Walking Dead: Episode 4 increases the action, changes the stakes, and sets up the finale (Spoilers)
Last warning, this write-up offers many spoilers about the latest episode of The Walking Dead
The Walking Dead Episode 4 is an odd beast. While playing I found myself dismayed at the increased focus on action, and a little confused about why so many threats seemed to be built up only to come to nothing. The game was suddenly filled with characters that I didn’t feel connected to, and one character I enjoyed was killed off with little fanfare. The game’s drama only works when you know who these people are, and care about what will happen to them. Just like the show, the game seemed to be suddenly filled with people disconnected to the main story arc.
Forget the action, focus on the silence
The emotional beats of this episode hit hard, and they’re going to stick with you. I’m not sure why we see Lee turn into an action hero with a shotgun, or a female character come into the picture only to act like a ninja for a bit and then leave before the end of the episode, but when Kenny finds a starved child in the attic of the group’s temporary refuge it’s a stunning moment and all the other sins of the episode are forgiven.
The child apparently died of starvation, only to come back as a grunting, pathetic zombie, powerless to even be a threat. Lee and Kenny just look at him for a few moments, affected by the tragedy. “He looks like Duck,” Kenny says, and in my game Lee destroys the zombie and gently buries the body in the backyard, next to the corpse of the child’s pet dog.
The image of the emaciated, half-rotten child next to the headless dog in the grave is both graphic and tragic. There are no big decisions to be made here, and not much at stake. It’s just a reminder that the world will never be the same, and there are very few bits of humanity on which to cling. We learn about the “survival of the fittest” group of survivors in the city, but they never become a threat.
Instead, we watch a video of a woman fight back after nearly being forced to have an abortion. The surviving group, you see, thinks children are just weak creatures that will take up necessary food and supplies. The Walking Dead as a franchise also goes out of its way to prove that living people can do much worse things than the shambling, rotting zombies, and this is just another example of that truth.
Another encounter with a survivor leads to an interesting discussion: What does Lee want for Clementine? Is the end goal to make sure the girl finds a home that’s safe in the long term, or is her place by Lee’s side as surrogate family? Someone offers to keep her safe, in a protected environment that is well-supplied. I decided that Clem’s place was with Lee, but I’m curious about what happens if you take him up on his offer to “take Clem off your hands.” It felt wrong to me, but it made me sit down and think. What’s the end game here? Is there any way for Lee to provide Clem the sort of home she’s being offered in that scene?
Then, of course, Lee makes one of the most head-slappingly stupid decisions in the entire game, and Clementine disappears. When he placed the walkie-talkie on the table and fell asleep I wanted to scream at the screen, and that scene almost tore me out of the game completely. Lee knows the threat the voice on the other end of that device poses, and of course Clem is gone in the next scene. We don’t know who took her, we don’t know where she is, but we know finding her is going to take up what’s likely to be the entirety of the finale episode of the season.
We can’t leave this discussions without bringing up the biggest change that took place: Lee was bit. Or was he scratched? If he’s infected, the game has been changed completely. He has nothing to lose at that point, because he’s going to die no matter what. In some ways this actually lowers the stakes of the season, since it seems as if he has no way to come out of this storyline alive. He can sacrifice himself to save any of the other characters, and it costs him nothing. They can’t bring out a cure for the zombie plague because that would mess with the continuity of both the TV show and the comic book, and I doubt Telltale is willing to do that, even if they could. If Lee was bitten, he’s toast. The only question is what he does before the disease takes over.
This was a messy, unfocused episode, but it had enough moments that reminded us why this series is so good. We have around a month before we find out if Telltale can stick the landing, and I can’t wait.