Warning – this article contains spoilers from The Walking Dead television show and graphic novel.
TV shows based off books, graphic novels, or comics have an advantage – their creators have plenty of source material to work with. That doesn’t limit them, as most adaptations deviate from the source to some degree. But it does provide a point for comparison, and creates the chance for some interesting overlaps.
Source material makes it easier for showrunners to plan the show’s long-term direction, while also providing a chance for them to swerve the audience and hit them with a surprise when they least expect.
“The Key” aired on March 18 and served as episode 12 in The Walking Dead’s eighth season. Despite concerns about the show’s dropping ratings, writers and crew have seemingly put everything on the table in the second-half of this season.
There’ve been major character deaths on both sides of the ongoing war – Gavin, one of the leading Savior generals, has already been killed. Likewise, Carl Grimes, who is still a major player in the source material (ahead of the show chronologically), said goodbye in one of the most shocking deaths in the series’ history.
His death echoed the sentiment that there “had to be something after” the war. This could also be viewed as a move by the writers to show they are still invested in the program and have big plans for it moving forward.
Audiences around the world may have got a glimpse into those plans during The Key. A curious visitor arrived and confronted several of the main characters. The show has conditioned viewers to be skeptical anytime a stranger approaches, as the group has fallen prey to everything from cannibals to the current state that is Negan.
The new character, named Georgie and played by Jayne Atkinson, made good on a shady-sounding deal and ended up providing valuable resources. Then she left, promising an eventual return. This could be the writers taking a clever opportunity and working in a current comic character early, to provide some continuity later.
After the war story concludes in the source material, a time skip sees the characters develop their civilization substantially. After dealing with more hordes of the undead and the lingering dangers of old enemies, a new community is discovered. The New World Order, as the group is referred to, is a location with thousands of people – more than the show has ever depicted at once, except in pre-apocalypse flashbacks.
The location also has modern technology, which further fuels suspicion that the knowledge-bearing guest was from the comic community. The showrunners have already been teasing the time skip but planting an early clue about a possible upcoming story arc is a wise way to keep viewers guessing and keep interest building in the show.
Despite the ratings slip, the showrunners still seem determined to tell Robert Kirkman’s story and keep, at least to some degree, faithfulness to the source material.