Gather ’round, kiddies.
Let me point something out right off the bat to fans of The Walking Dead television series that are impressed by the rate at which the show kills off its characters. In the above variant cover from the 100th issue of the comic series, the pile of bodies is made up entirely of former cast members. Let that sink in a minute.
While the show has had its ups and downs, alternately succeeding and failing in its various and numerous deviations from the original story, some of the best moments and tales from Rick Grimes’ journeys through the zombie apocalypse were simply skipped over altogether. In this article, I’m going to highlight a few of my favorites and walk you through the differences between the TV show and its source material. Naturally there will be spoilers, so if you’ve already decided to read the comic, I recommend skipping this informational article. Also, be aware that I’m going to feature some really disturbing images from the pages of The Walking Dead, so brace yourself.
Some of these storylines could potentially be used in part for future seasons of the television show, but as of now, with the show breaking completely from the comic by remaining at the prison and inviting in the citizens of Woodbury in, it seems unlikely we’ll see any of them soon. Some of them have been featured in part, but in a very different form due to some aspects just being too nasty and traumatizing to ever be shown on basic cable, even considering the impressive gore that the show gets past the censors. So, for fans of the television adaptation of The Walking Dead who maybe think that comics are for kids, here’s what you’ve been missing out on.
Fear the Hunters
Does anyone else imagine a Soft Cell song playing here?
In the comic, having escaped from the Governor’s slaughter at the prison, our heroes return to the wilderness where they are stalked by a group of unseen survivalists. As they rise one the morning, they find that one of the young children in the group, Ben, has killed his twin brother Billy.
Horrified at the sociopathic desensitization towards killing that the life they’ve been leading has fostered in Ben, the adults debate what can be done about the murderous child. Carl overhears and solves the problem in the night by secretly murdering Ben himself. Yes, THAT Carl.
Afterwards, a zombie attack leaves Dale bitten and he decides to sneak off in secret rather than subject his companions to his inevitable death and turning. But he doesn’t make it far before being knocked unconscious from behind.
Dale awakens that night to find his severed leg roasting over a fire with a group of survivors happily chowing down on it. Shit just got real. His awesome response is hysterical laughter before informing the confused hunters that he is infected. A vomit party ensues following the epic cannibal fail.
I’m pretty confident that Carl is not going to murder a small child in cold blood on basic cable and I’d be pretty surprised to find cannibalism depicted so explicitly either. I wouldn’t be shocked if some form of Fear the Hunters is eventually touched on for the show (with another character subbing for Dale, of course) but it certainly won’t be the same.
Ironic title: achieved.
In The Walking Dead comic, Tyreese was already part of the group and Hershel had a larger family, including twin granddaughters (pictured) when they took up residency in the prison. In this storyline, as in the show, there is a small group of convicts already living in the prison, and Rick’s people are not sure who among them to trust.
As they cooperate to clear out the prison, Tyreese’s daughter, Julie, and her boyfriend, Chris, lose their virginities to each other in what they promised would be their last act alive. Chris shoots Julie as part of a pact where they were going to shoot each other simultaneously and be together forever. But Julie doesn’t fire, leaving Chris sitting over her corpse as Tyreese arrives on the scene. Julie turns -the first of the survivors to come back without being bitten- and after Chris shoots her again, Tyreese strangles him to death.
At this point, Rick realizes that you don’t have to be bitten to come back and leaves on a solo road trip. His destination turns out to be the scene of Shane’s death, where Carl shot him as he attempted to murder Rick. Rick digs up Shane’s corpse, now a zombie, and puts one through his head out of respect for his former friend.
Back at the prison, Herschel’s granddaughters are found murdered with no witnesses. This does precious little to ease the building tension between the inmates and Rick’s people with no evidence as to the identity of the murderer. Eventually the killer reveals himself by attacking Andrea and slashing her face. She fights him off and flees before Rick comes on the scene and beats the culprit almost to death with his bare hands.
A lively debate on capital punishment ensues, but is made null after the prison’s resident bleeding heart, Patricia, frees the killer while telling him he’s not evil, just sick and in need of help. She gets choked for her trouble, Maggie shoots him, and the group throws his body outside of the fence for zombie chow.
The serial killer storyline could potentially be used in the upcoming season, but the players would obviously have to be mostly different at this point with most of them dead or nonexistent on the show. Plus this was a key aspect of the convict storyline, so the opportunity to do it right has passed. A suicide sex pact is possible, but seems unlikely, and the Shane bit is a definite impossibility at this point so it looks like this storyline is something that’s going to have to stay in the panels.
Fatherly affection: you’re doing it wrong.
This lengthy storyline went on for 4 full volumes in the comic and was the centerpiece of the third season of the show. But aside from a few general points, the two takes have little in common. I think that the differences in the events surrounding Woodbury and their psychotic leader, The Governor, really illustrate the differences between the television and comic book versions of The Walking Dead. The comic is Zombie Apocalypse: Hardcore Edition and the television is diet soft serve in comparison.
Rick, Glenn, and Michonne meet The Governor after following his people’s tracks from a helicopter crash site. Unlike in the show, he doesn’t carry on the charade of being a kind and benevolent leader for long, taking Rick’s hand off at the wrist in his initial interrogation while trying to get information about where his people are staying. Michonne reacts by going full Tyson and biting his ear off. She spends a good amount of time after that in The Governor’s dungeon being raped and tortured regularly within earshot of Glenn.
As these events play out, Carol becomes increasingly unstable. In the comic, she is a somewhat younger woman whose defining characteristic is her need for affection. She was together with Tyreese initially, but lost him when Michonne arrived. Her reaction was cutting her own wrists, and Carol is found bleeding but still alive in her cell with a traumatized Sophia (who is still alive in the comic series) cowering in the corner.
After her recovery, Carol began trying to insinuate herself into a plural marriage with Lori and Rick. Rejected by her best friends and looked down on for her attempted suicide, she seeks out the only person in the prison she knows won’t ever reject her, a zombie tied up in the yard for observational purposes. As it tears her throat open she exclaims “You do like me!” while her fellow survivors look on, horrified.
Back at Woodbury, The Governor decides that Michonne would make a great gladiator in his non-lethal zombie-ringed arena and offers her a reprieve from the rape and torture if she plays nice. Once in the arena, she immediately beheads her opponent and all of the zombies before being subdued. +10 to badass rating.
With some help from inside, Rick escapes and frees Michonne, who tells him she’ll be right behind him. She then seeks out The Governor and puts on one of the most cringe-inducing torture clinics in popular fiction. It was cute in the television show when she put his eye out with a pointy object. In the comic, she dug it out with a spoon. She also took his right arm off for good measure before fleeing.
Rick’s inside man accompanies him back to the prison before vanishing. Fearing he is going to report their location to The Governor, Rick rides him down and shoots him in cold blood as he attempts to explain that he was only going back to bring the good people from Woodbury to the prison. I didn’t believe him either.
After manipulating the people of Woodbury into believing they have to eliminate the “threat” at the prison, The Governor, apparently feeling backed up since he doesn’t have Michonne around to rape anymore, has his zombified daughter’s teeth removed so that he can make out with her. You know, just in case you hadn’t gotten the idea that the guy’s kind of sick.
Woodbury’s final assault on the prison plays out quite a bit differently than it did on the show. The first time around, The Governor showed up in a tank from a National Guard station, which he used to smash through the fence after Andrea’s wicked sniper skills prevented any other approach. But first, he made a show of chopping a captured Tyreese’s head off in full view of his friends. It took several chops.
The end result of the attack is the survivors fleeing for their lives as most of the cast is wiped out, including Lori (who survived childbirth in the comic) and her and Rick’s infant daughter in what is possibly the single most shocking image I ever laid eyes on in a comic book. The trigger woman was Lilly, who is not in the show, but was arguably in Telltale’s excellent The Walking Dead video game. Lilly, having just realized that The Governor was having them slaughter innocent people, turns her shotgun on him and Philip gets his.
I will eat a copy of every issue of the comic if “Little Asskicker” gets shotgunned on television.
So, while I can give props to The Walking Dead television show for featuring awesome gore and not being afraid to pull the trigger on almost any character, it’s still not in the comic’s league. The show is dark, but the comic is blackness itself. There is no possible light at the end of the tunnel there. Things constantly go from worse to worse, nothing is too horrible to show full panel, and no boundary of taste is uncrossable within those pages.
The television show never gives you the idea that there is no possible happy ending. The characters are typically pretty calm and react to any situation…well, like characters in a TV drama. In the comic, it could not be clearer that there will be no redemption for mankind, and this is the end of civilization in the true sense. The only way Rick’s people survive is by being even nastier and more driven than the psychopaths that assail them.
After seeing that you don’t need to be bitten to come back as a zombie, Rick has an epiphany in the comic. Readers had wrongly assumed that the title The Walking Dead referred to the zombies, but in fact it was the protagonists the whole time. Their lives as human beings were gone and buried, and it was inevitable that they would all die one by one and come back as mindless cannibals (if they weren’t shot in the head first) and everything they were doing by surviving was just delaying the inevitable. That shit is BLEAK, and it’s literally The Walking Dead‘s defining moment. That utter bleakness without a shred of hope is ultimately what separates the comic from not only the TV adaptation, but from the rest of popular fiction.