On adapting

impin-aint-easy-tryion-memeDecided to take another day home with the wife; she was perfectly happy to go it alone today– and she’s planning on going back to work tomorrow– but I really didn’t like the idea of leaving her by herself all day.  I have to duck out this afternoon for a meeting I can’t miss but will be home with her most of the day.

That said, she’s asleep right now– I didn’t bother going back to bed after taking the boy to day care– so I have some time to write.  Most of my writing around here is done 1) in between getting home from school and her bringing Kenny home from day care and 2) during bath time.  Both of those times are going to cease to exist during the next couple of weeks, as she recovers from her surgery and I take over delivery and pickup from day care and bath time at night.  Time to blog is therefore going to seriously be at a premium, so if I go dark for a bit over the next few weeks, don’t assume I’ve lost interest.  Despite the name of the blog, I actually do have a few real-life examples of demands on my time.  🙂

(Disappointing fact: none of the pictures I find when I Google “Stay at home dad” are funny.  Uses Tyrion meme instead.)

Anyway.

I’d like to make a claim here, and I’m genuinely interested in people’s reactions to it:  The Walking Dead is the most successful adaptation of a story from one medium to another medium ever.   Furthermore, it owes much of its greatness to the fact that it is absolutely fearless about changing, ignoring, or adding to the source material as much as it damn well pleases.  It has taken the setting and many of the characters, but it has added characters as necessary, ignored others, and played all sorts of merry hell with who it has chosen to kill off and who it has kept alive.

I have spent most of the last couple of days trying to come up with a way for me to more precisely define that without saying something that boils down to “but I liiiiike it” and I’m having difficulty with it.  Part of the problem is that Walking Dead is in a lot of ways in a very unique position as far as adaptations go:

  • As a comic book series, it is ongoing.  There are therefore new stories getting added all the time to pull from, and not a single novel or trilogy or whatever to draw from.
  • It is the work of a single creator, or a small handful of creators if we include Charlie Adlard and Tony Harris and a few other artists along with series writer Robert Kirkman.
  • Related, but not exactly the same thing as, point 1:  While Kirkman may be working toward an ending that he’s already got in his head, as a comic series Walking Dead is sort of expected to run on until he’s tired of it.  We’re therefore spared the Game of Thrones disaster scenario where the actress playing the nine-year-old is going to be thirty before he gets around to writing the ending.  And because the Walking Dead TV series established from practically the first two or three episodes that they weren’t interested in slavishly following the comic book series (Shane died six issues into the comic book’s run) they’re not going to have anyone mad at them for Screwing Up Kirkman’s Ending.

Here’s the interesting thing:  I read a lot of stuff online about The Walking Dead; the half-hour or so past a new episode is silent time in my house, as both my wife and I jump online to read reviews and commentary and shit like that about the show we just watched. You know what I never see when I’m doing that?  “Waaah the show is ruining the comic book!”

I mean, it’s probably out there, the Internet being what it is, but I literally can’t remember a single example of it happening, whereas you see it all over the place with any other kind of adaptation.  And, don’t get me wrong, I’ve done it myself plenty of times; to pick two quick and prominent examples I won’t see the two Hobbit sequels because the first film was an abomination, and I never saw whatever the hell the two later Chris Nolan Batman movies were called because those movies should have been called Sword-swingin’ Rodent-Costume Ninja Dude and not Batman.  

(Avoids rant about how fucking awful Batman Begins was.)

Here’s the thing:  interestingly, it’s their fearlessness about making changes in canon that makes The Walking Dead so interesting to me as a television program.  (Spoilers abound for the next few sentences, but mostly older ones.)  Shane gets to live two full seasons when he died almost immediately in the books.  Rick kills Shane instead of Carl doing it.  Judith survives the prison, and Lori’s death is completely different from the books, including Carl having to kill Lori.  While I have all sorts of issues with how the Sophia storyline from the second season got handled, and Season 2 is the show’s worst by a long shot, it needs to be pointed out that Sophia is still alive in the comic books.  Michonne’s interactions with the Governor are very different.   Carol’s entire arc is different, and she’s dead in the comics.  The final confrontation with the Governor is different.  Rick still has both of his hands.  Merle and Daryl Dixon, for shit’s sake, are complete inventions of the TV series.  I could go on for much, much longer, including a discussion of how what happened in the last episode was way better than what happened in the comics, but I think you get the idea.

Meanwhile, the new Fantastic Four movie has made The Human Torch black and the Internet is aflame– heh– with idiocy.  I don’t know what makes the difference; I’d like to think that it’s something other than “It’s well done,” but I can’t come up with a good reason.  Even adaptations that have changed a lot of stuff still generally do it by deletion; Tom Bombadil didn’t show up in the movie version of The Fellowship of the Ring, but they didn’t go and make Aragorn a ring-bearer.  There have been modifications in the Game of Thrones series, but they didn’t let Robb survive the Red Wedding or, alternatively, kill him before the Wedding ever happened and put that in somewhere else.

A recommendation:  George Martin’s gonna finish the books when he feels like it, guys, and most of us will be dead by then.  Finish the series however you want.  Don’t worry about his ending.  I’d love to see what the TV people do when they’re cut free of whatever Martin had in mind.  And I say that not to claim that Martin’s ending is going to be bad– although it probably will; at the rate the books are getting worse, he may as well let Jay Bonansinga co-write the two final books– but so that everybody can stop worrying about it.  The books are different from the TV series; there’s nothing wrong with them ending differently too.

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Luther M. Siler

Teacher, writer of words, and local curmudgeon. Enthusiastically profane. Occasionally hostile.

7 thoughts on “On adapting

  1. Look up “Mr. Mom” pictures on Google.

    Didn’t you see that movie when it came out? Really? You don’t remember that?

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  2. Great article.

    I’ve enjoyed Walking Dead exactly for the reasons you’ve stated, that it holds to the spirit but does it’s own thing.

    I enjoy Game of Thrones for different reasons, to be faithful, the adaptation faces a difficult challenge, and so far I’ve been really pleased, not only with the similarity to source, but also usually to the wisdom in the changes.

    Not everything has worked out great, but overall I’m happy, with both series.

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  3. The producers of Game of Thrones have been told how Martin wants it to end and I doubt they’ll go far from it. In the mean time, he has written at least one short story that is set in Westeros before GoT. Another story is supposed to be released tooI don’t think the books are worse but I do think they are much darker. Dance with Dragons has scenes I’ll be interested to see on film

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  4. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading The Walking Dead comics, but oh my god last weeks episode had me sobbing like a little girl. It was a great episode, and frankly I think you’re absolutely right — I’ve never heard a complaint about TV adaptation for the show, and I think it’s because they do a damn good job of not ruining the interest of the story like loads of botched adaptations do.

    Man though. All those tears.

    Maaaan.

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