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For years now, many of the most financially powerful films hitting theaters are those that came from comic books, though the success of small screen superhero adventures has been surprisingly hit or miss. TV's biggest ratings monster does come from a comic book, though, and The Walking Dead easily blows away its from-the-page competition. And while it's obvious how Robert Kirkman's original story has affected the live-action AMC drama, Robert Kirkman explained how the TV show has actually changed its own source material in an interesting way. Here's how he put it:
A lot of the things that are adapted into the show now are things that happened to come in after the existence of the show, and I can't help but notice that there is some kind of difference. Now you've got Ezekiel walking around, acting like a lunatic. Negan's walking around --- in the comic, he's dropping the f-word every two seconds, and that's something you can't do on the show. We've got a freakin' tiger that's in the show now. That was clearly me going, 'They're never going to get to this stuff, and if they do get to this stuff, they're never going to be able to adapt it, so I'm just going hog wild.' I had to prove to myself internally that I was not changing what I was planning to do with a mind towards how we were going to adapt it when we got there on the show. I went so overboard that I think it did change in the comic in some way --- but I feel like it made it more awesome.
There's something warped about all that, with Robert Kirkman partly serving as his own source of inspiration, but there are no wrong muses when everyone is buying the goods, I guess. In the past, Kirkman has used a shorter version of this answer to explain how Shiva came into being, saying that he threw in a tiger specifically because it was the kind of fantastical element that could never get used for TV. We all know that didn't pan out exactly as he'd thought, and Shiva is a four-legged threat like no other on The Walking Dead, which means Kirkman would have to get even more extreme for another animal companion's introduction.
It would likely be impossible for Robert Kirkman to craft the comics' storytelling without the TV show entering into the thought process at all. The human mind simply doesn't work that way naturally, and you know he's always thinking about what TV fans have experienced over the years, since he obviously wouldn't want to tread in waters too similar. The TV show has done its fair share of remixing plotlines from the page to the screen, which gives Kirkman even more plot points and character beats that he must avoid repeating.
And it was precisely that interest in avoiding duplicated writing that spawned Robert Kirkman to possibly take things too far in the opposite direction. Perhaps that's where a group like The Whisperers came from, since they provide both a startlingly different approach than previous villains, as well as offering up an aesthetic angle that would be extremely difficult to pull off properly on cable. (The Whisperers wear body suits made of the sewn-together skin of walkers.) But at this point in Season 7, where viewers were recently introduced to a whole army of survivors that never appeared on the page, it's apparent there's very little showrunner Scott Gimple, executive producer Greg Nicotero and the rest cannot bring to TV.
While speaking at the recent Emerald City Comic-Con (via ComicBook.com), Robert Kirkman also explained how his own evolving station in life has affected how The Walking Dead is written. After saying he started off Rick and Carl's story from the point-of-view of the child looking up to his father, he pointed out how that has changed.
As the series progresses, I have my son, I have my daughter, and then I start to write from the perspective of, 'I have children, and I know what it's like to have children, and I know what it's like to worry about them.'
So long as he stays true to the story he started writing all those years ago, I think comic fans will continue championing the ongoing saga regardless of what else Kirkman adds to the mix. With many more live-action tragedies, victories and more to come, The Walking Dead airs Sunday nights on AMC at 9:00 p.m. ET. Go feed your own tigers and then head to our midseason premiere schedule to see what's coming to the small screen in the near future.