters killed are Ezekiel and a pregnant Rosita, leading to changes in the Kingdom and despair in Eugene. Meanwhile, the TV show would replace them with made-for-TV characters, like Tara, Enid, and Henry, the latter two ending their “fill-ins” for Sophia and Carl’s plots.
One positive of the changes in these deaths was that those killed by the Whisperers didn’t affect comic accuracy, unlike the rest of the season.
Season Nine would hit the major plot points, but reaching them took quite a while. Many things happened out-of-order and were confounded by filler.
The TV show starts with Gregory’s assassination attempt and is resolved in a single episode with his execution. In the comics, this didn’t happen until after Magna’s group was introduced and the Whisperers were encountered, taking place over several issues.
With this arc finished, and another time jump, major plot points returned:
- Magna’s group is rescued.
- A teenager’s life and conflicts at Hilltop.
- Scouts encounter the Whisperers.
- The Whisperers attack, and Lydia is captured
- The teenager develops a relationship with Lydia.
- Alpha introduces herself and demands Lydia back.
- The teenager follows them and gets into trouble.
- Alpha infiltrates the fair and creates a border of heads.
As mentioned, other characters fulfilled many points due to those missing or dead (e.g., Henry for the teenage Carl). In addition, with the loss of the Saviors and the Sanctuary, we’d lose out on major plot points in the final two seasons.
Also, as before, the showrunner and writers loved to add made-for-TV aspects that didn’t do much. The fight between Oceanside and the Saviors, the Highwaymen, and losing the Kingdom never occurred.
Season Nine could have gone so much better if they’d only done a single time jump and spent more time on character-building. A focus on the troubles of Magna’s group integrating into Alexandria, Henry getting into trouble at Hilltop, and building up Gregory’s plot against Maggie.
The mid-season finale should have been Gregory’s execution and the first reports of the Whisperers. That would leave the rest for the initial conflicts with Alpha and the season finale with the border of heads.
Season Nine had some of the most significant deviations from the comics, with the loss of central characters and a massive time jump. Kang would rush through one part (out of order) and then throw in filler plots.
We’d see Carl, Rick, Maggie, and Jesus’ roles filled by others after the loss of those characters. In later seasons, we’d only fully understand the ramifications of losing the Sanctuary, not to mention Dwight and Sherry.
Ultimately, we’d have a much happier “finale” that was still shocking but allowed us to keep two favorite characters alive until the final season: Ezekiel and Rosita. Unfortunately, the writers would ruin that ending by tacking on an unnecessary episode that did nothing but remove a key community.
When we return, we’ll look at Season Ten, which somehow expanded the number of episodes and still managed to rush some plot. Some of these changes were due to COVID, but no small amount was decisions made by those in charge.