Warning: This post contains significant spoilers for both The Walking Dead TV show and comic.
Most people who watch The Walking Dead are aware of the comic series the show is based on. Although they share the same name, it may come as a surprise to learn just how drastically different they are from one another. Unlike Game of Thrones, another popular book-to-TV adaptation that pretty closely follows its source material (at least for the first few seasons), The Walking Dead is, for all intents purposes, a very loose adaptation. Invented characters, changes in personalities, and even entire plots that never happened are just a few of the ways The Walking Dead has changed things up in its conversion to the screen. There are a ton of changes that could be discussed, but the following 10 stand out as the most noteworthy.
10. Michonne’s Lack of Personality
Katana-wielding Michonne is infamous for being a frustratingly stoic character on the show who took forever to open up to anyone. Admittedly, she became a much more interesting character sometime in season 4, but anyone who read the comics up to that point were likely surprised, and a little perturbed, by Michonne’s characterization. In the comics, Michonne has much more personality from the get-go, to the point where she actively pursues a relationship with Tyreese — a development that is not depicted on the show. Fortunately, Michonne is awesome in both mediums, so at least that aspect of her character survived the translation from comic to TV.
9. Shane’s Death
Who could forget Rick’s former best friend and eventual homicidal maniac Shane Walsh. Fantastically portrayed by Jon Berenthal, Shane was the main antagonist of season 2 until he was gunned down by a reluctant Rick in order to secure the safety of the other survivors. Shane died in very similar circumstances in the comic, but did so much, much earlier — before the group even leaves the outskirts of Atlanta, in fact. While this plot made sense in the context of the comic’s story, keeping Shane around allowed the show to delve further into his tortured psyche and draw out his descent into evil. Coincidentally, keeping Shane around was one of the only things that helped make the notoriously lackluster second season bearable!
8. Sophia’s Death
Poor Sophia. Carol’s daughter was the tragic victim of zombification in season 2 (and also the focus of an excruciatingly long search that took up multiple episodes with barely any resolution). Depicting a child character’s death is always shocking and have the group wrestle with the trauma of being forced to execute the little girl was an excellent source of drama for the series. It comes as quite a surprise then to learn that Sophia not only doesn’t die this way in the comics, but doesn’t die at all! In fact, Sophia outlives most of the original characters, including her own mother. In addition, Sophia is also romantically tied to Carl, which, to be fair, probably would have played out on the show too if she survived.
7. Lori’s Death
In both the comics and TV series, Lori Grimes dies at the prison, but the circumstances of her death vary significantly. In the show, Lori dies while giving birth to her daughter Judith, forcing Carl to finish her off before she turns into a walker. In contrast, Lori survives giving birth to Judith and is killed later on while trying to escape from The Governor’s forces. Of course, this is still The Walking Dead, so her death is just as tragic. Lori is shot in the back and falls on top of Judith, killing both mother and daughter in the process. While comic Lori arguably has the more tragic end, her death was a pivotal event in both mediums.
6. Rick’s Right Hand
Group leader and former Sheriff Rick Grimes relies on the use of both of his hands to protect his group and fight off Walkers, as most people would. It may come as a shock then to learn that in the comics, Rick loses his right hand fairly early in the story. After discovering Woodbury, The Governor cuts off Rick’s hand for lying to him, which irrevocably changes Rick from that point forward. The show’s writing staff decided not to adapt this element of Rick’s story, more for practical purposes than anything. According to Kirkman, it would just be too impractical and difficult to have Andrew Lincoln, the actor who plays Rick, without the use of his right hand on the show. It’s hard to argue with that logic, but if Game of Thrones has taught us anything, characters who lose their hands instantly become more interesting.
5. Tyreese’s Circumstances
Tyreese was introduced in the show’s 3rd season and became a popular character soon after. In the comics, Tyreese was also a favorite, but was actually part of the story from a much earlier point (for reference, he appears well before the group encounters Hershel’s farm in the comics). Although Tyreese’s characterization is similar between the two mediums, there are some significant changes made to his backstory and the nature of his relationships with other characters. Fun Fact: in the comics, Tyreese is killed when The Governor decapitates him; in the show, this death is reserved for Hershel instead.
4. Carol the Killer
Carol’s transformation from a downtrodden, abused wife to no-nonsense killer is one of the best character arcs on the show. Carol also appears in the comics, but she bears little resemblance to actress Melissa McBride’s hardened survivor. Comic Carol is much younger (and blonde!), but is also a much weaker character. She never jettisons her weak-willed housewife persona and is actually undone by her failure to change. After learning of love interest Tyreese’s infidelity with Michonne (!), Carol basically gives up and lets a walker kill her. TV Carol is definitely superior.
Most definitely a case of “what were they thinking?” is The Walking Dead‘s characterization of Andrea, who quickly became the show’s worst element during the 3rd season. Her relationship with The Governor was a huge betrayal and she just generally made poor decisions right up until she was (thankfully) killed off. Contrast that to the Andrea of the comics, who not only doesn’t stay in Woodbury with The Governor, but becomes one of the coolest and indispensable characters thanks to her sharpshooting capabilities. Yes, Andrea is arguably the best female character in the comics, begging the question: how did the show’s writers mess her up so badly? At least her absence from season 4 and 5 made the show much more watchable.
2. The CDC Finale Of Season 1
The Walking Dead‘s first season was only a very brief 6 episodes long, but that was more than enough time for the show’s writers to introduce an entire storyline that never appeared in the comics! The Center for Disease Control featured prominently in the last couple episodes of the season and the events that took place there had a significant effect on the show’s characters. Most notably, the CDC’s last remaining scientist, Dr. Edwin Jenner (Noah Emmerich) tells Rick the earth-shattering revelation that everyone is already infected by the mysterious “walker” virus, whether they’re dead or not. This crucial detail is revealed much later in the comic, and giving this knowledge to viewers so early in the show’s run is apparently comic writer/show producer Robert Kirkman’s “biggest regret” for the series.
1. Daryl Dixon
The invention of fan-favorite character Daryl Dixon is probably the most well-known bit of Walking Dead trivia out there, but it’s still worth noting how surprising it is that the show’s best character never even appears in the comics! Brought to life by beloved character actor Norman Reedus, Daryl was created specifically for Reedus, who originally auditioned for the role of Daryl’s brother Merle, who was also an invention for the TV. Daryl is now so well-liked and fully-realized as a character, even comic creator/executive producer Robert Kirkman has gone on record stating that Daryl is his “favorite element of the television show”.