Hey, here’s a funny one for you. It’s Monday morning, the day after the next-to-last episode of the second season of The Walking Dead aired on AMC, and I’m writing something about the show without having seen that episode. If you’re reading this AND you saw the show last night, you might have one on me - below, I’m gonna promise to watch at least the last two episode of this season, and you’ll know even before I do what my reaction’s gonna be. So read on and enjoy your little taste of foreknowledge.
The television adaptation of The Walking Dead has bothered me ever since the end of the 5th episode of season one, when the group of survivors went into Atlanta and walked into the CDC. At first, I thought my problems with the show extended from the fact that the show’s producers were deviating wildly from the plot of the comic book series, of which I’ve been a fan for maybe seven years. As the CDC story arc panned out and the season came to an end, I was a little irritated that Shane was still alive and that they’d gone into Atlanta as a group - two things that simply didn’t happen in the comic. You can see some of my thoughts on these topics in this review.
That said, I still found the show interesting, the characters compelling. And I trusted Bob Kirkman enough to wait him out. Even the comic goes through rough spots, but he always leaves me both devastated and satisfied.
By the time the second season started, I’d forgiven the deviation from the original. One thing I DON’T like is hater fan boys who turn their emo faux-intellectual noses up on anything that claims to draw from a source material they’re already familiar with, even if the adaptation is good. And… since I don’t care much for people like that, it concerned me that I was thinking in those terms.
Ordinarily, I don’t: I LIKED Zach Snyder’s Watchmen movie, even if it wasn’t as earth-shattering as Alan Moore’s original comic. As much as I like Philip K. Dick, I think the movie Blade Runner is waaaaay better than Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Also, as the Walking Dead survivors came across Hershel’s farm, with Shane somehow alive and no sign of the awesome comic book character of Tyrese ever showing up, I was still starting to become intrigued with the conflict Shane’s presence was creating. I started thinking, “You know, this is interesting. This is something that must have occurred to Kirkman AFTER he killed Shane off in the original. He’s exploring a ‘what if’ that he can never go back to in the comic, and he and the show’s producers and writers are doing a great job of it. This is pretty good, if not great, television.”
So I watched. I forgave some hambone, asinine scenes like “Glenn in the Well” and “Andrea’s Crotch Grab” and “Only Otis Knew Who Exactly Was in the Barn.” And the tension between Shane and Rick grew - exacerbated in good measure with Dale’s distrust of Shane and Hershel’s misguided authority over them all.
Now I’m 11 episodes in, and I grow weary, and I’m wondering why I’m increasingly less enamored by such a critically-acclaimed, highly regarded series. I went to Facebook last night, and there was a scatter-shot of “Holy crap!” and “That was intense!” and “OmiGod!” from my Facebook friends regarding the episode which had just aired. I’m sad, because I haven’t felt very excited by the show for the last three episodes.
Before writing this, I sat down for a while and tried to figure out why, and I think I’ve got it.
It has nothing to do with the deviation from the original, although the deviation DOES contribute to what IS wrong. It has nothing to do with the occasionally shoddy writing. (What was up with that scene between Carl and the stuck zombie last week? Carl’s not stupid, and they’ve been teaching him how to hold a gun.)
Very simply, it’s this: with only two ironic exceptions, I don’t LIKE any of the characters very much. And in a character drama - which is what The Walking Dead essentially is - that’s a problem.
Specifically, I think they’re all coming across as weak, or if they ARE strong, as douchebags. I KNOW I’m not supposed to like Shane, but I’m tired of not liking him - I want his soulless evil to come to a head, please. And I want him to die when it does.
Trouble is, I also think Carl’s a bit of a douchbag, too. As is Andrea, and in a weird sort of way, Carol.
On the flipside, there are the weak characters. Lori Grimes is little more than wasted space. Maggie’s fun to look at, but she hasn’t done much beside give Glenn grief. Hershel’s other family are non-entities whom I assure you will eventually get killed. As for Glenn and Hershel, well, think about it: Glenn was the brave go-to guy when they needed runs into Atlanta, but he’s freaked out by runs into the sleepy town near Hershel’s farm? Three episodes ago, Hershel was a patriarch of strong convictions and resolve, but now he’s deferring to Rick and soaking his sorrows in booze? Really?
And Dale. Well, Dale’s a whiny bitch, and if he were really concerned about Shane’s evil, he would have put a bullet into Shane’s chest and been done with it. Except he’s a whiny bitch and couldn’t.
And finally, there’s Rick. For those of you who haven’t been with Bob Kirkman and his character of Rick Grimes for seven years, let me tell you - the conflicts Rick feels WITHIN himself are essential to what makes The Walking Dead comic book work, and some combination of Andrew Lincoln’s inability to convey those conflicts effectively as an actor, as well as the hit or miss material he’s been given to work with, leaves something to be desired.
In fact, all of the acting, though initially powerful, has become - in a word - tedious. You could make a drinking game out of it. You have to drink every time Rick looks off into the distance as if considering something important. Drink every time Shane turns his head away in that certain manner he uses and says something despicably profound. Drink every time Carol tears up. Drink every time Glenn gets that hang-dog look on his face. Drink every time Andrea does something with a pistol besides shoot it. Drink every time Dale flares his hairy-ass nostrils and starts to pontificate.
The only characters I’m not tired of are T-Dog and Daryl. And here’s some irony (or IronE if you know what I mean): they aren’t even characters in the comic series. They’re new. They’re deviations. And I still like them.
Which brings me to part of WHY I think my displeasure in the show is stronger than other people’s, and why people who haven’t read the comic might not feel the growing disdain I feel with the TV show personas. You see, in the comic book, I LOVE these characters. I’ve already said that Rick’s internal conflicts drive the book. It’s powerful stuff, and I don’t think it’s as evident in the show.
Additionally, there are things going on with Carl in the comics which would blow your mind - and they’re only hinted at in the show. Andrea is a BADASS without being such a bitch. Dale is still a conscientious guy, but he has a backbone and a heart of gold that makes you love him. Glenn is essentially the Glenn of the first season, without all the worry. He’s also funny.
And Shane is dead.
I’ve decided that I’m going to watch the last two episodes of this season despite my misgivings, and I’ll keep watching next season if these last two episodes can convince me to like even ONE of the characters I don’t like now (or at least kills a few of them). Like I said, you might already know if this is the case or not, based on last night.
I’ll probably watch that episode either tonight or tomorrow, and I’ll let you know.
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…