Some creatives are highly protective of their creations and insist on rigid and faithful adaptations. One of these is certainly not Robert Kirkman, writer and co-creator of The Walking Dead comics, who has stated he welcomed major changes being made to the narrative for the hit show.
For the most part, the TV series has followed the same general story of the comics, although to prevent it from becoming too unwieldy some plotlines have been condensed and supporting characters are often omitted or merged into amalgamations that hit the required beats. Major deviations have included the departures of Rick, who died in the comics’ penultimate issue, and Michonne, who was alive at the finale, and the death of Carl, who likewise made it to the series’ final issue and was central in its somewhat abrupt ending.
Of making changes, Kirkman had this to say:
“It seems like it’s an absolute nightmare [to have other writers deconstruct his story], but it was really great and rewarding to have them go, ‘This story worked because of this, and we can change this this way because of that, and this really worked well, and we can make it better by adding this’.”
Despite not being precious about his creation, he still understood there were key scenes and stories anticipated by fans, which he was keen to preserve.
“There are moments where I would say, ‘Okay, we need to keep this one pretty close, and everybody would agree.’ I don’t want fans to think I was some kind of madman tearing my material apart. I very much considered myself a steward of the brand and to try and protect these stories – not that they need any protecting, per se – but just to pay tribute to the fans that have supported the material.”
“There are things in The Walking Dead that a Walking Dead fan is definitely going to want to see adapted into the show, and we try to do that as much as possible,” he said. “So there are things that did get adapted directly, it wasn’t all completely throw caution to the wind. But there were so many times where I’d be like, ‘Just kill ’em, it’ll be great. They were a big character in the comic, but [it will] blow people away if they die after two episodes. It’ll be hilarious, let’s do that.'”
This structure helped keep things interesting for all involved, for the uninitiated who need the story to be presented in a way not requiring prior knowledge, and existing fans who could nevertheless be caught off guard when things didn’t play out the way they were expecting.
It can often be difficult to balance fidelity to source material with alterations necessary to translate a story across a medium. Some end up being too faithful, such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which inadvertently highlighted how devoid of personality Harry is, and also lifted entire conversations directly from the novel regardless of their relevance or necessity, resulting in an adaptation of a short book clocking in at over two and half hours. Others, like the abysmal Artemis Fowl, change so much that you wonder why bother to adapt something if the end result bears so little resemblance to what readers fell in love with.
Whether or not the changes made to The Walking Dead are ultimately for the better is for each viewer to decide, but by and large it’s maintained a balance with its faithfulness to the comics, while throwing in enough narrative curveballs that even those intimately familiar with its events can still be surprised.