Everything ravaged, everything burned: PAR plays the Walking Dead finale
A quick note: this post was written on the assumption you’ve played through all previously available Walking Dead content, and I’ve tried hard to avoid spoilers for Episode 5. If you’re scared of reading or seeing anything that may impact your enjoyment, no matter how slight, you may wish to wait until you’ve played the final episode.
TellTale’s The Walking Dead was never going to have a happy ending. That’s a not a spoiler, as there is still the question of who is going to survive and what it will cost for them to do so, but there is never going to be a cure for the zombie plague or a hidden civilization safe from the zombie threat. The world Robert Kirkman created for the Walking Dead sometimes offers the illusion of temporary safety, but that safety is destroyed by human nature.
Is it possible to be a good person in this world? It’s impossible to trust anyone, and if you don’t take that food you may starve. If you don’t break into that house you won’t have shelter. The survivors on the road with guns may want to rob you, or they may be interested in protecting themselves and moving along. There is no social contract in this situation, and when everyone is treated with mistrust and fear things can go badly difficulty.
“Everything is dangerous,” Lee tells Clementine at one point, and he’s right. You get bit when you let your guard down. We left Lee with a bite wound on his arm, Clementine in the hands of a stranger who may be dangerous, and a group of people who may or may not want to help him at the end of Episode 4. Now it’s time to finish the story, and Episode 5 does so with grace and finality.
What we’ve lost, with nothing gained
It’s hard to discuss the final episode, because your game is likely much different than mine. Who is still alive? What decisions have you made? There is going to be significant variance between how your story ends and mine.
There are certain things in the game that will happen no matter what, with the only difference being how you react to them, and in many cases the game feels like being on a track with the occasional ability to throw the lever and change directions, but the sense of consequence and danger is much higher than most games of this genre.
Many story beats may be unavoidable, as there has to be a central narrative for the game to deliver, and Episode 5 does a great job of calling back to past situations and decisions. There is action, but don’t expect a grand series of explosions and battles against zombies. This isn’t another fight in an ongoing war as much as it’s a reckoning for the decisions you’ve already made. Episode 5 drives home the point that being that mythical good person in an impossible situation is just that: Impossible. I wouldn’t classify many of my decisions throughout the game as doing the “right” thing, just the thing that seemed less “wrong” at the time.
Lee will be asked to answer for many of those decisions in this game and that’s a tricky situation for a game to tackle. How do you punish a character for trying to survive? There are characters who took their own life in the past five episodes, and that seems like the “easy” way out, but what is everyone else hoping is going to happen? In many ways the conversations seem aimed at the player more than the characters in the game. Questions are asked about the behavior of men and women in lawless situations, and no answers are provided.
The game also hints at darker themes. Kenny has lost his wife and child, and that character seems to be a warning for Lee: Without Clementine to keep him going, what reason does Lee have to go on? In many ways Lee’s adoption of Clementine can be seen as selfish. As long as she’s alive and dependent on him, he has purpose. He’s happy when he can make her happy. He will do anything to keep her safe. Kenny has regret, loss, and pain to look forward to now that he’s lost his family.
Clementine is the most important character in the game, simply because she’s an innocent. As a child she’s unformed, and the point is often made that she no longer has the luxury of being a little girl. She’s a living person and, as Chuck pointed out in Episode 3, that makes her an endangered species. She has to grow up to survive, and she has to do so very quickly. This is the Walking Dead, which means no one is safe. The more you care about a character, the more the writers and creators of the content will use that character to hurt you.
The last episode of the Walking Dead delivers scares and action, but the two most important scenes of the game are conversations. The Walking Dead game mimics real life by showing the hardest situations rarely involve monstrous creatures or guns. They take place when people who love each other very much say goodbye.