Apocalypse Regained: How Telltale Saved Season Two of The Walking Dead

Spoiler Alert: This post discusses the plot of Season Two of Telltale Games’s The Walking Dead, include the endings in the season finale.

The Walking Dead Season 2

In a pair of previous posts, I explain why Season One of The Walking Dead was brilliant and most of Season Two (as well as The Wolf Among Us) was relatively weak. Here, I’ll discuss how Season Two started out alright, and then, more importantly, how it saved itself at the end after losing its way.

When Season Two came out, I was excited to continue the interactive story from Season One and 400 Days. And the first episode of Season Two did a good job setting the stage, presenting the player and Clementine with hard scenarios, painful growth, and one or two awkward, imperfect choices that increased my anticipation for Episode Two. My disappointment with most of the middle of Season Two (and with The Wolf Among Us, Telltale’s other release in the meantime) got me to the low point, however, where—in sharp contrast to my acute anticipation of S1:E5 after the cliffhanger ending of S1:E4—I finished Episode Four of Season Two feeling frustrated, disappointed, and pessimistic about the end of the season and Telltale’s future in general.

Happily, after an extremely lackluster opening, S2:E5 regained its footing and turned into a Telltale episode on par with Season One. The middle of the episode presented a tactical decision about saving Luke that made me feel terribly guilty and upset over my failure to make things work. (Later research showed that it was a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t scenario, but in this case, I feel Telltale’s ability to unsettle me wins out over the fact that they did it by tricking me). I later felt embarrassed and angry about having stood up for a character (Arvo) who turned out to be a thoroughly terrible human being (an even more extreme version of how I felt about the Lilly debacle in Season One).

The lead-up to the game’s finale (frustratingly written as it sometimes was in order to get the characters to the plot crossroads the designers wanted) filled me with creeping dread as I realized the choice I was going to have to make. Even so, when I realized how the choice was going to be presented, I was horrified by the terrible options at hand. I made a choice that I hated but felt—and still feel—was right: I shot Kenny to keep him from killing Jane. Kenny’s acceptance of this felt a little too neat in retrospect, but in the moment I was simply grateful for being partially absolved of the terrible thing I’d had Clementine do. I felt satisfied with the hard edges and imperfect outcomes of my final series of choices, and I felt that the dialogue was written well enough that though some of the scenario was clearly plot- rather than character-driven, I could still come up with character motivations that made sense both with what happened and with who I knew Jane, Clem, and Kenny to be. I felt the loss of what could have been with Clem and Kenny terribly, but I still believed that I had been right to save, and go with, Jane (and to help the family afterward).

But, and this is where I feel that Telltale finally regained the greatness that made the first game so affecting, I could completely understand why statistics showed players almost evenly divided amongst the game’s five starkly different endings. The most common ending (as of 8/29/14, four days after release) of Clem + Jane + family has 36.8%, and the least common, Clem + Jane without the family, has 10.4%, with the other three between 13 and 23% each. Aside from the “Clem and Jane rebuff the family” ending, there’s not a permutation that I wouldn’t be tempted to take, and I think all of them work dramatically (some bad dialogue flow in a couple of the options—especially when leaving Kenny to set out on your own—notwithstanding). Having watched all the endings, I didn’t regret my own decision so much as grieve for the loss of bits of happiness and redemption only available in others. I badly wanted to see Kenny redeemed, as he is in the Clem-goes-to-Wellington ending. Or to see hope on the horizon and a more functional Clem-Kenny relationship, in the ending where they stick together but there’s hope for acceptance into Wellington later on. But I think it’s right that this redemption can’t be clean—that it can only come at the cost of looking away as Kenny kills Jane in a preventable murder. No ending lets you have it all, because these people are imperfect and they live in a horrifying world. Being forced to accept that and make choices anyway, while wishing it were otherwise, is Telltale’s narrative achievement at its best. Since playing Episode Five three days ago, I’ve found myself brooding often on the pain of having to kill Kenny after having gone through so much with him over two seasons, but I’m still glad I didn’t just look away. Kenny gets better in the Clem-Kenny endings, but at the climax, he was once again acting with impulsive, selfish, violent rage, while Jane’s idiotic plan was at least dedicated to creating a better situation for Clem.

The endings of Episode Five work well, and they give me hope for Telltale’s future. This is because they finally demonstrate a willingness to provide strongly divergent narrative paths rather than constantly bottlenecking things again so the next season can keep going along one basic path. I care a lot about Clementine, as I did Lee, but I think she’ll be in Season Three only peripherally, if at all—and I think that’s a good thing. The power of Telltale’s narrative focus is on giving player choices meaning, and part of that possibility space must involve meaningfully divergent endings. They got that right with Season Two, even if much of what got us there was stumbling and unaffecting. Like episodic TV, there’s a strong incentive for writers to not do anything drastic to main characters in a plot so the show can go on forever. In avoiding the temptation of riding the Clementine story until they’d squeezed the last penny out of it, Telltale instead rewarded us with a painful, thought-provoking season finale—determined by our choices—that makes me, at least, want to stay aboard for Season Three, whomever it may be about.

Written By: Brandon Perton

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Apocalypse Lost: How Telltale Games Lost Their Way (But Not Forever)

  2. Just my thinking. I looked away and let Kenny kill Jane. I liked Jane but I immediately knew something foul was afoot when Jane arrived cradling herself and not the baby. The baby she didn’t want to feed, the baby she would try to ignore, the baby she didn’t want Rebecca to have in fear of putting herself in danger (not the group) Jane abandoned her sister when her sister needed her most. She left the group and came back only to try to redeem herself for ditching her little sister (selfish motives) Jane also gave away her true self when she was leaving them after Rebecca had the baby and she told Clem not to let the group bring her down with them. Also, in the end – to leave a baby in a car even though it was out of the elements could have still died due to a zombie hearing it cry or if no one heard the baby it would have frozen or starved to death. Not to mention if you shoot Kenny (as I’ve seen others play) notice there is a brief delay in Janes urgency to recover the baby. Aside from putting the baby in danger JUST to prove to Clem that Kenny was crazy. Jane is in total a selfish manipulative impulsive character that lacks certain wisdom and patience that comes with a weathered old man that still has a passion to live for something other than himself. Yes, I’m speaking of Kenny. Kenny has history with Jane although he is a little high strung and somewhat crazy – I trust him for simple reasons. He isn’t perfect but when he cares he REALLY cares. That was blatantly apparent when he instinctively knew that Krista was pregnant – and he (in my story ) jumped in to save Krista who fell in from that roof top scene. He was left behind. He was left for dead. Still he continues to put himself out there for others. In the end I (as Clem) stayed with Kenny and the baby and refused to stay at Wellington. The insight for that was because this man that has lost MANY people in his life and his willingness to let Clem and the baby be admitted into Wellington was the ULTIMATE sacrifice – real love of life and innocence in that scenario. Any man willing to give up his comfort for those he cares about deserves not to be killed or abandoned. Besides had I let Clem go into Wellington with the baby I think Kenny would have just willed himself into a death (stubborn old kook !:D lol) and they wouldn’t let Clem and AJ just stick together. Also, people aren’t all bad, but they aren’t all good. The chances of their being bad people inside Wellington are in my opinion higher than outside. Everyone worried about food and medicine in the long term would be a concern for others seeing more mouths to feed with the arrival of another child and newborn. They would most likely separate Clem and AJ as well. Naturally. My only regret was not shooting that little snake arvo or whatever his name is. He will re-appear in the next game only because of his snake like character escaping many moments of death. Did you notice that the stuff he said was stolen was at that shack like place – hidden. He said it was stolen. He also hid a bag in the trash can at that raised fort like area when he didn’t know that anyone was there. So that means he was hiding stuff from his original group as well. At least that’s the way I see it. and for him to tell them Clem stole his stuff when in my version I refused to take anything from his bag earlier is a betrayal or sorts. Very disappointing. I should have made Jane kill him or I should have. Well, Thanks for your blog. I can’t agree with some parts of your decisions but ah well, it is your game – so your choice. Thanks again for letting me and others comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s