I’ll admit I was a bit wary of playing Telltale’s The Walking Dead season 2 for the same reason I was wary of The Dark Knight Rises, I was afraid that the second season wouldn’t be able to live up to the original. I’m happy to report that my fears were proven wrong and that not only does The Walking Dead: Season 2 live up to the original game, but in many ways it’s superior to the original. It manages to correct the few mistakes from the last game, and tells a story even more riveting than Lee’s… the story of Clementine.

Obviously this review is going to contain spoilers so, you know, don’t read it if you haven’t played it. Which you totally should.

The Walking Dead: Season 2

A Storyteller’s Review

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When last we left Clementine, she’d just finished blowing Lee’s brains all over the wall in one of the most emotional finales I’ve ever encountered in a video game. Season 2 begins with Clementine tagging along with Omid and Christa as they make their way north. Who are Omid and Christa? If you, like me, hadn’t played the first season of Walking Dead in a while you probably won’t remember these two. They were introduced late in Episode 4 and thus didn’t get as much screen time as the more memorable characters. Don’t worry though, they’ll be dead before you really have to worry about remembering them. Also like me, if you’re missing your savegame from Season 1, not importing a save doesn’t have any significant impact on the story as far as I can tell, so feel free to dive right in.

It’s been about a year and a half since the events of Episode 5 of Season 1, and Clementine is now bigger, more mature and, let’s face it, a bit more disturbed. After Omid is killed by some stupid teenager looking for an easy score, Christa blames Clementine for his death. Though personally I would be blaming the two adults who thought it was a good idea to leave a 9-year-old alone in a zombie infested wasteland. Anyway after one the most intense chase scenes I’ve ever played through, Clementine falls into a river and is swept away by the current, leaving behind a horde of walkers and the thugs that tried to kill her.

And leaving one of the thugs minus a thumb, because you don't fuck with my Clementine.
And leaving one of the thugs minus a thumb, because you don’t fuck with my Clementine.

This is where the story really begins, with everything before providing the inciting incident; Clementine finds herself alone, unarmed and with no supplies in the middle of a forest with winter fast approaching. Fortunately Clementine finds herself a new friend:

Man's best friend.
Man’s best friend.

Together Clementine and her new Canine companion go on many magical adventures; playing fetch, scavenging for supplies, and sharing a meal. Oh the good times I imagined me and my new friend would have together. Just me and my faithful dog against the scary, zombie-infested world. Soon we’d…we’d…

Clementine attacked by Dog
Dude, what the fuck!? I thought we were bros!

This scene shocked me on so many levels. When I was taking Creative Writing at the local college, my teacher told me a very specific fact about dogs and stories, a fact that I’ve never questioned.

You can have your protagonist kill men, women, even children and still have your audience rooting for your character. But the minute your character kills a dog, say goodbye to your readers.

I’ve always found this to be true, and apparently so do many other writers, because you never see a hero killing a dog. If you see a dog die in a story, it’s almost always a result of either the villain’s actions or environmental factors. This is mostly because dogs are often always the heroes in stories, even the powerful Dire Wolves of the Song of Ice and Fire series are seen as heroic companions rather than the apex predators they are. That’s not surprising considering that canines have been our loyal companions for thousands of years. This scene with Clementine though, is probably the most realistic depiction of dogs I’ve seen in a video game.

In the right conditions any one of us would turn into a heartless, cold blooded killer. We’re all predators, but because we live in comfort with readily available sources of food, safety from the elements and disease, we’ve suppressed the instincts that have made us such efficient killers. Dogs are no different, in a loving environment with food, warmth and safety, dogs are one of the most loyal and dedicated friends you could ever ask for. Throw a dog into the cold, deprive it of food, put it in constant danger and isolate it from people, and they will quickly revert to their most basic instincts: that of the wolf.  That’s what happened to this dog. To its credit it was friendly for most of the time, but once Clementine found that food, the dog’s overwhelming instinct for survival took over.

It’s a credit to the people at Telltale that they so brilliantly lured you in with the dog’s pleasant demeanor, we trust dogs almost implicitly and they used that trust to shock us with this powerful scene. When a story needs to reinforce the stakes of a story, reiterate the harsh realities of their world, most of them will kill off a human character. That’s a fine way to do it, but Telltale’s decision to use this dog instead was simply…brilliant. We love dogs, and to see what many of us consider to be our closest friends, reduced to a wild animal willing to kill a little girl over a can of beans, that reinforced the stakes of the story in a way that shocked our sensibilities. It told us that the world we live in was truly gone. That dog dragged Clementine to the ground and dragged us into harsh, unforgiving reality of her story.

Dog dying after attacking Clementine
I’m so sorry.

I wanted to be angry at the dog, but I couldn’t. I understood why it attacked me. I chose to kill the dog, not because I was seeking revenge, but because the dog deserved mercy. I wasn’t about to let it spend hours in agony slowly bleeding to death. With a tearful goodbye I forgave the dog and ended its suffering.

That’s just the first fifteen minutes of the first episode by the way, and it does an absolutely terrific job setting the stage for the rest of the game. In fact the dog represents a microcosm of the story itself; will you become like the dog? Will you put your survival above all else, even at the expense of other people’s lives? Or will you try to hold onto your humanity?

Obviously this isn’t the first story to explore such questions, but exploring those questions through the eyes of a 11-year-old girl makes this one of the most riveting and compelling explorations of these themes. While most stories shy away from showing children in pain, The Walking Dead takes an almost perverse pleasure in not only making you watch her suffer, but making you work with her through the worst pain she’s ever experienced.

"I'm going to make you stick pins into a little girl's arm... just to watch you squirm." - The Game
“I’m going to make you stick pins into a little girl’s arm… just to watch you squirm.” – The Game

Holy shit this sequence was crazy, absolutely crazy. The game shows you, in excruciating detail, Clementine disinfecting and stitching shut her gaping wound by herself. The dickheads she meets up with are convinced the arm wound in a zombie bite, so the stupid bunch of cowards go and lock her in a storage closet to see if she turns. I was ready to see all of these idiots die horribly because they pissed me off. Who leaves a little girl to die in a utility shed? Really guys? What the fuck is wrong with you?

Once again though, Telltale never makes things simple for you, and as you get to know this new group of survivors, you’ll not only understand their decision but will in all probability forgive them for leaving you to die in a drafty old shed. And yes, once again, it’s these characters that make this game so incredible.

All of the problems I had with the previous Walking Dead season have been completely eradicated in this one. There are no more forgettable characters like Omid and Christa, each and every character you meet in this game will stick in your memory. Even the ones that die only moments after you meet them.

Sometimes especially the ones that die after you meet them...
Especially the ones that die after you meet them…

My biggest gripe from the first season came in the form of the Walkie-Talkie-Baddie, the strange villain that came out of nowhere and served no purpose than to give you an overwrought overview of your actions over the course of the game. This time there is no impossible to explain villain and no contrived kidnappings; it’s just you, your company of survivors, and the hard decisions you have to make in order to survive. Also, unlike the ending of the first season which railroaded you towards the ending, you get some time to rest and appreciate the characters you’re travelling with.

This scene around the campfire is yet another great example of juxtaposition, I was smiling and laughing right alongside my companions, especially when Luke began talking about his sexual escapades with Jane.

I just wanted to forget about everything for ten minutes. – Luke

Ten minutes? Hell I wouldn’t last that long at this point. – Mike

Well, okay, maybe not ten minutes. – Luke

That’s gross. – Clementine

It’s a puerile sex joke, and in any other context wouldn’t be that funny, but after the stress of surviving zombies, crazy Russians, and a mentally unravelling Kenny, it was the funniest thing I’d heard all day. For a few moments, while huddling around the fire and listening to people laughing, I thought maybe this group would be okay. That maybe we’d all survive. Maybe everything would be alright.

Of course then we tried to cross the river and everything went to hell.
Of course then we tried to cross the river and everything went to hell.

Luke falling through the ice and drowning proves to the final straw for this group of survivors. Kenny, who has been becoming increasingly unhinged since the death of Sarita, is ready to kill Arvo and leave the rest of the group behind if necessary. Alvin Jr. (AJ), the newborn of Rebecca, has become an obsession with Kenny. His entire reason for living becomes wrapped up in the survival of the child and he begins seeing anyone who doesn’t agree with him as a threat to the kid’s survival. Mike, Bonnie and Arvo are completely terrified of Kenny, and I can’t say I blamed them. What I can blame them for is shooting Clementine before running off into the forest. Though perhaps she should thank them, because after being shot, Clementine wakes up in the arms of a familiar friend.

2014-08-26_00011It was good to see Lee again, I didn’t realize how much I’d missed his character until this scene. Clementine’s mind, reeling from the shock of a bullet tearing through her shoulder, retreats to the last moment when Clementine felt safe. This scene gives us not only a much needed break from the constant stress of survival, but a valuable glimpse into Clementine’s subconscious. As much as she’s grown, as much as she’s proven that she can care for herself, inside she’s still a little girl. Inside she wants what we all want, to feel safe and loved. It’s a nice scene that reminds us that, even though Clementine has killed more than her share of Walkers, and even a few human beings, she’s still a child. A child who just wants someone to tell her it will be alright.

Clementine's flashback to Lee
It will be alright.

When Clementine regains consciousness she finds herself in the truck that Kenny managed to get started, with Kenny and Jane arguing over their next course of action. Kenny wants to continue searching for Wellington, an almost mythical sanctuary at this point that might be more rumor than fact, while Jane wants to head back south to Carver’s old base where they know supplies are being kept. It’s clear a choice has to be made, Kenny and Jane are both too stubborn and shortsighted to put aside their differences, leaving Clementine to make the decision.

After getting separated in a Blizzard they regroup at a rest stop, but when Jane arrives without AJ Kenny finally loses his tenuous grip on reality and goes completely crazy. Like any good narrative, this scene hearkens back to the scene with our dog friend. I trusted Kenny, he’d been a good friend, but a person can only take so much before he’s irrevocably broken. Sarita’s death was Kenny’s breaking point. I tried to reach him, to pull him back from the edge. Like the dog who attacked Clementine though, Kenny was beyond reasoning when he attacked Jane. Finally… he left me choice.

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To my surprise, the bullet lodged in Kenny’s hip seemed to make him a bit more lucid, and he forgave me for shooting him. The man who only a few minutes ago was prepared to stick a knife in a girl’s heart…finally seemed at peace.

I’ve asked for this for so long… and now that it’s here… I’m scared. – Kenny

You’re going to see Duck and Katjaa… – Clementine

You always were good for a smile… – Kenny’s last words.

Kenny dies after being shot by Clementine
Goodbye my old friend…

Saying goodbye to Kenny was just as emotional as saying goodbye to Lee in the previous episode, and this time it wasn’t tainted by an inexplicable villain. The finale of episode 5 ranks as one of the finest endings in any video game ever, and Telltale once again shows us what a powerful storytelling device video games can be. The Walking Dead may not always be good for a smile, but it’s always good for an incredible journey. And it’s a journey I urge you to undertake because it’s one of the finest, most emotional journeys you’ll ever take inside a video game. It may be filled with tragedy, loss and darkness…

But that just makes the moments of hope all the brighter.
But that just makes the moments of hope all the brighter.

 

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Written by John Stevenson

I'm a freelance writer based out of Seattle, Washington.

9 comments

  1. How different people perceive things. 🙂
    FIrst of, I remembered Christa and Omid (especially Omid) very well. Omid is this, a little bit geeky, nice guy that I thought was likable. I especially remembered pushing Omid off a bridge because he was scared to jump and feeling bad because he got hurt. I was so sad when he almost immediately died at the beginning of Season 2. Him and Luke were probably the only 2 deaths I cared about in the whole Season.
    Overall I never really bothered liking anyone or caring about them. By now the formula is too well known to still work on me all that much. Whenever someone is to die, he will be made more likable shortly before, so the probability is higher that players will be emotionally affected by it. The whole fire scene you mentioned is a prime example for this. It serves no other purpose than to make players feel more sad about the death following shortly after. Going about it like that, has almost the opposite effect on me. Not even mentioning that it gives away when someone is about to die.
    I actually cried at the end of Season 1 when Clem had to shoot Lee. I should probably be ashamed or something, but I had to cry pretty hard. Season 2 and especially the ending had no such impact on me. Not at all. It was kind of anti-climactic even. I wasn’t sad about Kenny’s death, because although the player had the most history with him at this point, he had always been kind of an ass. He always was this drama queen that could snap at any moment and blew absolutely everything out of proportion. Partially I blame the way the game is written, because that’s how they try to create intense drama, but I don’t like people who behave this way in real life, it’s not better in a game.
    The reason why I played this Season, was that I like Clem. Always have. Normally I don’t like kids in most media (same as dogs) because they are typically just there to be exploited for some emotions with cheap tricks and I dislike these overused methods, but with her it was different, I always rooted for her (survival). Oh and Jane was cool to, I could relate somewhat and she taught Clem useful things (like easily taking out zombies) while Kenny was only yelling around, having his temper tantrums every 15 minutes. So I didn’t even have to think for a second whom I would support in the end. Since I’m certainly not the only one who mainly cares about Clem, I was really surprised how much time was spent on other characters who were usually just there to die in pseudo-emotional scenes and little else. The only thing that surprised me was that they didn’t kill Clem, so this means Season 3 is coming soon (and this will be when they kill her off).
    Overall I liked The Wolf Among Us a lot more. It doesn’t just have one likable character and it knows more/better ways to entertain than just showing death scenes. I think it’s superior to TWD in pretty much every way. And I’m not even touching the fact how unoriginal zombie-stuff is now, which doesn’t help TWD either.

    Oh, almost forgot: The only question I had in Season 2, was what became of Christa. Like Kenny in Season 1, she was never shown dying. I expected her to show up at any point, but then the Season ended without ever mentioning her again. So I guess she will be the one “lost” character that is going to resurface in Season 3, like Kenny did in Season 2.

    Okay this is seriously my last thing now: This “arc” with Sarah was a really big disappointment to me in Season 2. Really big disappointment. When she appeared she was set up to have this secret and whatnot, it seemed like something about her would be revealed during the Season, but then she was just another disposable character like all the others who were just there for their death scene… If I hadn’t stopped caring earlier, this certainly would have done the trick.

    1. Sorry for the delay in responding, it was a busy weekend. I suppose its true that these survival stories always have a certain formula they follow, but that’s never really affected my enjoyment of them. You bring up many good points though.

      To be honest I hadn’t played the original season since I wrote my original review, so that might be why I didn’t remember Omid or Christa. I too cried bitter tears at the end of Season 1, nothing to be ashamed of. I suppose you’re correct, that a majority of the characters are designed to die, giving them character only so their death has meaning. That said I never let that knowledge interfere with my enjoyment of the story, though I can’t blame you if you did. Maybe it’s because I don’t experience stories like these very often, survival stories are generally my kind of thing, so the formula doesn’t seem quite as tired to me.

      I do agree with your assessment of the Christa and Sarah subplots and I should have touched on them in my review. Christa I feel should have been killed during that fight with those thugs, in fact if you choose not to distract the thugs you see her get stabbed in the leg. You’re right that she’ll probably show up with some improbable survival story in some future episode, and that’ll be a shame. I also got tired of Clem always getting dialogue options to ask about Christa, it was always a waste of a dialogue option.

      Sarah was kind of a tragic lost opportunity. I think the big “secret” they were building up to was that Sarah had some form of autism. It obviously wasn’t too severe, but she displayed some telltale signs of it. I think that would have been an interesting story, an autistic girl trying to survive in a apocalyptic world. Autism, while a hinderance in modern society, would have certain advantages in a zombie apocalypse.

      http://www.cracked.com/article_20905_5-brain-disorders-that-started-as-evolutionary-advantages_p2.html

      Autism is #1 on the list. But instead of exploring the unique situatiosn that would arise with an autistic group member, they just sort of a sidelined her. She was pretty deliberate emotional bait, and so I left her without an ounce of regret because she never really became a character to me, she was just a cipher. It was really a shame.

      I’ve hear good things about the Wolf Among Us series and I may finally pick it up.

      1. Christa was pregnant and lost her baby. Rebecca gave birth but died. So it always seemed to me as if they intended to fuse these things together, because it was presented as such an obvious fit. I was surprised when that didn’t happen. Actually I wanna go on record here, that I still expect this to happen in Season 3, now that 2 is over.

        I liked Wolf Among Us so much, that since its end I’m very tempted to start with the comics – just to bridge the time till Season 2.

  2. De gustibus non est disputandum 🙂
    For me it was fantastic season full of emotions:like in the article mentioned the scene with attacking dog and suturing your own hand were simply shocking, scene when Bonnie came back with Carver to attack the lodge or moment when Arvo shot Clem I’ve felt as personal betrayal. There was a dark moment, when I let Clem on the dark side when she stayed to watch Kenny smashing Carver’s face and when I’ve realized that Sarah was beyond saving when the platform collapsed. Until the end I was trying to bring back Kenny back to sanity, but in the end I felt that I have little choice than shot him.
    One big gap in logic for me was in the end: we know that the main reason Jane and Kenny were arguing was the fact that there was very little food left for the baby (for about 1 day if I remember right), yet Jane and Clem walk for 9 days through the snow back to the store and AJ is well and alive. Not mentioning fact that he was dressed only in one blanket and no one seems to care about mundane things as nappies – we see him all the time as a lovable bundle of joy that sleeps most of the time with occasional moments when he cried (and one puke) – more a toy or a kitten than a human child.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I too watched Kenny cave in Carver’s face. I went even further down the dark path and left Sarah to the walkers rather than try to talk her out of her stupor, though that was more because I didn’t like how the story used Sarah, I think they really missed some cool opportunities there.

      I agree that the Baby proved to be a pretty big plot hole, both in how it acted and its survival. I think they should have made the baby stillborn honestly, it really didn’t serve any other purpose than to serve as a catalyst to Kenny’s madness. Hopefully in the next season they have teh baby act more like a baby, with its crying acting like a constant zombie lure.

      Thanks for writing in!

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  5. I’m tempted to play The Walking Dead season1 and 2 based on your recommendation. I also just finished two play-throughs of The Wolf Among Us and was impressed with Telltale’s production and storytelling–not to mention that choices did impact the ending with significant differences in outcomes/ending scenes. I also enjoyed the characters a lot…although there may not be situations with as big an emotional impact as The Walking Dead. The environment and atmosphere of the world were well put together. I too am interested now to check out the source material in the comics.

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