Telltale’s The Walking Dead, S2E4: “Amid The Ruins”

THE PAIN TRAIN DOES NOT STOP

If Season Two of Telltale’s choose-your-own-misadventure experience has had any strong theme, it’s that life is hard, death is easy, and you can save some people some of the time, but you can’t save all people all of the time—or even some people, some of the time. Perhaps the same thing could have been said about Season One, but the first season was a long journey and it didn’t always feel like the wheels were falling off your bus, whereas Season Two maintains perfect eye contact while it explodes the bus, along with all of your supplies and friends.

In the beginning of the season, it was more about Clementine standing on her own, and then integrating herself into a new group. Episode four takes us back to a difficulty reminiscent of Season One: the party knows each other, hates each other, and relies on each other. Just as the player was forced to keep the team together as both leader, mediator, and fighter, so too now must Clementine. Nevermind the fact that Clementine is an eleven-year-old; she’s saved just about everyone’s lives one way or another, and there’s hardly any questioning of her wisdom as she advises the rest of the group. Like Lee, she leads unofficially, she has no real power, but everyone trusts her enough that her opinions often end arguments. At least, temporarily.

The episode begins with the party scattered, infirm, and severely traumatized, and it’s only through a lot of effort that the party can cooperate at all. Even when they aren’t, they will continue to argue in the face of looming death and responsibility. And, constantly, the episode asks you to trust them, even as they lead you astray, lie to you, betray you, and generally go completely insane. Clementine has been the party’s best supporting member for long enough that they no longer treat her like a child at all. They rely on her, and this episode sees plenty of Clementine becoming more and more adept at killing, talking, and leading. Although much of the beginning (episode one especially) of the season focused on her difficulties being alone and being an eleven-year-old, now she is expected to behave like an adult. Of course, the game will remind you with her dialogue that she isn’t, that she doesn’t always know what to do.

The game will remind you that people die and things go to shit, because in this game people are always dying and things are always going to shit. That’s part of its appeal. The game punches you when you are up, and kicks you harder when you’re down. Sometimes, there is no saving people, sometimes everything goes wrong at once, but always the game gives you just enough mercy to continue; and just enough rope to hang yourself with. Those unfamiliar with the series might be waiting for me to talk about when it gets fun, but the pain and the stress is fun. The game is a cathartic ride through emotions and fear and critical thinking, and it gives an incredible experience. What more could we ask from our art?

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