The first season of The Walking Dead is over, but we can't help feeling a bit... disappointed. While we loved the series, it still felt like something was missing. Here are some scenes from the comic we wanted to see.
Spoilers for the first season of The Walking Dead, plus the comic book, below.
Let me state this outright, I do not think that Walking Dead is a bad show. In fact, I stand by my past praise for this series and continue to lob compliments at showrunner Frank Darabont. But when all was said and done, we still ended the first season feeling like it needed something else. The "it factor" that kept me up for two straight nights poring over the pages of Robert Kirkman's comic book was almost completely absent from the second half of the first season. So I cracked open Kirkman's seminal work one more time, to try and find what was missing from the show - and this is what I came up with.
A big character breaking point in the TV series was when Dale finds Shane contemplating shooting Rick. The knowing look on actor Jeffrey DeMunn's face says it all. Dale isn't just the "old man" of the group, he's a character bullshit bloodhound. His age has given him wisdom and the patience to observe rather than react. His character spends a lot of time in the comic trying to protect different characters from themselves. In fact he's the first survivor to warn Rick about the Bermuda love triangle he's about to enter:
In fact, further on down the road, he straight up tells Lori (spelled differently in the TV show than in the comic) that he knows everything and then begs Lori to keep her business private so she doesn't break up the group. Whether you agree with his actions, Dale is a catalyst for everybody else's personal introspection. Perhaps if we spent more time with this guy, we'd understand why he felt so close to Amy and Andrea. We never really got a feeling for why these three meant anything to each other. By the end of the series, it seems like Dale is strangely chasing after Andrea like a father figure. And let me just warn you now, if that's the angle they're going to keep working on these two, shit's about to get real weird real fast. I wish we could have spent more time with Dale, and less time with Merle.
Instead of "Wife Beater" and "Red Neck Racist," how about Donna, Alan and the Twins?
Speaking of new characters, I'm still trying to understand why four perfectly entertaining and interesting comic book characters were swapped out for collection of boring, "we've-seen-this-before" caricatures. Where were Donna, Alan and the twins?
The new collection of survivors added a lot of important serialized drama. We know it's important for a TV show to have mini-dramas in every episode to keep the audience engaged in the here and now. But why swap complex characters like Donna and Alan for characters that we've already seen 100 times elsewhere? Ed, the wife-beating jerk, was just that: a wife-beating jerk. T-Dog was merely a plot device for Merle to go full-blown racist, thus allowing Grimes to play the bad ass. And Jacqui wasn't even important enough to warrant a little speech from Dale when she decided to suicide herself at the CDC. These characters were nothing more than tiny bumps on the apocalyptic road, that filled time.
You know what's more interesting than the most cliched wife-beater in the history of Lifetime movies and a redneck who just HATES following the rules? A father that quits on life after watching his wife get eaten by zombies - but still has to raise two children. Or a slightly annoying old lady, who judges everyone under her breath. Alan and Donna are realistically flawed characters that caused us all to reflect on just how far we could be pushed until we gave in to our own grief. Plus, watching Donna grow more humane towards Andrea and Dale provided a little bit of character growth, even if it wasn't meant to last. Even Morales and his family were never fully utilized.
And finally, from a story logic standpoint, if I'm hitching my wagon onto a group of survivors after the end of the world, you can be damn sure I'm not hanging around a camp with the wife-beater or the racist jerk who may or may not murder someone. Screw the moral implications, these people are dangerous idiots. Rule number one of the apocalypse is, always look out for number one. And if my options were stay at a camp with the these dicks or head out on my own, I'll take the latter. Every. Damn. Time.
More Day-To-Day Survival
One of the joys of getting absorbed in post-apocalyptic entertainment is projecting yourself inside the situation. Wondering how you would get fuel, clean water, a shower and shelter is not only fascinating, it's fun. I myself have my own zombie contingency plan for New York City, and very rarely does it involve GOING BACK INTO THE ZOMBIE INFESTED CITY TO GET THE RACIST WHO RUINS EVERYTHING. Yeah, I know that this proves that Rick is hell-bent on sticking to his moral code, but the post-apocalyptic logic of it all was flawed. As boring as it may sound, watching people learn how to live again in a new world is highly entertaining and makes for fine late-night discussion on how you too would do the same. Kirkman spends a lot of time trying to set up a tiny society for the survivors. Even though we got to see a lot of this in the third episode, there was plenty of room for more level-headed planning.
Another interesting and important element of the comic was the slow burn of preparation. Pages and pages are dedicated to watching the survivors practice zombie offense and defense, or attempting to build a better zombie-killing weapons. Often times this got a little tedious, but when the shit hit the fan and certain members of the group are able to shoot their target square, it all comes together - quite nicely in fact.
Weapon training, in itself, also raised a lot of character drama. Case in point: in the comic, Lori is less than thrilled when Rick decides to teach Carl how to use a gun. But she isn't complaining when the camp gets attacked by walkers and it's Carl who saves her ass by shooting a Geek right between the undead eyes. In fact, Lori is pretty terrible with a gun in that exact moment, and it's Carl's moment to shine. It's a little victory that provides a lot of drama and a bit of logic. Plus there's the bonus of watching a small child pump bullets into a skull of something that used to be human.
The television survivors needed more time learning how to be survivors. They used to be teachers, mechanics and delivery drivers. They don't have the skills to last in this new world. It's entertaining to watch civilized people cast off the social norms they once held dear, in order to survive.
Jim's Back Story
While we all really enjoyed watching the actor, Andrew Rothenberg, have a complete meltdown while digging graves in 100 degree heat, too much time was spent on him possibly being some sort of psychic and not on the quiet hell that Jim had been living in. Jim, in the comic, is a quiet mystery. He doesn't say much, and he doesn't do much. Too many characters in the TV series lay it all out on the line much too early. There was something dangerously mysterious when Glenn told Rick Jim's backstory.
I wish we could have spent more time building Jim up as the time bomb he was truly meant to be. Perhaps if he was a bit more removed, this amazing line that he delivers in the series would have held more impact for me:
That's a lie. That's the biggest lie there is. I told that to my wife and my two boys. I said it 100 times. It didn't matter. They came out of nowhere. There were dozens of them. Just pulled 'em out of my hands. You know, the only reason I got away was 'cause the dead were too busy eating my family.
Instead, the only real things I remember about Jim were the "my body feels like glass" line and not his decision to turn zombie so he could be with his family again. In the show, it felt more like Jim was forced into accepting his fate (because the fever was so painful), as opposed to making the choice for himself.
Less Rapist Shane, More Idiotic Shane
Shane isn't supposed to be a likable character, but his descent into madness makes a whole lot more sense when his anger gets put on the slow burner. When Rick rejoins his family (both in the comic and on TV), the tension with Shane is palpable. But as the TV episodes went on, Shane went from being a conflicted friend and poor leader to a rapist psychotic. We're not sure what the reasoning for this attack was — did they want the audience to finally get on team Lori, or just truly hate Shane through-and-through? Either way, you could no longer feel sorry for Shane. In the book, Shane's fall is a bit slower. Shane casually hits on Lori with kindness, as opposed to the ultimatums he plops on her in the series.
Naturally he's constantly rebuffed in both, but you almost start to feel sad for the poor guy... until the crazy starts to pop out.
In the comic, by the time Shane is ready and willing to kill Rick and reclaim his role of group leader, you've spent days and nights watching him unravel. When things come to a head (in the books) and Shane punches Rick, causing Lori to scratch (not to protect herself but rather her husband) you feel his shame. Especially when the rest of the camp reacts. As opposed to be shocked and horrified by Shane's actions in the CDC. It's the difference between looking away, and peeking through your fingers. The TV assault on Lori went too far, and didn't even seem to break his psyche. Now I've lost all sort of sympathy for this goon.
Maybe it works better in the books, because the affair appears to be a one-time thing. In fact, just having Lori and Shane hook up only once also raises a lot of "how do people cope" scenarios and conversations. Either way it's more fun to feel for the villain than just blindly hate him.
Instead Of The CDC, Why Not The Wiltshire Estates?
While I don't fault The Walking Dead for going to the CDC, it was a logical action for a policeman to offer up. I do wish I could erase everything that happened in there. By transporting the survivors into this Lost-hatch-like haven, the show undid a lot of work the production crew did building this disaster world. Hours were spent watching sweaty and dirty actors look for some sort of escape, so the CDC was just too easy. I barely remember how awful the outside world is now. Why not utilize the Wiltshire Estates plot from the books?
It's a gated community that seems like an easy answer to all of their problems — that ends up being a deathtrap, much like the CDC but without the ridiculous countdown clock, fossil fuel quips, and over-explanatory rhetoric from Dr. Jenner.
Taking the gang inside the gated community would also have allowed for a bit more world-building. We could have seen how the end of the world changed the suburban life. You can't tell me that Frank Darabont wouldn't have had a field day playing with the perfect undead family metaphor possibilities!
More Mystery, Less Subject TS-19
Sadly, my biggest problem with the trip to the CDC was demystifying the zombie outbreak. Jenner basically spells it out that once the victim goes full zombie, they are no longer human. He even charts it out for those still confused, thus changing all the gray morality of Walking Dead to simple black and white. The geeks are no longer human, so we shouldn't feel bad about killing them any more. This also completely destroys Jim's interesting theory about reconnecting with zombie loved ones in zombie death. This also eliminates future plot possibilities on the farm with Hershel Greene (a character we haven't been introduced to on the show yet). Hershel is morally against killing the undead and keeps them inside his barn, which is a great risk for his family and other survivors. This plot could still be executed, but now the "what-if" debate is seemingly dead.
The TV series is slowly chipping away at the mystery behind the Geeks, something you're left in suspense about for months in the comic. And in turn, the show's taking away a lot of opportunities to form your own opinions about the end of the world. Learning about subject TS-19 wasn't important, it's not going to save any of the survivors' lives. It's just shoved in, so everyone would "understand" when Jenner decides to kill himself.
UPDATE: In conclusion, no one wants a shot-for-shot remake of the comic, that's dull. That all being said, there are 13 episodes in the second season, so hopefully there will be enough time for more juicy character drama.