Great Adaptations: The Walking Dead (A Continuing Story of Survival Horror)

Before we begin, I’m sure there are a few people out there who will say that The Walking Dead TV series is crap. I know it’s from people who love the comic dearly, hell I love the comic dearly. My origins with The Walking Dead are with the TV series. I had no clue it was a graphic novel, even after it scrolled across the screen that it was. I picked up the graphic novel a couple of weeks ago and ripped through it last weekend, I loved it, so much that I got the second volume and will most likely get the subsequent volumes. One thing I think most people don’t realize is that Robert Kirkman was on the set of the show everyday and he approves.

The slogan of AMC (funny, my employer’s acronym is also AMC) is that “Story Matters Here,” and while I do believe that they bring you great stories, I think their specialty is more character driven drama. I’ve always thought the slogan for USA Network would fit better there which is “Characters Welcome.”

The Walking Dead is a character driven graphic novel. To be honest, I haven’t been thrilled with zombie literature as of late. It’s not that its all bad, it’s just that same old song and dance, shoot the zombies in the head and put em down. I think props at least should be given to the writers of zombie literature, they haven’t changed them that much and they sure as shit don’t have glitter on them. (Live free or Twi-hard i guess?) If there are three pieces of literature that I can recommend to come out of the zombie explosion its Max Brooks’ World War Z, Zombie Haiku by Ryan Mecum (yes its a zombie narrative told in haiku’s), and finally The Walking Dead.

For those that love graphic novels, the first omnibus of The Walking Dead (hardcover) is approximately 300 pages. The series was created by Robert Kirkman and has been running since 2003 which amounts to about 84 issues.

The comic opens with a shoot out that takes up just one page, and then on the next page you’re looking at Rick Grimes waking up in a hospital. An abandoned hospital. Well, mostly abandoned. Upon searching the hospital, he finds that there are some dead people walking around. That’s right…I said dead people. After said chance encounter he makes his way out of the hospital and heads towards home, on the way he acquires a bike and in doing so, he see’s a dead woman…she’s been mangled all to hell (I mean she is doesn’t have any flesh or muscle to speak of). The human dilemma sets in. She can’t defend herself, all she can do is try to make her way towards Rick which she can’t really do, she needs the flesh and will do whatever she can to get it, which isn’t really much. Rick makes his way home to find the place abandoned, much like most of the city.

A whack of the head later Rick wakes up again in his next door neighbor’s home, which has squatters, Morgan and Duane. They’ve been hold up since this epidemic started. After hospitality is exchanged, they make their way to the local police station, stock up on guns, and part ways.

On the drive back, Rick finds that zombie he first encountered and doing the humane thing he puts the zombie down, with a tear in his eye. If you’ve think you’ve seen it all with zombies, you haven’t seen anything like this. We rarely see things from the human perspective where zombies are concerned. I mean, in all the movies, you never think “hey, that’s a human.” The idea is so simple and I’m surprised it hasn’t really been explored in depth before. You get the sense that the characters are struggling with this idea of these zombies and their human connection.

Rick eventually learns that Atlanta is a place that the government was urging people to go. Gassed up, he heads in that direction, well as far as the gas will bring him. He stops by a residence, hoping there are people at home to snag some gas from, but unfortunately they’re not living to give a response or gas. They do happen to have a horse and on horseback is how Rick rides into town, like an old Eastwood film. Unfortunately, Atlanta doesn’t turn out to be all its cracked up to be and is overrun by the walking dead.

When all seems lost, Rick is pulled out of the mayhem by Glenn, an Asian guy? Yeah, seems strange, but he is rescued and brought to a camp, where he is reunited with the family he thought he lost. I’m not going to spoil it all for you, especially given how much they actually covered in the Television show.

Frank Darabont had the idea to do the show (I know what you’re thinking…I’m writing about this Darabont guy again) after stopping in his local comic shop and picking up The Walking Dead. He has been on record as saying that he didn’t want to recreate the comic, but wanted to give it a fresh take.

Conveniently the series debuted on Halloween of last year and has produced which I firmly think is the best pilot I’ve ever seen. The opening scene shows you what you’re getting into, when Rick Grimes shoots a zombie child in the head. The show pulls no punches, and hits straight to the heart of the matter at hand. It’s survival vs. the human dilemma.

As I’ve said before, Frank Darabont is great at flushing out characters. He sets up Rick Grimes as a man who is supremely devoted to his job and willing to save people over his own family. You can see why his wife is so unhappy with him, but at the same time you can’t feel negatively toward him. He’s trying to do the right thing, and that’s what matters to him. The Pilot is taken directly from the comic book. With a few additions.

When we encounter the characters of Morgan and Duane, they are radically different than when we see them in the graphic novel. Here, they are acting more like characters in a zombie situation, paranoid of Rick showing up in town. There are times, in the graphic novel where the actions of the characters don’t seem to match the setting, but Darabont explores that and puts it into better perspective. Like, in the graphic novel, Grimes is struck on the head by Duane, but before he’s brought inside, Morgan tries to get info as to how he got his gunshot wound, but not before he passes out.

He wakes up, and upon joining the dinner table, the exchange between them is almost like a hostage exchange. Neither one trusts the other, but Rick learns about what happened to the area in his month of being comatose. The TV series also addresses the fact that the comic doesn’t name these zombies, here they are “walkers,” a rather fitting title for what they do.

The series does depart tremendously from the graphic novels, you have new characters, new adventures (so to speak), but none of that takes away from the awe of the series. Darabont makes the living as dangerous as the dead. The character of Shane, who was killed very early on in the graphic novel, stays on to show just how dangerous the living can be. His anger, and the relationship that he had to abandon after Rick shows up at camp weighs on him. He beats on of the characters to death, and in one scene he has the urge to kill Rick while they are out hunting in the woods.

The series parts greatly in the last two episodes of the season. The group goes to find the CDC in Atlanta, and they find that there is one man held up there, Dr. Edwin Jenner. He has been trying to solve the problem alone, but we find out that he’s running out of time and has given up all hope. In essence, he is humanity at its weakest and the greatest villian so far in the series (it gets better, wait for the Governor).

The cast of The Walking Dead was brilliantly put together, so much so that if you look in the graphic novel and hold it up to the characters on the screen, they look strikingly similar. Andrew Lincoln, cast as Rick, was a perfect choice and stands out for his role. All the casting is brilliant including Jon Bernthal as Shane, Sarah Wayne Callies as Lori, and Jeffery DeMunn as Dale.

If you’re apprehensive about the comics or the TV series, don’t be because they’re both brilliant. This deserves your attention for sure.

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