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Why It’s Great that AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’ Isn’t Like the Comic Book

By Tim Beyers – Feb 16, 2014 at 6:36AM

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The differences are what make the series not only interesting, but also a winning franchise for AMC Networks.

Norman Reedus stars as Daryl Dixon, a character that doesn't appear in the comics, in AMC's The Walking Dead. Credit: Gene Page/AMC.

I'd just as soon see Robert Kirkman never write another episode of AMC Networks' (AMCX -3.08%) The Walking Dead. Not because I hated the midseason premiere (I didn't) or because I dislike Kirkman's work (I'm a fan), but because I'd rather viewers get accustomed to the idea that the TV show is only a loose adaptation of the comic book that Kirkman has been writing for more than a decade.

That isn't likely to happen. If anything, viewers seem to want more Kirkman and callbacks to the comics. My Foolish colleague Leo Sun celebrated his scripting  of episode 409 in a recent column, citing his skill in developing characters. True enough. And yet I doubt The Walking Dead would work as a strict adaptation of Kirkman's comics. Here are four reasons why:

1. Your favorite character might already be dead.
Is there any character among the cast of The Walking Dead that's as popular as Norman Reedus' Daryl Dixon? I don't think so. And yet ... Kirkman didn't create him. Neither Daryl nor his now-deceased brother Merle (played by Michael Rooker) has appeared in "The Walking Dead" comic book. Season one showrunner and series co-creator Frank Darabont developed Daryl and Merle in concert with other writers.

2. AMC Networks wouldn't want it. 
AMC "owns" certain rights attached to the TV version of the property, including the Dixons. That's a key difference, and it explains why one of the two major video game series tied to the brand -- The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct, from now-defunct studio Terminal Reality and Activision Blizzard (NASDAQ: ATVI) -- stars Daryl rather than Rick, Carl, or any other character familiar to fans of the Skybound comic. (Skybound is Kirkman's comic book imprint, publisher of not only "The Walking Dead," but also great comics such as "Thief of Thieves," "Super Dinosaur," and "Invincible.")

3. There wouldn't be any surprises for fans of the comic.
Unlike Walt Disney's Marvel universe -- which suffers from a confusing division of rights that pits studios against each other -- the subtle differences in AMC's The Walking Dead appears to be feeding Skybound's "The Walking Dead," and vice versa. "The Walking Dead" #100 topped the charts with more than 300,000 copies sold during the show's summer 2012 hiatus. When it returned for season 3 that October, more than 10 million viewers tuned in. I don't see that as a coincidence.

4. It wouldn't be Kirkman's best work.
We know because he's said as much in interviews. Having the show is like having a time machine that allows him to change the history of the world he's created. That's a rare gift to a writer. Instead of regretting a particular character's demise or a badly executed plot point in the comic, Kirkman is afforded the chance to try something new and see how it plays. Fans and AMC investors are getting better work (and record ratings) as a result.

Now it's your turn to weigh in, fellow fans. Are you enjoying season 4 of AMC's The Walking Dead? Or would you rather see the network take more from the comic book? Leave a comment in the box below to let us know where you stand.

Daryl and Beth try to find their way forward in episode 410, "Inmates." Sources: AMC Networks, YouTube.

Tim Beyers is a member of the Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team and the Motley Fool Supernova Odyssey I mission. He owned shares of Walt Disney at the time of publication. Check out Tim's web home and portfolio holdings or connect with him on Google+Tumblr, or Twitter, where he goes by @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader.

The Motley Fool recommends Activision Blizzard, AMC Networks, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of Activision Blizzard and Walt Disney. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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