As something adapted from the page, The Walking Dead is a particularly strange product. Since it began in 2010, the show has had an interesting relationship with the comic it's based on. From the reasonably faithful yet temporally loose Season 1 helmed by Frank Darabont, to the more recent seasons liberally adding new characters and concepts like Terminus. Then there's Season 2, where just a couple issues were extended into a whole season's worth of content. Who can blame them. We all love indoor farmhouse action, right?
Since Scott Gimple took over as show runner in Season 4, The Walking Dead has somehow become weightier. Memorable concepts from the comics are given greater emphasis, yet the departures the show makes are more substantial. It makes you realise that The Walking Dead is always in flux, with even those ahead with the comics unable to predict what's coming. That's a truly powerful place to be in for the show runners.
And so we look towards Season 6. For anyone who is up to date with The Walking Dead comics, we know there are plenty of events the show could indulge in, but will it? Season 5 ended with the show primed to follow the comics closely, albeit with a slightly sinister tone. It seems they're almost going for an I Am Legend approach, with Rick and his group explicitly drawing a line between some semblance of civilisation and the brutal survivors they've become.
It seems The Walking Dead is now in a similar position to Game of Thrones, where the narrative liberties of the show keep all fans on edge, regardless of their knowledge of the source material. However, where Game of Thrones seemingly unravels in its dedication to the books, causing original fans to drop their monocles into their brandy, The Walking Dead has always played fast and loose with concepts in the comics, so the events of Season 6 really could go either way.
So, with Season 5 wrapped up, what do Scott Gimple and the Walking Dead Patrons have to work with?
An interesting departure from the comics, The Wolves seem to be more a testament to building up plot beats than actually being a worthy presence in the story. For so long, there was speculation of who these "wolves" could be, and if they would turn out to be AMC's version of a much more sinister figure from the comics. Human antagonists in The Walking Dead tend to fit one of two categories; Harming Rick's group horrendously and making the audience feel bad, or being horrendously harmed by Rick himself, compromising his role as the good guy hero and... you know, making the audience feel bad.
In reality, these guys are much more comparable to The Scavangers group, who are mostly an excuse for the Alexandria Safe Zone to fall apart. The way The Wolves carve W's on their heads, and style themselves on native American legend really isn't as intimidating as the show thinks it is. Hell, for a while, all we saw of them were walkers stamped with their mark, so they clearly aren't that good at what they do.
Whether these guys shape up to be something significant or not, there's always the worry that they may just be a form of the show stalling. I'm not saying that the events of the comic are the show's only lifeline, but The Walking Dead has done this before, where a huge departure from Robert Kirkman's original story is played up, then disposed of in order for the show to follow the broader narrative. In the case of The Wolves, I wouldn't mind if they were disposed of at the start of Season 6. It will be a whole different story if they lead to...
Hoo boy! Now this is the big decision. This is the stick or switch moment for Scott Gimple in his role as show runner. Not just in terms of whether to include Negan as a character, but whether to commit fully to his implication on the story. Without spoiling anything too substantial, following through with some of Negan's actions would cause some big, BIG upset in the Walking Dead fanbase. This is to say it might even turn some people off from watching. It will be even harder to adapt some of these events from the comic, simply through the nature of TV production. While Robert Kirkman makes great use of being brutal towards his readers, he's still dealing with figures on a page. The Walking Dead show has real actors to deal with, and while job security on the set of The Walking Dead is hardly enviable, there's still the issue of attachment that people build up towards a person on screen. The question emerges. Are you being faithful to the source material, or are you just being mean?
I'm of the opinion that just because you can, doesn't mean you should. Yeah, it's fashionable today to be really harsh to your audience and their favourite characters, and yeah, everyone watched The Viper and The Mountain. But come on, AMC! If Game of Thrones jumped off a cliff, would you do it too? Actually, you probably would if it got the ratings up. Ultimately, this decision comes down to whether Negan is a worthy character. Oh, he's an influencial character, make no mistake. However, the overall story surrounding him could be employed without the cruelty and cynicism that Robert Kirkman is so good at conjuring up.
Personally, I feel the show could benefit from detaching from Rick Grimes and the core group. It would give the world a dynamic feel and stop the story simply becoming Rick on a constructed conveyer belt of depressing encounters. Then I remember that The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on television, and I shut up.