The Walking Dead will continue to both stray and borrow from creator Robert Kirkman’s comic books amid the unique circumstances surrounding the television show, including the mid-season departures of Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes and Lauren Cohan’s Maggie Rhee.
“There’s a jump in the comics but you know we decided to go a little further ahead in time than the comics do,” showrunner Angela Kang said at PaleyFest in Los Angeles when explaining the six-year time jump that followed Rick’s disappearance, dwarfing the 24-month skip that separated All Out War and A New Beginning in the books.
“I kind of felt like, ‘Okay, we’re writing out Rick... how do we promise that there is so much more cool story to tell with all these amazing characters that we have on the show?’ So I thought it would be a really fun twist to jump that time at the end of his last episode.”
That jump significantly aged up Judith Grimes (Cailey Fleming), now 10-years-old, in part as a response to the death of brother Carl (Chandler Riggs). In the books, it’s Judith who died long ago, while Carl acts as an integral part of the Whisperers storyline: there he finds a girlfriend in the daughter of Whisperer leader Alpha, a plot now unfolding in the show between Lydia (Cassady McClincy) and show-only creation Henry (Matt Lintz).
With these changes come such hefty deviations as the death of Jesus (Tom Payne), who is still counted among the living in Kirkman’s monthly comic, as the first victim of the Whisperers. Though both iterations of The Walking Dead share little resemblance in light of recent events — Rick, Carl, and Maggie continue to play key roles in the books — beats often play out the same in the show, including a coming plot twist that acts as one of the television series’ most powerful page-to-screen translations.
“We’re all so inspired by the comics,” Kang added. “Kirkman is such a master of the page-turner. You read it and it’s like a juicy, juicy, just fun comic book to read. There’s so many wonderful, iconic moments in the comics. Moments you get to and just say, ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe he just did that. I have to see this on screen!’ As writers, as with any fans of the comics, we have those same responses. But with the show we have such a different array of characters and such different circumstances that it’s never going to be exactly the comic, nor should it be. It’s a different medium.”
Two of its leading characters now driving much of the action belong to that same group of deviations: Norman Reedus’ Daryl was created exclusively for the show while Melissa McBride’s Carol was wildly different in the comic books, where she died relatively early into its run.
The writers then don’t feel beholden by the source material, but instead interpret Kirkman’s works for their own medium. “So what’s really fun is to go, here’s that amazing moment in the comic and here’s how it made us feel,” Kang said. “Now, how do we capture that feeling, even if the way you get to it is not literally the same way that the comic book got to it?”
The Walking Dead airs Sundays at 9/8c on AMC.
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