GROUPING INDIVIDUALISM INTO A BOX
In Telltale’s The Walking Dead, there’s either one of two situations going on. One is when characters stay alone. They’re by themselves, maybe with one or two other people, and everything’s about straight survival. Keep moving. Use the vehicles available to you. Everyone else is either a zombie or ready to rob and kill you anyway. The other is when characters find their way into a larger group. There’s safety in numbers, but something always goes wrong. Someone always objects to a good plan. Discord is sewn. Leaders become corrupted by their power. Secrets are revealed. Big confrontations and political moves result in the death of one or two innocents as collateral.
This beginning of The Final Season trots out both of these situations and has a hard time deciding which one is ultimately worse. In some ways the whole series comes off as this Sisyphean, nihilist masterpiece. Characters keep hope and survive as long as they can. Sometimes they work alone, and then in a group, and keep cycling back and forth until they’re dead. There’s no end to their struggles, and it’s doubtful whether it really matters, because the Walker threat grows and humans grow ever more desperate.
Starting off with Clementine and AJ by themselves, “Done Running” gives us a good glimpse into their lives since we saw them last. AJ has grown up enough that he can actually help – distracting Walkers, fitting into tight spaces, serving as lookout – he even has a gun. He’s about the same age Clementine was when the series began, and Telltale uses circular storytelling to call back to those earlier times. At one point, Clem and AJ find themselves in a bad situation that’s a near mirror-image from Season One. Saved by a group of kids, they’re allowed to stay with them as long as they like. This is a small respite, though, as things get dicey once again, and this episode ends on the kind of cliffhanger ending this series is known for.
There are some new features that help distract from the feeling of going through the motions for the fourth (or fifth, if you could Michonne) time. Clem and AJ have their own room where they can hang pictures and place other trinkets they find throughout the game. The relationship mechanic has been redefined as well, leaning more on “Your relationship with This Person has changed” instead of the usual “This Person will remember that.” There’s also a hint or two that Telltale might try giving Clementine a love interest – but whether that’s really going to happen, or I’m just projecting, remains to be seen.
In this instance, I’m reminded of the moment in Metal Gear Solid when Otacon asks whether or not love can bloom, even on a battlefield. In the world of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, you’re either fighting for survival, or you’re giving up, accepting the end that comes to you. This is the battlefield – but, if things progress as they always do, I don’t know if love will even matter. As characters cycle from working alone to working in groups and back, the chances are equally high in either instance that AJ, Clem, or her love interest will die by the end of the season. Maybe two. Perhaps even all three. It’s the way this series goes.
Since this is The Final Season, part of me wants the cycle to stop. Instead of having death consume them all, maybe this season will veer into a different direction. I know, as Vaas in Far Cry 3 tell us, that doing the same thing over and over again while hoping for a different outcome is the definition of insanity. And if playing through all of Telltale’s The Walking Dead feels a lot like doing the same things over and over again, then hoping for things to change would be insane. I don’t think it is, though – in the end, video games thrive on change and innovation. The Walking Dead: Season One was itself innovative for the time. So I choose to hold out hope that Telltale can circle back to that and give us an ending we’d never expect, instead of one we can see coming, yet again.
This review was conducted using a digital copy of the game I bought from the Playstation Network. This game is also available on Xbox One, PC, and Switch.