The Walking Dead: Why Hershel's Story Confounds Expectations

The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of AMC's The Walking Dead, as well as for The Walking Dead comic books, albeit comics that are many years old.

Much of this week's episode, titled "Sick," centered around the Greene family patriarch, Hershel, who was bitten by a lurking zombie while attempting to clear the prison last in last week's season premiere. Hershel's story on TV has been somewhat changed from the comic in a number of minor ways, but this that development took story elements directly from one character and applied them to Hershel.

This week did it again, this time to a character that died early last year and whose story didn't finish the same way his comic book counterpart's did.

What does it all mean? We took a little stroll down memory lane to try and figure out why it is that Hershel Greene seems to be an extremely lucky man.

Of course, maybe it's Scott Wilson who's lucky; producers have said in the past that his character was meant to have died during season two but that they chose to keep him around, in no small part because of what Wilson brought to the table. The result has been that Hershel's family saga has been one of the driving forces in a number of the series's episodes, including this week's, and it nicely offsets Rick's rather dysfunctional family dynamic.

In any event, Wilson's character woke up this week, and appears to be headed for a recovery from his injuries, which is even more impressive than it seems.

While it IS possible to save someone from becoming a zombie, according to the comics, by amputating the limb that's been bitten in a timely fashion, it is of course nothing that ever happened to Hershel. In fact, he was never bitten in the comics at all, and only died when, having given up on life, he essentially sat in one place and waited for The Governor to kill him. This happened following the death of his son Billy, a character who does not exist in the TV series.

Almost the exact same scenario--a lurking walker that came out of nowhere to bite someone's leg in the prison, after which it was amputated to save them--happened to Allen in the comic books. After blood loss and infection set in, Allen died in his sleep, but there was nobody there to save him with CPR. Rather, he died and was killed before reanimating.

(Of course, when someone suggested cauterizing Hershel's wounds in the TV series, it was met with the response that to do so would likely hurt more than it would help, sending his body into shock. Since Hershel himself cauterized Allen's wounds, perhaps it can be argued that his rudimentary grasp of medicine hurt more than it helped in that instance.)

Allen is a character who never appeared in the television series, and therefore whose wife and kids didn't either. That's a big chunk of story gone, but it appears that at least one element of that story--the way he was bitten--was cool and/or important enough for Kirkman and friends to retain.

As a side note, I suspect that his absence has more to do with having children than anything else, for the same reason it seems possible Sophia died last season: child actors have notoriously difficult laws and regulations to work around, and while you can't get rid of Carl, he's really the only one who's absolutely necessary from a story point of view. It's possible the producers just figured it was better not to have kids be a major presence in the TV series for that reason.

Of course, the other person to be amputated following a bite--Dale--survived the experience and lived for a while after Hershel himself (who conducted the amputation) was gone.

Dale, of course, acted as something of a father figure to the group in the series and while he was not the head of the family, per se, he still offered Rick valuable input and advice in a number of important times. It's arguable that, with Dale having been killed early and Hershel seeming to hold himself together a bit better on the AMC show in the face of his gutting losses, elements of Dale's character have been translated onto Hershel, potentially offering him a longer lease on life in the show.

All of this contributes to the often-repeated truism that things you expect from the comics cannot necessarily be considered a foregone conclusion on the show. Hershel, with a freshly-amputated leg, seems a poor candidate to go out and fight the Woodbury troops when and if they show up at the prison door, and without Billy there to fight alongside, he has no particular reason to do so. That might mean that he will avoid the bloodbath the Governor brings with him, and end up a surprise castmember in the recently-announced fourth season of the show.

Only time will tell--the hour of his death (in the comics) has not yet come, and is not widely expected to take place until the season finale.