If the reader is paying enough attention, she or he will notice among the various differences between The Walking Dead graphic novel and its television adaptation lays the glaring omission of the strong, independent female characters from the source material. It is my opinion that the choice to stereotype the gender roles of the women on the show was to make it more palatable, thereby increasing its appeal to the broader television audience that the program wants.
I could reprint screen-caps like this one of Carol Peletier from the show ad nauseam. The above image seems to pop up in each episode, sometimes more than once, for one reason or another. Props must go to Melissa McBride, who pushes herself and her tear ducts to the edge for these bits. Carol, while certainly not without her neuroses in the book, is painted as one of the meekest characters in the show. In further chapters of the book, Carol does become a bit unstable but she doesn’t spend every panel crying like she would if someone adapted the show into a graphic novel. In the show Carol is a woman who has a history of being physically battered and mentally and emotionally abused by her husband, Ed. In the episode “Tell it to the Frogs”, Carol appears like a twisted reflection of a house bound woman in a television commercial from the late-sixties: she primarily cares for the laundry and is bound to do her husbands bidding like a “good” wife. She goes so far as to apologize to Ed after Shane pummels him for hitting her. Her meekness, especially as much as we the audience see it, tell us not to respect her as much as the gun-toting leaders or males and other more functional members of the group.
Then there is Jacqui. We don’t see much of her in first season but when we do she is presented as a smart and in control woman. When we first meet her with the group of survivors in Atlanta she’s level headed and collected. Perhaps on the strongest portrayal of a woman on the show in season one. Then what happens? She chooses in the season one finale “to opt-out”. Perhaps this is one way the television writers are trying to correct her addition as a character not featured in the source material. But this is in stark contrast to another black female character; in the comic book we have Michonne. While Michonne’s insistence on continually throwing herself in harms way when in combat may seem suicidal, not to mention, when we first meet her she is fearlessly walking amongst the roamers, alone, save for the two zombies behind her whom she tows about in chains (and there is nothing like keeping people in chains when one wants to express dominance), but we get the feeling that Michonne would never give up quite as easily as Jacqui did in the CDC.
Now onto the “First Lady” of the group: Lori Grimes. Lori is constantly worried that her husband will not come back. As the appointed leader of the group, Rick takes on tasks and makes the hard decisions for the group. As we see in both the show and the book, Lori displays a quiet strength and puts on a strong face for her son Carl, who is usually left behind with her at the camp, or the farm or the prison. Oddly enough, Carl never seems to worry about his hero failing to return from the front lines. The difference between the two versions of Lori comes down to the shows handling of Lori and Shane’s sexual relationship. In the book she has one night of passion with the man, a night which she later regrets, but in the show they have a torrid love affair. As we discussed in class, Lori is marginalized in the television adaptation with sex. She is a victim of the double standard when it comes to sex: women are considered whores, whereas as men are championed for it.
Something that punches this home even more is the fact that in the scene, Shane turns Lori over and mounts her as if she were a dog. What does this say about Lori? There are many subliminal messages here, but due to the specific position she is put in and the aforementioned circumstances behind their encounter, one word that comes to mind, is bitch. The audience knows Rick is still alive, and even though Lori doesn’t, we find her guilty of infidelity regardless: it’s “too soon” to be thinking about sex after your husband has just died. In this way she is painted as “less than”.
As outlined in my second analysis, my biggest gripe with the television series is the transformation of Andrea from witty, tough and deadly into emotional, weak and suicidal. This is best exemplified in season one’s finale “TS-19” when she makes the decision to stay in the Center for Disease Control compound while the countdown timer ticks away. She learns of how the disease works from the doctor, which leads to a break down in the shower, subsequent vomiting and her near-fatal choice to get blown to smithereens in the CDC building.
In two of the three above examples we see Dale coming to her rescue (all within one episode), and while this is a touching display of his father/daughter love for her, in the book these examples just don’t exist. In fact, it is Dale, the “insecure old man”, whom Andrea must comfort, constantly reassure and look out for.
I will give the show some credit however: as it continues, Andrea is starting to take on the Annie Oakley-esque characteristics rife in the panels of the book. One of the finest examples of her strength and contribution to the group in the book is her gun, which is stripped away from her in the show. The men of the group, specifically Dale, decide to take it away from her. Not only is the gun a symbol of power, it is also a necessity in a world where the undead outnumber and prey on the living. Graphic novel Andrea, arguably the most powerful female in the group, would never let Dale (her lover in the book) or anyone for that matter, take away her gun. Whether or not TV Andrea will become the team’s most effective defensive player like she is in the book remains to be seen, but by making her a distraught and emotional mess, she loses her credibility within the group and to the audience.
In general, comic books have a narrow appeal. Good comic books go even less appreciated. Smaller comics have to compete with the likes of bigger titles sitting in the rack next to them so they take more chances and feature more graphic violence and sex as well as more complex characters and profound themes. Television however, due largely to an entirely different distribution system, can be seen in a large majority of homes in America and other parts of the world. In order to maintain mass appeal while competing with other shows in the same timeslots, television uses rigid formulas and rules when writing. Television has to be simple. It has to be palatable so more people will tune in and the network will make money. Because of this and television censors, “The Walking Dead” television series has to be different from the graphic novel. With an approximate average 5.25 million viewers per episode for the first season and carrying an average of 6.43 million per episode this season, who am I to argue that what the writers are doing to my beloved characters is wrong? The formulas and rules of writing television exist for one reason: because they work. It is really just a shame that audiences aren’t more accepting and that the networks don’t try and open both their minds and the audience’s a little.