Eager zombie fans don't have to wait much longer for the return of The Walking Dead. The second half of season six debuts Feb. 14 — and there might be some changes in store. The show, while still extremely popular, has hit a bit of a lull in recent seasons. It's failed to live up to the no-character-is-safe premise. However, The Walking Dead comic book creator — and the show's current executive producer — Robert Kirkman said he hopes to revitalize that element of the show in the latter half of season six.
"If you go too long a period with characters surviving and being safe, then you lose that element of, 'Oh my God, any of these characters could go at any moment,'" Kirkman said in an interview on Inside the Actors Studio. "That's a tremendously powerful engine that drives this whole thing and it is very emotional, but in comics it's me and the artist going, 'I guess those lines on the paper don't exist anymore. Oh, well.'"
Broadly, though, the TV adaptation has in many ways created an identity of its own, bringing together new elements of the graphic novel's basic concept, rather than taking the same character motifs and narrative structure. As such, watching the show and reading the comic book is a contrasting, unique experience for readers and viewers alike, with many notable differences between the two.
(Editor's note: Spoilers ahead for both the comic books and TV series.)
Characters have had big TV roles without a comic book counterpart. Fan love for The Walking Dead's emotionally complex, redneck badass Daryl Dixon (Norman Reedus) is understandable. He's one of the few remaining group members with a strong moral compass, with actual angel wings on the back of his jacket. He's certainly one of the show's best characters — the epitome of what makes a great television antihero — which makes it all the more surprising that he is not even based on a comic book character.
Daryl and his racist, misogynistic brother Merle (Michael Rooker) were created specifically for the show. While Merle is long dead, Daryl lives on, much to the delight of fans. He's become so popular, hardcore fans have universally agreed, "If Daryl dies, we riot."
Characters have died in different ways — sometimes in place of others. The show has taken iconic deaths straight from the comics, while basically swapping out the characters. Most notably, in season four, the Governor (David Morrissey) beheads Hershel (Scott Wilson) with a katana. The act is the same in the comics — but instead of killing Hershel, he kills Tyreese (Chad L. Coleman). Conversely, in the show, Tyreese goes on to survive the group's battles with the Governor, eventually dying prior to reaching Alexandria.
Moreover, with the incoming introduction of Negan — one of the comic book's most sadistic villains — into the TV series in the latter half of season six, readers are expecting to see the iconic death of Glenn Rhee (Steven Yeun). In the comics, Negan brutally beats Glenn to death with his barbed wire-laced baseball bat. However, given what the show has done in the past, it's quite possible that the victim will change.
Some major characters are still alive and well in the comics. Remember when Carol (Melissa McBride) was desperately searching for her daughter Sophia (Madison Lintz) in season two, only for the group to find that she turned into a zombie? In the comics, Sophia is still alive.
Similarly, Andrea (Laurie Holden) is killed off at the end of season three, but still lives in the comics. She becomes a love interest to Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln). In the show, Rick has yet to find a new love interest after the death of his wife, Lori (Sarah Wayne Callies), but the chemistry between Rick and newcomer Jessie (Alexandra Breckenridge) does have some potential.
Carol was really, really different — and died. TV show Carol has transformed into a badass. She's lethal, ruthless and, though she still holds some traces of humanity, she's very willing to kill anyone for the sake of the group's survival. Her character arc is the most extreme in the show, as in season one — like in the comics — she suffered at the hands of her abusive husband Ed (Adam Minarovich) before his death.
After his death, though, comic book Carol becomes very different from TV Carol. She becomes extremely flirtatious, at one point suggesting a threesome with Rick and Lori, and has a romantic involvement with Tyreese. She eventually dies when she discovers that Tyreese cheats on her, offering herself as sustenance for a zombie.
In the comics, the Governor was Latino — and chopped off Rick's hand. While the Governor's story arc in the show stays true to his brutality as its first main villain, he does stray away from the comic book adaptation in some respects. Notably, the comic version of the Governor is Latino, a seemingly unnecessary change to the show.
In the comics, though, it's evident from the get-go that the Governor is a maniacal leader, while the show's depiction shows a more subdued presence — one prone to bursts of aggression when provoked. In the show, David Morrissey brings a multilayered portrayal to the menacing villain.
However, another noteworthy change from the Governor's confrontations with the group is his first meeting with Rick. In the comics, when the two meet, the Governor chops off Rick's right hand — a huge moment in the comics that demonstrated the extent of the danger that all characters face, no matter how vital to the story they are. Meanwhile, TV Rick still has both of his hands, and there have been no suggestions that will change.
The comic books haven't tried to explain the origin of the outbreak. Season one ends with the group leaving the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having discovered small tidbits about the zombie apocalypse from the lone doctor left at the facility. However, he does not believe there is a cure, and the only important discovery Rick and the group learn is that when people die — unless they're shot in the head — they will transform and join the large group of infected zombies. Basically, everybody is "the walking dead."
That scene is TV-original; no such explanation exists in the comics.
The Walking Dead isn't as straightforward as other TV show adaptations. Game of Thrones, for example, is more true to its source material. Yet that's provided more opportunities to introduce new characters, change the arcs of others and offer insightful exposition. As a result, viewers can look forward to unexpected turns, knowing that what happens in the comics is certainly not guaranteed for the show.