Three Degrees of ‘The Walking Dead’
Nothing can cripple the anticipation a storyline creates more than a spoiler. Luckily, the storylines of the comic, television show, and video game versions of The Walking Dead are different enough that you can get involved with one without spoiling another.
I was one of those people that got into The Walking Dead when AMC released this story of survival horror on TV. Yes, I’m sure comic book fans are giving the finger to this article after reading this, but it’s true. I got hooked into seeing Rick Grimes traverse a world overrun by zombies by seeing the live action version.
Then I started talking to friends about the show, because that’s what people do when they enjoy something: talk about it constantly while trying hypothesizing what will happen next and figuring out what it all means. One friend mentioned that I should start reading the comic by Robert Kirkman. My response? “I can’t do that, it’ll ruin the show for me.” Yeah, I said it. I was afraid of the book ruining the show. I’m not proud of it because it’s the opposite of everything I’ve held dear in the media. I took classes comparing novels to movie adaptations. It took me 10 years to see Robert Downey Jr. and Andrew McCarthy in Less Than Zero because I hadn’t yet read the book by Bret Easton Ellis. My friend respond, “No, dude, the comic and show are so different, spoilers are minor.”
Finally, in the middle of season 2 of AMC’s The Walking Dead, I bit the bullet and started reading the comic. The consensus? My friend was right. I was cautious at first, making sure that I didn’t read too far ahead. Now I’m at least a season ahead in the comics and going ahead as far as time allows. Sure, there are some things in the comic that I’m expecting to see in the show, but instead of knowing what will happen, now I’m anticipating how things will lead to these obvious moments, which isn’t so bad in the realms of spoilers.
The next step was playing The Walking Dead game by Telltale Games. I wasn’t sure if the game would try to push past the storylines of the comic and show, but decided to chance it. They did right by me so far.
Now I stand before you, ready to explain how all three developed themselves into separate story arcs that refer to each other without ruining each other.
And yes, these breakdowns CONTAIN SPOILERS. I will bracket such spoilers so that you can skip over them.
1st Degree: The Comic
In 2003, zombie survival horror was given new life when Image Comics launched Robert Kirkman’s series, The Walking Dead. The undead were given a voice in social commentary that had not been heard since George Romero’s undead trilogy of Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead. Yes, 28 Days Later was released, but that was only in 2002.
What Kirkman did in this series was inspiring, obviously. While a good, old-fashioned zombie-crushing spree is always fun, it doesn’t leave much else if you want to tell a story that will last more than 2 issues. Instead, Kirkman’s focus was not on the undead or why they were here, but how humanity copes with the apocalypse, both against the zombies and their own human nature of survival.
The series centers on former sheriff’s deputy Rick Grimes, as he awakens from a coma to find the world overrun by the undead. He finds his wife, son, and partner outside of Atlanta along with a whole group of survivors, and takes on the responsibility to lead them to safety, wherever that may be.
Through their travels, some leave the group to join the ranks of the walking dead, replaced by newcomers (and sometimes very “oldcomers”) with new decisions and weaknesses. Weaknesses, you ask? Yes, but not just physical weaknesses. How about the weakness involved in mandating a “You kill, you die” law when your son kills a human threat? How about the weakness of a person that succumbs to cannibalism when food is scarce? How about the weakness that fear thrives on to drive an army to attack a group of total strangers with malicious intent?
All of these complications and more are hidden in the pages of The Walking Dead, and I’ve only read up to where the group is invited into the Alexandria Safe Zone.
2nd Degree: The TV Show
In 2010, AMC brought Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead to television in a live-action horror drama with stars such as Andrew Lincoln, Laurie Holden, and Norman Reedus. Oddly enough, many of the actors and actresses were taken right out of the survival horror movie The Mist based on Stephen King’s horror novella.
While the basic storyline of the show has been lifted straight from Kirkman’s books, there are plenty of changes to make even the biggest fan of the comic to be left wondering what will happen next. Even if you think you know what will happen next, you really don’t know how or when, which is enough to keep spoiler hounds at bay.
The story also moves much slower in the show than in the book at times. The bonus is that characters are sculpted with more detail by live-action scenes instead of comic book panels. I’m not saying the book doesn’t have heart, but that heart is more easily picked up on in the show.
There are plenty of glaring differences between the book and the show. Right at the beginning, Carl kills Shane. The difference? Shane was still human when Carl shot him. Another difference is the replacement of Tyreese with Daryl Dixon, although at Season 3’s break, we see that Tyreese is indeed joining the group. Yes, that hammer-swinging NFL player who killed a gymnasium full of zombies by himself is making an appearance in the show!
Lori’s storyline is another major difference. Whereas she gives birth and is slaughtered along with her baby by The Governor and his minions in the comic, the show portrays her as dying during childbirth with the baby girl still alive.
3rd Degree: The Video Game
To call Telltale Games’ portrayal of The Walking Dead a video game isn’t exactly fair to either video games or comic books. Remember in Big when Tom Hanks has the idea of a comic book that interacts with the reader by allowing decisions to be made that would change the storyline? That idea is what Telltale Games has made a reality.
The game plays like Silent Hill, but in a less puzzling way. Beating the game is simple. Trying to stop playing the game over and over again because you want to change your decision to change the story is not so simple.
The game follows Lee Everett, a convicted murderer being transferred from Atlanta just when the zombie apocalypse begins. Befriending a little girl named Clementine, Lee braves this new world for the sake of survival, meeting others along the way. This can be considered a prequel in many ways, as we meet Glenn, who is singing his “Forever Alone” song like he was in season 1 of AMC’s The Walking Dead. However, we also meet Hershel, whose storyline is shattered compared to the Hershel we know from the book and show.
The story is as dramatic and heartfelt as the show itself, as Telltale Games made sure to cast some real actors to do the voice work for the cartoonish game. So dramatic, in fact, that I constantly went back to keep the character of Carley alive consantly. Yes, I was that invested in her and Lee’s relationship. Sadly, I failed, and also got a bit of dust in my eye at the end of the game. Or maybe I caught a whiff of onion.
Patrick Emmel has been a horror fanatic since he was 7 years old, when he was afraid to walk in ivy patches after seeing Carrie . You can see more of his work at www.theineptowl.com or heckle him on Twitter @Patrick_AE.
Patrick recently tried to figure out what Mama was about before actually seeing the film.–>