Comic vs. Show: The Walking Dead, S3E5: Say the Word

Penny vs. Penny

I don’t imagine this really needs to be said… but people are funny that way… this post will be chock full of spoilers for those who are not caught up in the comic.  I’m not exactly sure where you would have to be caught up to… but I would venture to guess that it would be anywhere up to issue #52 or so.  If you don’t know who was on the other end of that phone call to Rick, you aren’t caught up.   

I think it would be fair to say that fans of The Walking Dead books get an extra special little jolt of pleasure when the TV show gives us a story arc or direct visual from the comics.  The first three episodes of the first season were a feast of moments that seemed to jump directly from the page and onto the screen, yet still adding enough new material to keep us interested and occasionally, genuinely surprised… and the pilot alone had enough of those moments to satiate our appetites that we could easily overlook the odd direction the show took beginning with Vatos and continuing on through the left turn that was the whole CDC arc.

Season two managed to stretch material from two issues of the comic into thirteen episodes… I wouldn’t say very effectively… but the final stretch of that season, beginning with episode seven and building towards the season finale did much to clean our mouths of the bad taste left behind from the farm.  Completely new elements were added; the well zombie, Beth, the herd at the end, and of course, Shane’s death occurred at the end of issue six… what should have been the end of the first season while they were still at the camp… but that was a decision that actually worked.

What I’m getting at is that the show has been playing very loose with both the material from the comic and more specifically the timeline.  It’s the timeline jumping that seems to be quite in vogue this season, because we are getting all sorts of scenes and moments from the comics spread in every direction possible and completely jumbled in time… yet, these changes are not only working, they are still keeping very much in the spirit of the source material while at the same time feeling completely germane to the story being told on the screen.  I sense a very steady hand at the rudder…

I would say there were at least five very direct moments in last week’s episode, Say the Word, that were lifted, seemingly, right off the page; Penny, the Woodbury dental plan, Michonne’s zombie disposal, the Woodbury arena, and that final enigmatic telephone call.  What I am digging so much with these scenes is how well integrated they are into the current story while being culled from very different moments and situations throughout the overall saga.  Let’s look at them one by one… shall we?

Let’s get the first and most obvious bit out of the way… Penny.  I almost, actually… I did spoil this a tad when I was last on The Walking Dead’Cast… fortunately, Jason caught my transgression and wisely edited out what I had brought up.  I thought, incorrectly, that Rowan (clipboard lady in the Gov’s bed) was Penny… or rather, saw one thing the first time I saw it… and realized the error of my ways the second time through.  There were two hints prior to this episode of Penny’s existence, her picture and his mentioning that he had a daughter, yet this was a fantastic introduction to one more layer of The Governor being cuckoo for Cocoa-Puffs.

In the comic, we meet Penny when The Gov goes home after a hard day of hand lopping and Michonne raping.  He opens the door and we see her chained to the wall and hungry because her bucket of human flesh, I believe an old foot, has rolled away.  This is also the first glimpse into his personal world that we see in the comic… and it’s a bit jarring after seeing what a monster he actually is.  Sure, there’s something inherently fucked up about keeping your zombie daughter chained in your apartment… but there is also something very human and touching about someone who can’t let go.  This is a theme often repeated throughout the series.

Having the show stretch this out so that we see various elements of The Gov before meeting Penny seems to add to that layer cake character development they seem to be getting better at portraying.  Isn’t it nicer to have a more nuanced Merle than the coked out overt racist from season one?  To open the scene with Penny by making us believe he is doing something sweet and gentle… I mean… combing someone’s hair is such an intimate and nurturing activity, that when we see that chunk of flesh fall out and realize that this is a snarling undead child, the effect is awesome.  Disturbing and poignant at the same time.  Covering her head with a bag was a nice touch.

The Woodbury dental plan was a small element taken originally from The Gov removing Penny’s teeth in order to kiss her.  I like that they use the same technique to help explain how rigged the arena fights actually are… and hopefully spare us the sight of seeing The Gov kissing Penny.  That was always a scene that bugged me in the comic… I couldn’t tell if it was a tender kiss, or a weird incestual “let’s make out” sort of kiss.  Nothing says I love you like puking after a kiss.  Blech!

Having Michonne killing all of their penned up zombies in order to get herself kicked out is certainly out of order.  The only parallel I could make for this scene was during her fight in the arena after all the rape.  Instead of playing along, she simply hacks off the other fighter’s head and continues on to all the surrounding zeds.  That action gets her locked up again and pisses off The Gov to the point where he was about to kill her then decides against it until he simmers down.  I don’t know what this means for her later story with The Gov, because I don’t believe for one second that she is actually free to go… in fact, the scenes for next week show her doing battle katana to hand-bayonette with Merle… but I’m not sure now how this arc will go down.  I’m excited for how this very important element of both Michonne’s and The Governor’s overall story will be played out.  I always assumed they wouldn’t go there because it’s on TV… but boundaries don’t seem to be an issue here.

Arena vs. Arena

The arena is one of those scenes that appears to be lifted from page to screen in a wonderful way.  Although the situation surrounding it’s introduction is slightly different, it’s effect is the same.  You will remember that we see the arena for the first time immediately after meeting The Governor and just before Rick gets his hand chopped off.  We are meant to be horrified by this blood sport… and in the show, we are meant to be horrified… and the message is being clearly directed towards Andrea who had just let Michonne leave believing that Woodbury isn’t such a bad place.

I always liked The Governor’s explanation for why the arena is necessary in the comic… you can only fuck and read so long before you get bored and restless.  In the show, they are trying to make him come off as very reasonable and caring for his people… he just wants to make everyone less frightened.  What a sweetheart… I prefer the fucking and reading line.  Also, the combatants in the comic were unknowns for the most part… in the show we get Merle and Martinez… yes, I think it’s THAT Martinez.  We’ll see.

Visually, I think they nailed the arena quite well.  Sure it’s smaller and seems less of an event then it does in the books… but adding some Skynyrd to the scene and the flamboyance of Merle is icing on the cake… and the size feels more in scale for this small community of rednecks and toughs.  Having just completed the novel, The Road to Woodbury, also added to my pleasure in this scene.  It is laid out in the novel exactly how and why the fights are staged in the first place.  A great element carried over in all three media… comics, novel, and now show.  In fact, I loved how they ramped up the apparent danger by adding in a “bonus round” by letting some slack out on the chains and having the zombies close in on the fighters… entertainment indeed.

Hello... is it me you're looking for?

Finally, we get to the one scene I was most shocked to see included this early in the show’s run… the telephone call.  As you know, we don’t get Rick’s crazy phone conversations until well after the attack on the prison… after Lori’s death… after his horrible abdominal gunshot infection… and my first reaction was, “what?  So soon?”  Then I thought about it… it was Lori’s and Judith’s death that triggered his guilt and mental breakdown about not being able to protect them.  The situation is effectively the same… although now he is left with an infant to care for that is probably not his own and he never got back onto a solid footing with his wife.  His breakdown on the show makes a ton of sense… and pushing this story forward was a good movie in my opinion.

Of course, until next week we can’t be certain that this will play out the same way.  Some people are speculating that it is Carol on the other end… I don’t agree with that.  I think it will be Lori… but I don’t have a clue and any guessing on my part is nothing but just that… guessing.

I believe that about covers all of the moments from the comic that showed up this week.  Did I miss anything?  Let me know.  I have been avoiding any books of substance lately (for reasons of being lazy) and keep grabbing my comics.  I stated rereading the prison arc just before season three and ended up reading it to the end for probably the eighth time… when I just got my copy of book 8 (I buy individual issue online then buy the hardcover annual editions) I felt compelled to start reading again.  I’m currently in the middle of the prison arc and am very reminded of the out of order nature of the show… and I’m loving it.

Thanks for reading… and thanks to those of you encouraging me to keep this segment going.  Now that I know someone is reading it, I won’t slack off on my duties any further!

Hello, is it me you’re looking for?
Cornelius J. Blahg 

A few more things… (spoilers for the current issue ahead)

OK… for those of you caught up to the current issue, #104, how awesome is that cover?  I love the fact that Carl is still wearing the Sheriff’s hat complete with large hole from where the bullet that took his eye passed through.  Is that Abraham’s gun?  Plus, I am loving Negen as Rick’s new nemesis.  The Governor is a wonderful villain… but Negen is a different creature altogether.  The fact that he has to explain his own juvenile jokes and can’t utter a single sentence without various arrangements of profanities makes for a well fleshed out and fantastic bad guy.  Couple that with his obvious fear and respect for our little serial killer in the making, and I’m tickled pink.

Carl... what a badass

Finally… for real this time…  did anyone else see the similarity between the entrance to Negen’s lair and the creepy town in the video game?  Something extra f’ed up about a people who place zombies on pikes and hooks to ward off intruders.  I loved the cross over… That’s all.

3 thoughts

  1. Thanks again Elisa… I had fun with this one. One of the reasons I didn’t write this up in the regular review was that it was already running long and I knew I had more than a few things to say after Say the Word. Plus, I wasn’t sure anyone was reading that bit.

    Hopefully see you in the chat on Monday.

    (that would be The Walking Dead’Cast’s live chat while they record their episodes on Mondays at 4:30 PM PST for those who don’t know what I am referring to… you can chat with me, Elisa, and many others in the great TWD loving community that gathers there… and no, I don’t get paid to advertise for their podcast, I’m just a fan/listener)

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