Sunday, April 26, 2015

Is The Walking Dead TV Show a Piece of Fan Fiction?

How Robert Kirkman’s survival horror franchise thrives on constant mutation. ♦
Have you ever wondered: What if Norman Bates passed away as a child and his mother became the Psycho serial killer instead? Or what if Uncle Ben didn’t die and Peter Parker became a completely different Spider-Man?
    Such alternative plot-arcs have been historically reserved for fan fiction. Authors, editors, and producers tend to file their ideas down to one concrete plotline while other, alternate ideas tend to pile up by the trashcan in balled up pieces of paper. Robert Kirkman, on the other hand, has a different approach.
    Kirkman, executive producer and writer of The Walking Dead, has found a brilliant way to use his various story ideas and collaborate with other authors by producing his narrative in multiple formats with separate plot-arcs and altered characters. His post-apocalyptic zombie epic features a gang of survivalists, including a former police officer, a U.S. Army sergeant, a pizza delivery man, a farmer’s daughter, a lawyer, and many more. The gang traverses the country, looking for supplies and wrestling with the horrifyingly “real” depiction of human and social degradation in the post-apocalyptic world. The story, however, changes dramatically based on whether you read the comic, the novels, or watch the TV show.
      As we all know, characters from books are almost always altered for the big screen. In the case of The Walking Dead, the characters are aesthetically and personally similar to their comic book counterparts, but they evolve differently through the unique narratives.
    For example, Andrew Lincoln’s character, Rick Grimes, starts out as an identical copy of Kirkman’s comic book character, but as the show progresses, Lincoln’s portrayal strays away from the comic to form a different persona. [Spoiler Alert] The one-handed battle-hardened comic hero loses his daughter at the same time he loses his wife and becomes a much more vicious killer, but Lincoln’s character keeps his daughter and a semblance of humanity as he goes through a much more dramatic period of mental instability after losing his wife.
      Some differences between the TV show and the comic series come from Kirkman himself, but the majority of them come from the show’s writing staff. Kirkman has written approximately one episode per season and has served as an executive producer for the duration of the show. Meanwhile, Frank Darabont, Glen Mazzara and Scott M. Gimple are three notable writers who have made substantial additions to the show and changed the way the story has progressed.
     At the beginning of season four, Scott M. Gimple was appointed head writer and showrunner for The Walking Dead. In an interview, Gimple said, “The writers’ room is really, really hardcore in the first third of the season; we’re really in there. Every writer on the show is a writer-producer, so once they write their script, they’re out in Georgia helping to produce it. There are a lot more components than just being in the room …. There are a lot of different locales in which you do your job especially as you get towards the middle of the season.”
     Kirkman has been deeply involved in the show as an executive producer, creator, and writer, but as the show has progressed, it has become much more of a collaborative effort than a single author or director spearheading their vision.
    One of the most significant differences between the show and the comic is Carol’s character, played by Melissa McBride. Kirkman explains that, “Carol was extremely different in the comic and I was attempting to tell a completely different story with that character than what we ended up doing on the show” and that the difference was largely based on the riveting performance given by McBride. [Spoiler Alert] The comic book Carol met a relatively early end as she committed suicide by zombie, but the McBride’s Carol has become one of the most ruthless, action-packed, and complex characters currently in the show. So, actors’ performances can ostensibly alter the narrative as well.
      Differences between books and film adaptations typically tend to rub audiences the wrong way, but fans of The Walking Dead don’t seem to mind too much. On the contrary, bloggers, YouTube commentators, and media writers like to ask themselves which Rick they like better, or which storyline is best. Personally, I can’t decide.
     Kirkman has explained his decision to alter the story as a deliberate ploy to eliminate the traditional predictability of a book-based film adaptation and grab the attention of the comic book fans as well as first-time viewers—and the move has worked well so far. Uproxx reports that every episode of season five ranked in the “top 50 telecasts across all of television among adults 18-49” and that the season five finale broke its previous finale records with over 15.8 million viewers. But now, with the addition of other writers and an alternative plot structure, we must ask ourselves: is The Walking Dead still Kirkman’s adapted TV show, or has it become a more of a fan fiction amalgam?
     Kirkman refers to the comic series as the “source material” or the “rough draft” for the show, and as it continues, the show seems to stray further and further away from the comic. Characters yet to die in the comic have already been killed off and characters that have been long since dead in the comic are still alive in the show. Nobody knows what will come next.
      Kirkman approaches his comic series the same way a fan might develop their own Walking Dead fiction. Gimple and Mazzara do the same, and the alternative plot structure surely points in the direction of fan fiction. Yet, the most important thing we can learn from Kirkman is to not fear collaboration. Working with others can benefit you and your writing. It certainly has for him.
  • About the Author
    Christopher “Kit” Collins is a Professional Writing and Psychology double major with a minor in Neuroscience. He’s an avid writer, researcher, and photographer. His dogs are named after Batman characters and he likes to read minimalist, satirical writing. He plans to teach, write, and practice as a psychologist.

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