Spoiler Alert: I want to be absolutely clear here: This piece is going to be chock-full of spoilers. The Walking Dead comics spoilers, The Walking Dead TV show spoilers—spoilers of every description. If you don’t want to know what has happened to date in both the comic and the TV show, then you should stop reading right now.
Now then. Years ago, way back in 2013, we wrote a list of 20 significant differences between The Walking Dead comics and the TV series, but it’s now woefully out of date. As season 6 has just come to a thunderous conclusion, it’s the perfect time to update said list with the most significant changes from the page to the screen. As someone who’s read every page of the comic and seen every minute of the TV series, I’ll be your guide in pointing out the differences and opining on which medium handled each instance better.
Carol, as a character, has the single largest deviation in her comics arc to her television show character, and it’s odd in the sense that the rift doesn’t really develop until we find out that she was the one who killed prison residents Karen and David before burning their bodies to stop the spread of disease. Before this, Carol hews fairly closely to the meek former housewife she is in the comics, a much-younger victim of spousal abuse who tends to be dependent on others. She’s so dependent, in fact, that after breaking up with Tyreese in the prison, she attempts to insert herself into a three-person sexual relationship with Rick and Lori. After being rejected once again, she effectively commits suicide by allowing a zombie to bite her. Pretty damn different, right?
Perhaps it was the way that the show disposed of her daughter, Sophia—who doesn’t die in the comics—that snapped something in Carol? Either way, she transforms on the TV show from would-be homemaker to the absolute hardest, most pragmatic, most utilitarian member of the Grimes Gang, becoming an incredible character in the process. She saves the entire group from certain death in Terminus, routinely takes on men twice her size and lectures anyone who will listen on how hard one needs to become to survive this world. She’s literally the most dangerous member of the group.
Of course, at the same time, the second half of season 6 showed us that Carol was still capable of unraveling somewhat under the pressure and constant reminders of her sins. Her abandonment of the group and self-imposed exile brought her face to face with death in the season finale, but my feeling is she’ll pull through. Carol is too awesome to stay licked for long.
Yeah, this is the one that everyone is going to be talking about for the next few weeks, but I wanted to make sure it was below the fold—just trying to protect those last few people from spoilers.
The death of beloved Mr. Glenn Rhee is a pretty big turning point in the comics series; the moment when the greatest villain the group will ever face, Negan, finally shows his face and demonstrates just how coldly callous he can be. Unfortunately, in bringing this key scene to the screen, the show’s writers opted to cheaply tease viewers, ending season 6 on a maddening cliffhanger and leaving us to wonder which member of the group met their death at Lucille’s business end. For the second time, we’re left wondering if Glenn is still breathing, but this time, it will be a matter of months before we get any answers. One thing is clear: Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s Negan is a villain TV audiences are going to love to loathe.
The character of Beth Greene was more or less created by the TV writers from the whole cloth—unlike in many other cases, her personality and characteristics weren’t clearly based on a different comic character. Instead, she was made solely for TV. In the comics, Herschel has quite a few kids—Maggie, but also Shawn, Billy, Lacey, Rachel and Susie. All but Maggie are killed in one way or another by the time the group leaves the prison, along with Herschel himself.
Beth, on the other hand, sticks around for quite a while, forging a bond with fellow TV-only character Daryl before being abducted into an odd subplot focused around Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital. It’s a time-killing sequence that doesn’t show up in any fashion in the comics, but it serves to introduce another TV-only member of the Grimes Gang, Noah.
The character of Tyreese in the comic and the one we see in the TV show render them as almost entirely separate people who happen to share the same name and physical characteristics. As is often the case with the TV series, the writers took personality traits and events from elsewhere in the source material and applied them to Tyreese, leaving the audience unsure of what would happen to him.
In the comics, Tyreese plays a bigger role earlier on, being one of the first members to join the Grimes Gang. He becomes almost a co-leader with Rick, a right-hand-man who shares characteristics of both Daryl and pre-psychosis Shane in the TV series. He’s an amorous character, striking up a relationship with Carol before cheating on her with a just-arrived Michonne. After Carol kills herself and his daughter commits suicide, Tyreese hardens his heart in the war against the Governor, before being captured. He’s killed as one of the Governor’s most prominent victims, beheaded in front of the prison in the same manner as Herschel on the TV show.
The televised version of Tyreese, on the other hand, is significantly more empathetic and emotional. He doesn’t have a daughter; nor does he become romantically involved with one of the major cast members. Instead, he reacts to the horrors of the prison’s destruction by withdrawing somewhat. In the wandering period that follows, the “conscience of the group” role is thrust upon him, and predictably he dies fairly soon thereafter. Principled characters who refuse to kill rarely make it too long on The Walking Dead.
...and speaking of characters who refuse to kill; hey Morgan! As with Tyreese, the televised portrayal of Morgan shares little DNA with his comics character. He does play the important role of being the first person Rick meets in the post-apocalypse, and he does eventually rejoin the Grimes Gang in the comic, but he’s a much more meek, background character who never truly amounts to a terrible lot of significance. The whole philosophical, stick-wielding warrior monk/aikido enthusiast role is purely a product of the television show, which makes it difficult to tell what kind of role the writers envision for Morgan in the future. Now that he’s firmly broken his “no killing” rules while protecting Carol, though, we can presumably expect to see his philosophy seriously shaken.
The Governor gets a big introduction in the comics as the series’ first A-tier villain by taking something big away from Rick in the form of his severed right hand. It’s a very important moment for both Rick and the series, as the audience comes to the realization that the main character of this story has just become “handicapped,” ‘ala The Gunslinger’s maimed right hand in Stephen King’s The Drawing of the Three. Everything Rick manages to accomplish from this point out is all the more impressive for the fact that he’s got one less hand to do it.
On the TV show, it always seemed more doubtful that Rick’s character would undergo such a loss, given the difficulty of filming with a prosthetic stump for the entire rest of the series. Instead, that idea was seemingly passed on to Merle, who could appear in a much more limited fashion with his knife-hand before dying for good. For a moment or two in season 6, however, it almost seemed like a one-handed Rick might come to pass, as Rick badly cut/injured the hand while on the road, running from both walkers and The Wolves. Seeing as it apparently healed, though, it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever pull the trigger on this one.
Speaking of The Wolves—they’re a bit hard to get a handle on. No group of that particular name appears in the comics, although Alexandria is briefly threatened by an outside group who are simply referred to as either scavengers or “The Scavengers.” Regardless, The Scavengers hardly prove to be a legitimate threat, as a sharpshooting Andrea (still alive in the comics) blows most of them away before they can do any damage, and the Alexandria crew mops up the rest. In fact, the ease with which the Grimes Gang dispatches The Scavengers is probably a major part of why Rick is so overconfident in their chances facing The Saviors—he assumes his group has become so hardened that there’s nothing they can’t handle.
The Wolves of the TV series, on the other hand, are a nihilistic bunch who seem to believe that everyone needs to die. It’s hard to imagine how most of them survived as long as they have, but they certainly leave a substantial body count behind when they invade Alexandria and begin killing at will.
It was a curious decision to keep Judith alive on the TV show, rather than having her perish with Lori in the prison, as occurs in the comics. A baby of course cannot be terribly integral to the plot of a zombie drama, except as a constant distraction and source of danger, and Judith has since seen very little screen time—she just pops up once every handful of episodes for just long enough to remind us that “Oh yeah, Rick has another kid.” It will be interesting to see if the writers have any plans for her in the long run—if the TV series follows the comics arc and eventually moves the timeline forward by a few years, Judith could end up being like the Michelle Tanner of The Walking Dead. No, I’m not looking forward to that either.
No comics character got a worse translation to the screen in The Walking Dead than Andrea, not by a mile. In the comics, she’s one of the group’s O.G.s and has remained that way to this day, the ultimate hardboiled survivor and resident sniper extraordinaire of the Grimes Gang. She progresses through various relationships, always keeps a good head on her shoulders and eventually realizes that she and Rick are destined to be together because they share the will to never stop fighting. That, and she gets an amazing hat and poncho like a female version of Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name.
In the TV show, on the other hand, Andrea’s wishy washy personality made her instantly disliked by the fans, while her more appealing qualities were slowly and subtly grafted onto another character: Michonne. Whereas the comics version of Michonne always remains somewhat distant, even after being with the group for a very long time, Andrea’s ability to balance tenderness with a fighter’s instincts have instead landed with Michonne in the TV series. This naturally leads to a similar realization between Michonne and Rick, a natural and organic development of romance that occurs when they finally have a spare moment to consider the possibilities of live outside survival. From this point on, TV Michonne has essentially become comics Andrea.
Abraham has undergone a rather weird little metamorphosis over the course of season 6—he was always something of an oddball, but this season the writers kicked up the intensity of his goofiness and strange use of language to make him the coarse yin to Eugene’s awkward, mumbly yang. It seems like not an episode goes by without him coining a bizarre new Abrahamism regarding sex or bodily functions. By contrast, the Abraham of the comics series is much more businesslike and down to earth.
Denise, on the other hand—perhaps better known to readers of Paste reviews of The Walking Dead as “Dr. Oatmeal”—is of somewhat less storyline prominence in the comics than in the show. Unlike in the series, she’s not shown to be gay—her boyfriend is fellow Alexandrian Heath, rather than TV show character Tara—and she doesn’t really have many scenes with the survivors. The TV series ultimately crosses her DNA with Abraham when she’s killed by an arrow through the eye socket—exactly the same way that Abraham unexpectedly perishes in the comics. The question, of course, is what this means for the future of Abraham on the show. With his signature death now dispensed to someone else, he may stick around quite a bit longer than his comics counterpart.
Oh, Daryl. Daryl, Daryl Dixon. The Walking Dead TV series has played around with original characters whenever it sees fit, but it’s also established a trend through six seasons: The TV-only characters are almost always of less importance, or are easily disposed-of. Not so with Daryl.
Daryl Dixon is the exception to any of the show’s rules about original characters. He went on to become perhaps the most popular and well-liked member of the Grimes Gang, and he’s absorbed the characteristics of so many other characters from the comics that he’s a melange. There’s some Tyreese in him, and some Michonne. There’s some Shane and some Andrea. He must be a great tool to the writers, because he’s not bound to any kind of comics storyline—they can literally have him do whatever they want without someone crying foul. He remains a beloved part of The Walking Dead, even though his importance has seemed a bit less as of late. Now recovering from his gunshot wound at the hands of Dwight, his future is as uncertain as ever.
Remember when the gang spent a goodly portion of Season 2 hanging around Herschel’s farm, accomplishing nothing and occasionally searching for Carol’s lost daughter, Sophia? And then Rick blew her away when it turned out that she’d been shuffling around the barn as a walker that whole time? Well, it didn’t exactly go down that way in the comics.
In fact, not only did Sophia not die at the hands of a walker or Rick, she’s one of the few members of the original Atlanta group who hasn’t died in the comics at all. After the death of Carol, Sophia is adopted by Maggie and Glenn, and after Glenn’s death at the hands of Negan, she goes to live with her mother in the relative security of The Hilltop. Before that time, she essentially acts as Carl’s pre-puberty girlfriend, but they’re clearly too young to truly be interested in one another. In the comic’s current storyline, several years down the line, Sophia has matured into a young, seemingly well-adjusted teenager.
Deanna is the leader of Alexandria in the TV series, a former U.S. Congresswoman with an engineer husband who built the settlement’s walls. In the comics, there’s a gender inverse, as the former Congressman is Douglas Monroe. They receive somewhat different characterization—Deanna is more capable, sympathetic and likable, while Douglas projects some of the same negative, lecherous qualities as The Hilltop’s douchey leader, Gregory. Both are unfortunately somewhat naive about the realities of living in the zombie world, being relatively sheltered by the comforts of their community until the arrival of the Grimes Gang and the subsequent threats they face.
Also important: In the comics, it’s Douglas who is responsible for the loss of Carl’s eye and subsequent eyepatch. During the chaos of the horde breaching Alexandria’s walls (the same skirmish that proves fatal to Jessie and Sam), it’s a stray bullet from Douglas as the dead descend on him that takes down Carl.
The Walking Dead comic has, throughout its run, been a little bit more willing (or able) to confront societal taboos and how they might change in the post-apocalypse, and one of the most interesting ways is the romantic relationship between Andrea and Dale.
When we meet Andrea in the comics she’s only 25 years old, significantly younger than her TV depiction. Dale, meanwhile, is 68 years old, so the age gap between them is huge. But really, what does that matter in a world overrun by zombies? The two forge a connection that is unconventional but rock solid, persisting until Dale’s death, and Andrea doesn’t pursue another relationship for years afterward. It’s a relationship that AMC evidently thought the TV viewer wouldn’t be able to handle or accept, and that’s a shame. It would be good for the show to at some point consider the likelihood that unorthodox relationships would probably become quite common in this sort of setting.
The characters of Mika and Lissie on the TV adaptation of The Walking Dead directly channel the relationship of twins Billy and Ben in the comics, albeit in a different, time, place and temperament. Regardless, both pairs create one of the most devastating moments in each series.
In the comics, Billy and Ben are the twin sons of survivors named Allen and Donna, who both perish fairly early. Unofficially adopted by Andrea and Dale, they escape the downfall of the prison and go on the road with the group. However, it becomes apparent that Ben is a tiny psychopath when he butchers his twin brother, telling those who find him not to worry because he “didn’t hurt the brain,” and that Billy will be returning soon. As the group quarantines Ben and debates whether they can allow him to live, Carl takes matters into his own hands, sneaking into Ben’s tent to execute him in secret. Yes indeed, Carl Grimes is a hard, hard kid.
The TV series deftly reuses these themes with sisters Mika and Lizzie, making the interesting choice of making the elder sister the one suffering from apparent mental illness and an inability to healthily cope with her reality. Convinced that the walkers are “just different” and need help rather than violence, she kills her sister Mika and spouts the same line about not hurting the brain. The responsibility of putting her down falls to Carol rather than the reluctant Tyreese, which is just another step on Carol’s own road toward bitter post-apocalyptic pragmatism.
Jim Vorel is Paste’s news editor, and he’s been reading The Walking Dead since about 2006. You can follow him on Twitter.