The past year was a perpetual hard-on for me as far as potential TV shows were concerned.
I’ve been reading Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard’s Walking Dead comic since some issue in the mid 30s - in other words, for about five or six years. I played catch-up reading the trade paperbacks, and being the collector I am, I’ve started seeking out and scooping up all the back issues I missed.
I’ve also been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for just about as long, impressed with the power of his “low fantasy” vision, the intricacies of the enormous plot, the depth and development of the characters. Plus, all the sex and violence are cool.
Imagine how giddy I was then, knowing that BOTH of these incredible stories would be adapted to the small screen, the first on AMC and the second on HBO - two networks that have blown me away in the past with original series which were NOT, in fact, adapted from material that I was already familiar with and in love with. Can you say Six Feet Under, Deadwood, and Breaking Bad?
Well, the first season of both have come and gone, and now the second season of Walking Dead looms before us. I am absolutely thrilled that Walking Dead starts again on Sunday, and you can bet I’ll be parked in front of the television with a beer in hand, ready to get my zombie scare on.
But I have to admit - Walking Dead has disappointed me. And if a certain thing doesn’t happen within the first couple of episodes of this season, AMC and the producers of the Walking Dead may lose me for a while, until they get back on track. Kirkman and Adlard won’t lose me buying the genius comic book, but, well, I’m a stickler for at least TRYING to stick to the source material, and in that regard, Game of Thrones gets an A- and Walking Dead gets a big, fat D.
SPOILER ALERT FROM HERE ON.
Now, I understand the difficulties in adapting a large work to the screen. In work that’s worthy of adaptation, there’s bound to be a lot of details that don’t translate well, or distract from the gist of what’s going on, or are so elaborate that they’re practically unfilmable. There are parts of The Greatest Adaptation Of All Time, AKA The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which were changed or left out altogether. Glorfindel and Arwen are NOT interchangeable. And who’s Tom Bombadil? Oh. Yeah. Him. As another example, think about how many decades of comic books Marvel and Walt Disney have truncated into roughly seven films as they adapt The Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, and Thor to the big screen.
HBO’s Game of Thrones did that… a little. But if you read the book from which the television series came, you’ll agree with me - not a whole lot was left out.
Walking Dead didn’t leave out a lot either. What they did, though, was even more egregious. You leave stuff out because it’s difficult to adapt. But why would you ADD stuff?
I know, I know - maybe they needed to flesh out a few things. In fact, Kirkman vowed while writing Walking Dead that he would never use the old comic book devices of the “thought balloon” and the “caption.” So whenever there’s a need for exposition, he does it through Adlard’s expressive art or through dialogue. Perhaps to get certain points across, the writers and producers of Walking Dead felt the need to “stretch things out”. And I’m okay with that to certain extent.
But the characters of T-Dog, Daryl, Jacqui, and Merle were unnecessary and superfluous. And the whole triangle between T-Dog, Daryl, and Merle just seemed so contrived to me - was it a commentary on race and racism, perhaps? I don’t know. It bothered me. It wasn’t in the comic book - THEY weren’t in the comic book, and I didn’t see the need for them in the TV show. Even so, I’m willing to forgive even that - it might have been bothersome and unnecessary, but there were some great moments in that particular story arc, however extraneous. And I’m still left wondering where the hell Merle is.
Go one step further and there’s the fourth episode, Vatos, in which the survivors encounter another group of survivors who are holed up in a nursing home in Atlanta. I can forgive THAT episode as well, chiefly because Kirkman himself wrote it - and he did promise there would be some nice surprises for those of us who “knew everything” already.
More unforgiveable was the last episode of season one - something that series developer Frank Darabont and the writers seemed to just pull out of their collective asses. You see, the comic book is approaching issue 90 as we speak, AND ROBERT KIRKMAN STILL HAS NOT GIVEN US EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CLUE AS TO WHAT CAUSED THE ZOMBIE OUTBREAK. We don’t know if it’s viral, if it’s manmade, if it’s Biblical.
And granted, in the television show, we don’t know any of that either. The difference is that in the comic, the survivors never went to the CDC or ever got to Washington D.C. - two goals that they sort of toyed with but got diverted from. So in the comic, we don’t know if ANYBODY knows what happened, or how. It’s all about just surviving it, whatever the cause.
In the last episode of the first season, the survivors made it into Atlanta and visited the CDC, and the producers shot a great big wad that they could have held onto for a long, long time. The characters went in, they found a CDC scientist who told them what he knew (which wasn’t much), and then the season ended explosively when the CDC’s defense mechanisms blew the entire complex to hell. So much potential for intrigue and guesswork and mystery, gone.
I THINK the writers and producers “went there” before they were absolutely sure the show would get picked up for a second season. I want to believe that. I want to believe that they were thinking in terms of giving viewers closure, should the show not make it past the first experiment. If I hold onto that, even if it’s not true, maybe even then I can forgive Walking Dead for diverging SO MUCH from the source material, so MANY times.
I cannot, however, forgive the fact that Shane is still alive.
You see, the season finale SHOULD have been the story arc wherein the titular character, Rick Grimes, gets confronted by his best friend, Shane, and finds out that Shane is over the edge, and pretty much as dangerous and deadly as the zombies in the next valley. In the comic - at the very end of the first trade paperback in fact - Shane ends up getting killed, and it tears Rick apart in so many ways. And it’s fucking brilliant.
In the TV show, we know that Shane is dangerous. We know a confrontation is coming. But it hasn’t yet, and the way the show has handled his continued existence makes me wonder if his demise will EVER happen, and if it does, whether or not it will be as powerful as it was in the comic book.
There are, of course, all sorts of defenses that AMC, Darabont, Kirkman, and the rest of them can put forth to defend Shane’s “extra life.”
“We didn’t feel Shane had reached his full potential.”
“Jon Bernthal (the actor who playes Shane) turned out to be too popular with viewers.”
“We couldn’t fit it in, because we had so much other material to cover.”
That last reason is bullshit, for the reasons I’ve already cited: leave that extra stuff out and give me Shane getting his brains blown out, please.
The other possible reasons, I will answer in two words, which will sum up once and for all why I am more satisfied with the HBO adaptation of Game of Thrones than I am the AMC adaptation of Walking Dead. Shane’s continued existence is unforgiveable, the reasons for said continuation are null and void, because…