The Walking DeadFrom Comic Book Series to AMC Cable Television Network Drama


About the Walking Dead Comic and its Creator

Robert Kirkman – Author of “The Walking Dead"

The Adaptive Process – From Page to Screen

theories at work, decisions to be made

AMC’s The Walking Dead – The Television Series

the final adapted product

Synopsis – Comic Series to Cable Network TV Show
The Walking Dead is an example of the newer, less traditional forms of adaptation. Rather than transforming a piece of classic or contemporary literature in standard novel form into a movie for the big screen, the creators of The Walking Dead have sought a route slightly less traveled. Of course, one could easily rattle off the comic books turned into television shows and films, and the highly stylized blacks, whites, and reds of the graphic novel turned dark-hearted film. In this case, what has been created is not an overly stylized film, but an uncomfortably realistic view of our end times played out on the small screen, with the production values of a major motion picture. This is a quality of work for which the network that airs The Walking Dead, AMC, is well-known, evidenced by their other highly acclaimed award-winning original series' like Breaking Bad and Mad Men.


About the Walking Dead Comic and its Creator

Robert Kirkman – Author of “The Walking Dead"

In "The Walking Dead," first created in 2003 as a monthly black and white ongoing comic, the author sought to create a perpetual storyline of what would happen to humanity after the credits roll on the George Romero style classic zombie films. What do the survivors now do to continue to survive, rebuild, and overcome the continuing plague of undead cannibals? Of this idea, the author, Kirkman says, “I think they’re just a great storytelling vehicle. Zombies as a threat drive you to write about your characters in ways that other horror things don’t. Vampire stories are about vampires kissing or it’s about a guy finding the garlic or using the cross to fight a dude. With werewolves it’s all about don’t go out when the moon is full or this guy’s turning into a big monster. But a zombie story is about protecting your children and keeping your family safe or dealing with the loss of a loved one. These are universal themes that apply to everyday life in a way that other horror stories really just don’t."1

To support this idea, Kirkman’s characters are introduced to the reader in media res, the apocalypse itself having already run its course. Hero, Rick Grimes, the ultimate hope for survival in the future, awakes to find himself in a completely foreign world, the end times having already inexplicably washed the world as he (and we) know it away. In this, the aftermath, his sense of duty is stronger than ever. It is significant that the first real character meeting reveals a man rejecting chaos for order, and whose first instinct is to find and protect his family.

The premise of the comic series includes the leadership role of Rick Grimes not only for his family but as an example to the pockets of humanity he and his band encounter throughout their unending journeys. These experiences with the other groups of survivors are pivotal to the vision Kirkman had from the very beginning of the epic series. His intent all along had been to exhibit not a killing spree but a portrait of humanity and the different forms it can take, both healthy and depraved, and all points in between. noonesafe2.jpg The Walking Dead has published 91 issues since its creation in 2003. The author, with the whole of humanity as his inspiration, has successfully kept the storyline fresh and interesting, and fulfilled his promise in issue one, of Rick Grimes’ epic struggle. The enormous body of work already in existence has given the adaptors of the AMC series an almost inexhaustible resource of source text from which to craft their own episodes. Among those adaptors is scriptwriter and now executive producer, Robert Kirkman, himself.

The author and his work

The Adaptive Process – From Page to Screen
theories at work, decisions to be made

Hero Rick Grimes on page and on screen

In August of 2009, AMC announced it had obtained the rights to produce a television series based on the long-running comic series. Filmmaker Frank Darabontwas to be writer, director, and executive producer of the first season of six episodes. Frank Darabont's credits include a number of Stephen King adaptations, such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and The Mist.Of the decision to turn his series of comic books into a television series, Robert Kirkman has said, "That's the only thing that really makes sense to me."2 With the premise of the comic book series being a zombie movie that doesn't end, the idea of producing a film or even a series of films rather than a television series just wasn't a good fit. Kirkman has said that Frank Darabont was on board from the beginning, when NBC had once optioned the series. Darabont was to produce the pilot at that time, but the option expired, and the show never happened. As author Kirkman says, Darabont told him when the NBC project folded, "Hey, if this ever happens, let me know. Let's do this."3
In terms of theories of adaptation, author Kirkman was very clear on his idea of what he expected from the television program in terms of fidelity. "It'll be 110% faithful in tone, but I don't know that every single character will be exactly the same and I don't know if every single character will actually make it into the show... It's going to be extremely faithful, but personally, I don't want it to be a shot-for-shot, panel-to-panel translation of the comic book. I think that would be incredibly boring for me and incredibly boring for everyone that reads the book."4

For fans of the comic book, one thing that they can expect to find different on the television show is the brutality with which certain endearing characters are killed. In television, it is not so easy to get away with disposing of actors as it is disposing of characters without contracts on a page. One primary difference between the comic books and the television series that has already emerged is that the character of Shane, Rick Grimes' once partner, has not been shot and killed by Rick's son, Carl. But Carl has been shot, and survived. Fans of the comics can likely continue to expect these types of departures from the source text. But Kirkman promises to be hands-on throughout the process of adaptation and to see that the spirit of his creation moves on to the small screen untampered-with.


AMC’s The Walking Dead – The Television Series

the final adapted product

AMC premiered its television series based on the Robert Kirkman comic in the fall season of 2010, with only 6 episodes produced for the season. It is fair to say with the cinematic production values and obvious high cost for each episode, the network was prudent to see how the initial episodes were received before making the decision to move forward with a more extended season.

The first episode proved very much to be as faithful a remake of the original story of the same name, "Days Gone Bye," as author Robert Kirkman promised it would be. The storyboard nature of the comic book has proved very beneficial in developing not only the plot but the look and feel of the original in the television series.

Carl Grimes




The nearly faithful adaptation that set up the premise of the series made the same promise Kirkman had made for his readers in 2003. This is a story with zombies but about humanity. Rick Grimes quickly learns the be alert or be dead philosophy of the new post-world. But never once along the way does he lose his commitment to doing what is right.


True to the suspenseful nature of the show, the missing member of the group of survivors from season one not only does not re-appear, but a new missing person case emerges, that of one of the two surviving children - children being the symbol of hope for the future of the human race.

Throughout the television and comic book series, protagonist Rick Grimes is devoted to finding a safe place for his people to start over. For their part, each of the survivors is enduring their own psychological hell, the foremost questions in their minds being, "Why do I go on? Why do I struggle to survive every day in the face of such utter hopelessness?" These human considerations are what drive the television series, internal, almost literary concerns.

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