The Most Shocking Change in “Shawshank Escape” Made Tommy’s Story Better


Tommy’s ending in “The Shawshank Escape” is very different from the one in Stephen King’s book, but a big change in the film made his goal more meaningful. Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Escape is an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Rescue, with the director making several key changes to the original narrative. Along with the opera scene by Andy Dufresne and the reunion of Andy and Red in the finale of “Escape from Shawshank”, one of the biggest changes was the fate of prisoner Tommy Williams (Jill Bellows).

In Stephen King’s book, Tommy Williams did not die in Shawshank Prison. While Tommy was still an integral character who informed Andy about his wife’s real killer and a professional golfer, Stephen King, Norton’s supervisor, silenced Tommy in a different way. Norton offered Tommy a deal where he would be transferred to a quieter prison with weekend vacations, which would allow him to visit his wife and daughter, in exchange for Tommy never telling the truth about Andy’s case. Tommy agreed to the deal, and Andy discovered that he had been transferred after leaving solitary confinement. Of course, this is completely different from the fate of Tommy in the movie “Shawshank Escape”, where warden Norton ordered Captain Hadley to shoot him.

Related: The title of “Shawshank Escape” is about Red, not Andy — Explanation of the Theory

The shocking change in The Shawshank Escape, when Tommy was killed by a warden rather than transferred, made his connection with Andy much more meaningful and dramatic. Not only did Tommy’s death contribute to Andy’s decision to implement his prison escape plan, it also led to Andy losing more hope after leaving solitary confinement. Tommy was one of the few kind people in the prison with whom Andy was really connected, and it was the extreme actions of warden Norton that reinforced his realization that he would never be allowed to leave Shawshank. Tommy gave Andy real hope that he could be released from prison, but his death quickly killed that dream. While Tommy’s role in Stephen King’s The Shawshank Redemption story is still important and compelling, his death in the film is more dramatic and devastating for Andy.

Why “Shawshank Escape” killed Tommy

As in many adaptations of the book to the film, the change in Tommy’s fate in “The Shawshank Escape” most likely had a dramatic effect. Both Andy and the audience lose more hope for Tommy’s unjust murder than if Tommy were simply transferred. There was still hope that Tommy would be able to change his mind and help Andy’s case if Darabont used the book version of his story, but his murder erased any notion that Andy could leave Shawshank Prison legally.

Tommy’s murder also reinforces the theme of deep-rooted corruption in The Shawshank Escape. While it wouldn’t surprise Andy that the warden arranged for the prisoner’s transfer to keep him quiet, covering up Tommy’s murder without fear of consequences proved how high the stakes are for Andy in Shawshank. Warden Norton has always been the villain in the story of The Shawshank Escape, but the brutal murder of Tommy Williams really convinced him of this.


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