Craig Johnson’s Take on Longmire: Wondrous, But Weird

Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire
Robert Taylor as Walt Longmire
This Sunday, June 3rd, the first of ten episodes of Longmire will debut on A&E at 10pm EDT, and I’m just hoping I can watch it.

Having your books turned into a television series is pretty weird, and the only way I can describe the experience is that it’s something like having a houseplant in your house for eight years and suddenly having it start talking to you one morning—wondrous, but weird. The weirdness started when I walked on the set and saw the county designation 24 on the Wyoming license plates for the fictitious Absaroka County (Wyoming has only 23 counties).

Later, I was having a hard time concentrating on what Robert Taylor, the actor who plays Walt, was saying in the back of the sheriff’s cabin in the Bandelier National Forest above Los Alamos on the first day of shooting. I kept staring at the elk horn handles on Walt’s .45 Colt just like the ones my buddy Richard Rhoades (the model for Omar) had made for me, the hat made by my hatmaker Mike Hodges up in Billings, Montana, and the Ray-Ban sunglasses like the ones I’ve worn my whole life.

I was finally aware that Robert had been talking to me for about ten minutes, describing to me the innermost aspects of the sheriff’s character. He paused and laughed at himself, “I can’t believe I’m standing here telling you about Walt Longmire.”

The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson
The first Walt Longmire novel.
The Longmire novels are written in first-person, which means that the sheriff is never very far from my thoughts or narrative. I tend to refer to Walt as a detective for the disenfranchised, a man whose secret weapon is his compassion for the less fortunate or forgotten members of society. I think he has an empathy for the outsiders because, in a sense, he’s one himself; a rogue male somewhat driven off from the herd, even if it is a self-imposed exile.

Another thing I like about him is his ability to surprise me. I was talking to Greer Shephard, the producer of the A&E series based on the books, and she asked me if I thought of Walt as being a verbose person and I said yes. She told me to go through one of my books and highlight his dialogue, what he actually says. . . . She was right; he thinks a great deal but doesn’t say much—it was a genuine revelation.

Robert got called onto the porch where they were shooting the scene with Cassidy Freeman, who plays Cady, Walt’s daughter. They ran the lines a few times and then started filming the scene where Cady gently rakes him over the coals for not doing something with the tea tin that contains her mother’s ashes, “Dad, people want to know where they can go to pay their respects, and I can’t tell them to go stand in front of the refrigerator.”

There I was watching the first scene of the television show adapted from my books being filmed.

Then something strange happened.

My eyes started welling up, and I had to turn away and walk off the set.

There was something about watching these characters, these people I’d created, going about their lives and discussing the innermost workings of their hearts that hit me like a war lance.

I went up on the hillside and just stood there breathing.

I’m hoping to do better come Sunday night.

[Please stop by at 11:15pm Eastern, right after Longmire’s premiere ends for a full recap by one of our bloggers, and follow us on Twitter @CrimeHQ as we tweet the premiere with hashtag #Longmire.]

Craig Johnson has received high praise for his Sheriff Walt Longmire novels The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Another Man’s Moccasins, and The Dark Horse, which received a superfecta of starred reviews from Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal, and was named one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of the year for 2009.


  1. Leigh Neely

    I’m so excited about this show. I haven’t read the books but plan to do that soon. I am just thrilled with the cast members and have been a big fan of several of them. I think it’s going to be a hit after just looking at the promos!

  2. Betty Breier

    I just love the Longmire books and hope the show does them justice. I sure like the trailers I’ve seen and look forward to seeing the first episode on Sunday.

  3. Gretchen Coburn

    Have followed Walt & his friends since the first book & was anxious about the first episode. Would I like it or hate it? Would it give your characters breath or smother them w/pretension? And I was making my husband, who hasn’t read any of the books, watch it w/me. Would he turn on Walt et. al. just because A&E didn’t get it right? I’m so glad my anxiety was excised by the show. As always, what we imagine in our heads via reading is almost always better than anyone else’s imagining (especially in an expensive visual medium), but for a visual version, this was outstanding. I (& my husband) are looking forward to the 9 more episodes. Thank you!

  4. Gwenna

    Longmire a breath of fresh air. Excellent cast…direction…writing…
    editing. Breathtaking photography of New Mexico…(on my travel bucket list)…A-1 all round. Waiting (not so patiently) for series #3…
    So many questions to be answered…Creepy Det Fales must be set straight…Henry’s innocence must be established and Branch MUST survive !! One more thing…Lizzie must move on…She’s too pushy and
    manipulative for sweet, naive Walt.

  5. David Cranmer

    They couldn’t have picked a finer series to adapt, Craig. I will tune in and watch and thank you for the unique perspective few writers could have written with such humbleness and still wide-eyed enthusiasm.

  6. Tabby Bern

    I have enjoyed – to a point – the TV adaptation of Craig Johnson’s Longmire books. However, I have been disappointed at how shallow Cady Longmire, Henry Standing Bear, Vic Morretti and Luciaen Connally are in the TV series. Some of the story lines regardng Native Americans are a bit too commercialized or made to fit the idea of corruption that is not portrayed in the novels. I guess that is the price to be paid when solid characters hit the TV screen and it has to be made to sell – the way the depth of the book characters have been shallowed out to sell the TV series makes me a little sad. I hope Mr Johnson does not turn his book characters into the TV characters….

  7. Megat Ishak

    Longmire is a great TV series. It brings back decency to the small screen. Its a long swig of fresh cold water!

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