The fourth episode of this season of The Walking Dead is really about group dynamics, and about individual protection, and about knowing when the people around you are poisonous to your health and survival. These are easy themes to identify, because the writers spend the entire episode beating you over the head with them. Self-preservation is built into the DNA of this episode on every level: there must be sacrifices, and trying to do the right thing can turn you into a villain in other people’s eyes. In a more subtle example, a discussion over whether to offer a Confederate jacket from the Civil War to a cold African American woman highlights just how little personal beliefs and ethics matter in the new world of The Walking Dead.
After the ending of the third episode, The Walking Dead is left without a major villain or conflict, and so the lens turns inwards on the group of survivors Clementine has thrown her lot in with. After so many years of identical pop cultural morals the idea that people are their own worst enemies during a zombie outbreak is pretty hackneyed, and this episode doesn’t really bring much new to the theme beyond framing it through characters we’ve gotten to know. But when Jane instructs Clementine on the value of being alone, it works because the characters have been drawn well, and because after eight episodes of arguments and conflict her words start to make a lot of sense. Still, it’s very heavy-handed, with Jane spending the majority of the episode conveying a singular viewpoint that lends itself to the situations you encounter a little too conveniently.
The Walking Dead continues to ramp up the horror and suffering that its main characters go through, reaching a point of near flippancy. It’s starting to get difficult to really feel the full weight of some moments, which I suppose mirrors Clementine’s journey in some ways – I made two horrific decisions towards the end of the episode without a moment’s thought and didn’t feel particularly guilty about either of them. In a way this speaks to the inevitability of the game’s design, and the fact that your decisions can’t always have the major effects you might want them to. After nine episodes I’ve started to get a feeling for when a character is marked for death, and when my actions will or won’t potentially save someone.
Outside of these decisions, it’s interesting to see Telltale cautiously thinking about getting the players to use their minds a bit more in this episode. There are scenarios in here that are almost-sort-of puzzle sequences. They have a bit of a My First Adventure Game feel to them, but it’s enough to make you sort of wish that future instalments started to feel closer to typical point and clicks. While the narrative focus has been wonderful, the novelty has worn just a little bit, and these fleeting glimpses show a possible way for the game to remain relevant through a third season.
Amid The Ruins is another quality Telltale episode, but it’s not the most memorable that they’ve ever done. It ends on a huge cliffhanger, as they all seem to now, but it’s not necessarily one that sets up an exciting final conflict. The disappearance of Christa in Episode 1 has been more or less forgotten, it seems, even though the season hangs so heavily on Clementine. TellTale are generally great at sticking the landing and nailing the finale, although it’s not entirely clear, at this point, where they’re going to take us for the last episode.
James “Jickle” O’Connor is a freelance games critic, journalist and occasional editor, based in South Australia. His favourite game of all time is The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, and he is absurdly, comically rubbish at most fighting games (except for Killer Instinct on the SNES, which was, incidentally, the first game he ever owned). He has huge soft spots for point and click adventure games, third-person shooters, and Deus Ex.
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