AMC’s The Walking Dead closed its second season Sunday on a high (or low, if you’re the characters) note, but I’m left hoping this isn’t a bait-and-switch.
I’m a fan of the comics, though I must admit I didn’t read them until the first season aired. I bought the entire series in TPB form and tore through them in short order. As much as I’d adored the show, the comics were astonishingly richer.
In the comics, there is no milling about on a farm or soap opera schlock like the Rick, Shane & Lori love triangle. There are zombies for crying out loud. The characters from the comic have a very real understanding of this. Things happen quickly. People die left and right. It is about survival at all costs and moving on, even if doing so doesn’t resemble the societal norms they once knew.
THE REST OF THIS ARTICLE WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS
A week prior to Sunday’s finale, Rick killed Shane. It took two seasons. In the comic, he was dead in six issues. He attacked Rick and Carl shot him. Simple. This would amount to maybe half a season in comic-to-TV story conversion (not exactly a science).
This is just one example of how the comics are much more thematically coherent and brutally honest with its plot as it relates to that theme. I am not saying this theme is entirely fresh, “What happens to humanity when its social mores vanish in the face of INSERT MALADY HERE.” However, the comic is the first time someone has really portrayed a believable scenario in terms of its characters’ behaviors and values.
I wish to make clear that literature has no obligation to be “believable” in the sense that we have empirical references in our real world. But it does have an obligation to be consistent in that every character acts according to values and presents the clashing of said values in a way that also serves the theme organically.
The Walking Dead does this in the comic. And it does it with a brilliant flair for showing characters who have to face the fact that they need a philosophy. Now, the author is not bold, or perhaps verbose, enough to have this state openly, but it is present. Rick has his ducks in a row. His philosophy is that of common sense. It is not honed or calculated as it should be, but he knows right from wrong. And this is in a greater sense. He does not see it as wrong to kill those who do wrong by his code, though he does have a sick way of doing it at times later in the comic — but this is consistent with him not having a cohesive philosophy, so sometimes his emotions take over. Others who aren’t as black as white as him, however, are far worse off. They tend to get eaten…
Now, the show is more about people trying to cling to the old society. That’s nice, I suppose. That’s how I might react. But it is not how literary characters HAVE TO act. And this comic is better for this. Sure, both versions of the characters like a hot shower. Both try to have dinners that seem like Sunday evening supper. But deeper things are only hinted at, alluded to, not the focus. It is less about if it’s right to take the resources of others for your own survival and more about if you should confront your friend about sleeping with your wife when you were presumed dead. The second is juicy for most TV audiences but utterly boring in comparison for any serious viewers.
The finale was much more to my liking. Rick took charge, though in a much more militant way, which I didn’t like, though it does at least show a bold ideas-based direction. And now they’ve become nomads again, desperate, which one would hope causes them to stop thinking about dishes and start thinking about living.
I just hope this isn’t a tease. I hope they continue head first into that prison and start on the story, the story I love. I hope it doesn’t take them the entire season to get there, and along the way they gossip about who is bedding whom.