Best of 2014: The Walking Dead Season Two
This post contains spoilers for The Walking Dead Season Two. You have been warned.
Something happened to me after completing The Walking Dead: Season Two for the first time. I had patiently waited for the episodes to be released on disc. When it finally arrived I got home from work and played all five episodes in succession. When I finished the last episode, I was a different man. With every game that came out this year, no game was better written. No game stuck with me more than this one; no game ever has. The Walking Dead: Season Two isn’t the best-designed game of the year, but it’s by far the best story. In my opinion, it’s the best game of 2014; here’s why.
The way I see it, all video games are a form of storytelling. Sometimes the story is a simple one about two friends who go kart-racing. Sometimes it’s a story we all know well; the hero who sets out on a journey to save the world from evil. Sometimes it’s about the hero who falls. One way or another, every video game tells a story.
The Walking Dead Season Two is a story about society and family. It’s about an eleven year old girl fighting to survive the end of the world. It’s about figuring out who you can really trust and how much that trust is worth. For me, it was learning that it’s not about being right or wrong but instead how you treat people and present your beliefs.
Season Two expands on the ideas introduced in the first season. With Clementine as the main character, the player is more vulnerable than ever. This gives the somewhat stale setting of the zombie apocalypse a fresh perspective. Every decision feels harder, every scene is more intense and the weight of someone dying is much heavier.
I was fortunate to have played all five episodes in succession. There are aspects to this season that don’t seem necessary until the final episode. Had I played every episode in isolation, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this season as much.
Consider that there wasn’t a primary villain in The Walking Dead: Season One. There were plenty of bad people but the idea was that anybody could turn into the villain if pushed far enough. One of the opening lines of the first episode outright declares this.
The first half of Season Two however, features William Carver, a remorseless, tyrannical leader who is hunting the group that Clementine runs into. To say Carver is a colossal prick is an understatement, this guy is a monster. As effective a villain he is however, it doesn’t become clear why this season needed an antagonist until the fifth episode.
The first episode, titled “All That Remains” begins with a punch to the gut and quickly gets worse with every scene. To be honest, it’s not a particularly strong episode. There are plenty of grueling moments but most of the characters come across as one-dimensional. It’s hard not to see the archetypes. There’s a mean pregnant woman, an overprotective dad, a naïve girl and a hot-headed guy, among others. They don’t become interesting people until the second episode, where we learn more about them.
Once we figure what’s motivating these characters their personalities begin to shine through and develop throughout the season. Clementine slowly builds trust with these people, which makes their deaths all the more painful. It’s amazing how quickly my feelings towards these people changed. There was a person in the group whom I hated at the beginning of the second episode. Yet in the final scene of the episode I allowed myself to be captured to save his life.
The third episode, titled “In Harm’s Way” feels like a season finale to a good TV show. You finally get to confront Carver and either watch him get beaten to death or walk away. Nearly 70% of players went with former option, I’ll let you decide what that means. Then the season does something bold. It keeps going and gets even better.
At some point during the fourth episode, which is called “Amid the Ruins,” I felt something happen. As if the season had crossed a threshold of emotion that no video game had ever done for me. I’d never felt so engaged, so connected to a form of media, let alone a video game.
“Amid the Ruins” is a massive gut-punch with numerous characters dying left and right. The character development is outstanding with special mention going to Jane. At the start of the episode she’s cold and abrasive but she slowly warms up to Clementine. This sets the stage for the fifth and final episode, appropriately titled “No Going Back,”
Up until the last episode, The Walking Dead: Season Two isn’t particularly special. It’s certainly written with exceptional quality but hardly groundbreaking. However the final episode is amazingly written and perfectly executed. It elevates the rest of the season to a level few forms of media ever reach. You need to look at the entire season to understand why.
Carver’s presence in the first three episodes illustrates with clearer definition what a person can become. He represents the absolute lowest point that a person can sink to. He’s a measuring stick against the remaining characters in the last two episodes.
In “No Going Back”, Clementine is confronted with the possibility that someone in the group may be slowly turning into Carver. As it turns out, this applies to more than one person. You’re forced to ask yourself how much your trust is worth. Before I could come up with a confident answer, this episode handed me the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make in a video game.
When I made this decision I immediately felt bad but somehow I knew it was the right decision. It took several days of reflection for me to explain why. I felt like I’d lost a friend, someone who I had come to depend on. I rewarded them with a bullet and I had to know why.
At one point in “No Going Back”, someone asks Clementine when was the last time anyone did what she wanted. I thought about this for a while and answered: “no one ever listens to me.” That single quote sums up the entire season.
At the end of the last episode I had to watch my two favourite characters trying to kill each other. All because they wanted to prove to Clementine that they were right. They weren’t listening to a word Clementine said.
Then I realized that this had always been true. Clementine was powerless to stop them from fighting just as she was powerless at the front of the season. Nothing had changed. I looked back on the horrible things that had happened and I realized that there was no way to change them. I could go back a thousand times and I would always wind up where I was.
A single line of dialogue changed my entire perspective on everything that came before. It’s reminiscent of the moment in the final episode of Breaking Bad when Walter White says “I did it for me.” To many people, this one line changed how they saw his character. It’s pretty awesome for a video game to accomplish this.
By this point, story and gameplay have merged. I can’t stop characters from dying or trying to kill each other because that’s not what this story is about. The Walking Dead: Season Two isn’t about the wide variety of possibilities. It’s about how no matter what Clementine does, she is powerless to change the world around her, just as I’m powerless to change what happens.
There are many ways the last episode can end; they’re all drastically different. The ending I wound up with felt perfect for the decisions I’d made all throughout the season. This was my ending to Clementine’s story.
Clementine ended this season much like how it began, on her own. This time however, she’s finally in control. She is now the master of her own fate. In front of her, a herd of walkers shamble forward. She covers herself and her adopted newborn in blood and walks towards the herd. After everything that’s happened, she may never trust a living person ever again.
She walks forward unafraid. Together, Clementine and I have crossed the point of no return. There’s no going back.
I have one last surprise left for this year. So stay tuned.
Posted on December 30, 2014, in 2014, Best of and tagged All That Remains, Clementine, GOTY 2014, Telltale Games, The Walking Dead, The Walking Dead game, The Walking Dead Game Season 2, video game, walking dead, Zombies. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.