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nekobun avatar 4:16 PM on 11.03.2012  (server time)
Burnt flowers fallen: the tragic bitchotry of Lilly Caul

Telltale Games has been killing it, more and more so, with their point-and-click adventures over the years. Their takes on the Sam & Max and Monkey Island franchises have managed to stay true to the source material laid down in their original iterations, and their takes on licensed material such as Back To The Future and Jurassic Park have done some interesting things, some better than others. It's Telltale's latest darling, however, The Walking Dead, that seems to be turning more heads their way than ever.

The Walking Dead, as an episodic series, has been praised for a great many things, from its realistic and admirable portrayal of children, to its implementation of player choice in the story's progress, and should, arguably, be held as a benchmark for characterization in many respects. At the same time, there are some drawbacks, like unexplained bits of character background and occasionally disjointed jumps from character studies into heavily action-focused sequences, that can nag as one works their way through the game. Most of these, I've personally written off as simple drawbacks of the time constraints and central plot goals of such an episodic format. In the wake of my recent analysis of Home, however, I'm beginning to wonder if some things weren't omitted for the sake of letting the players' mind fill in the blanks.

One character in particular lends herself to a fair deal of speculation, particularly later on: the hard-nosed, hard-assed, no-nonsense Air Force pencil-pusher, Lilly Caul. Introduced as a pushy bitch, and doing little along the way to improve that image unless the player, via main character Lee, finds reasons to buddy up with her, there's a continuous thread through the series that hints that Lilly may prove troublesome down the line.

And here's where we get into more specific spoiler territory, kids, so please, don't read on if you're particular about some pretty big surprises.

Before I continue, I'd like to give a bit of context based on my own playthrough, just so those experienced with the game know where things stand in regards to how I proceeded. In general, I turned off the hints that told you who remembered what or reacted to what, to keep things organic. As for choices, I saved Duck early on at the Greene farm, tended to side with Kenny since he was my first, A-number-one bro after Clementine, saved Carley because I can't abide socks in sandals, and from there on out, leaned toward taking care of the kids first, and a bit of partiality toward Carley afterward since I'd inadvertantly meant the death of her not-quite-boyfriend. Which, I might add, was one of the things I meant about narrative gaps that bugged me; I would've preferred at least a little more exposition on their budding relationship beyond "he saved me" (in no explained fashion) and "he's kind of cute, I guess." But anyway. Oh, and after his bursts of nothing but abuse towards Lee, I adopted a pretty firm position of "Larry can suck a fat one."

Through the first couple of episodes, I kept toeing the line when it came to conflicts between Kenny and Lilly, in part because they often had valid points on both sides, and in part because I just wanted both of them to shut the hell up. This worked well enough, up until the crescendo of events at the St. John Dairy; having had that delightful time with Ben's now-one-legged teacher after bringing him back to the camp following the hunting trip at the beginning of the episode, I was not about to risk having to wrestle with a walker that likely had the strength of Kenny and I combined. That, and to hell with Larry anyway. Any chances I had with being even remotely on Lilly's good side were dashed, along with Larry's brains, across the floor of that refrigeration unit, and I was officially in the Anti-Caul camp, whether I liked it or not. Lilly's refusal to pop a cap in Andy St. John when he was about to crispy-fry my face on the electric fence didn't really win her any points with me, either.

Then came the big shift. At the opening of episode three, there'd been something of a time jump between the discovery of a car full of supplies (the looting of which I abstained from, because morals or something) and the exhaustion of said supplies. Apparently, it'd taken about three months to blow through what had been found, and Lilly, while possibly still effected by mourning over the loss of her father, had gone from a simple bitch to, as Eric Cartman might have put it, a Kamehameha Biatch. Between her constant cheap shots at Kenny and Lee over having smashed in a face neither really would have had they not thought it a matter of life and undeath, and her obstinate, short-sighted desire to live in self-imposed siege in a town pretty much wiped of supplies, Lilly was beginning to become a hazard to the group's survival, whether she wanted to admit it or not.

Additionally, it seemed the passage of time had been pushing Lee and Carley into roles a little closer than mere co-survivors. While, as a player, I'd been more on her side over the fate to which I'd left Doug, her willingness to keep my little secret quiet from the get-go, and because she was arguably the most competent adult in our entourage besides myself, between her firearm handling and cool-headedness, I wasn't against a little love in a hopeless place. Hell, maybe this thread would continue far enough to give Clementine a replacement mother figure before the season wrapped, seeing as how her real mother, given that she'd been at the side of her gravely injured (if the phone message in the first episode was any good indicator) husband and more than likely suffered an unsavory end.

So, of course, everything had to get flushed down the toilet, with a bandit incursion over a missing supply drop (which had been illicitly gathered from our own stash and hidden outside in the first place) forcing everyone to pile into the now-running RV (thanks, Kenny!) and peace out from the motor inn. The trip itself would prove to be less than smooth, with Lilly at everyone's throats as to who may've been stealing the supplies that caused the mess in the first place, and, not long after our flight, a meeting of RV undercarriage and walker that left our party temporarily immobile. Parked by the roadside whilst Kenny cleared the remains of our unwelcome hitchhiker, the metaphorical Shit decided it was the perfect time to take a swan dive into the equally noncorporeal Fan.

Demanding answers as to the supply theft and the chalk signal left on the side of our former home to indicate said supplies were waiting for the bandits (and the walkers following them) that'd forced us out, Lilly's crosshairs settled immediately on Ben and Carley. Now, the omission of Kenny, I could understand, as despite their differences, he'd been focused enough on his family not to put the group at that sort of risk. This also put Katjaa on the okay list, since she and Kenny pretty much operated on the same wavelength. Ms. Caul had trusted me enough, despite still being incredibly bitter about Lee's part in Larry's death, to investigate the broken flashlight and its ties to the supply counts being off that I could see why I was in the clear. Ben was obviously suspect, seeing as how he'd been with the group the shortest of all of us and had done a great job of proving a goddamn idiot kid the entire time he'd stayed around, but Carley? Something didn't add up.

Sure, Carley had stood up to Lilly once or twice, but for the most part, the former had barely even interacted with the latter enough to justify claims that Lilly had distruted Carley for any length of time, or any feuds that might lead to such wild accusations. Carley had been under Lilly's auspices even before I rolled in with Kenny, Katjaa, Duck, and clem, long enough for the pharmacy they'd holed up in to be down to a whopping two energy bars on the shelves, so there wasn't room for much bad blood there, and Carley'd been absent from the St. John debacle, so that was out, too. What could possibly have driven Lilly to include Carley in her sweeping accusations, and subsequently, her kill count?

In trying to puzzle this out and give it more credit than a possibly accidental lack of address on the part of the writers, I looked at our ragtag bunch. You had the kids, Clem and Duck. You had Kenny and Katjaa, as happily married as could be given the circumstances. We'd lost Doug to my own forced hand, Glenn to his quest to find his other friends, and Mark to the St. John family's predations (and, honestly, his Red Shirt Syndrome in having been introduced out of nowhere and mostly anonymously). Ben, the sniveling, useless turd. And Carley, who was probably the closest thing Lilly had to a peer, as they were both women, seemingly not too separate in age, and-

Wait a second. As Lee, I was the only available man in this picture, and Carley was, less than subtly, starting to move in on me. Mere loyalty to my side shouldn't have put Carley in harm's way, as again, Lilly'd commissioned me to do the inital investigation that led to this mess, so chances are guilt by association wasn't the problem. Out of curiosity, I went ahead and spoiled myself as to what happened if Doug survived the fall of the pharmacy rather than Carley, and it turns out he take Lilly's bullet shoving Ben out of the way rather than being the target himself. Carley was clearly meant to die by Lilly's hand, judging by the (impressive) headshot Lilly delivered, and the only reasoning I could find behind such determination was that this was a crime of passion.

Not that I'm trying to misogynize against Lilly, by implying she needs a man. Far from it, actually; she's quite capable herself, and doesn't seem to be letting her emotions cloud her judgment at any point while her father is still alive. Sure, she's bullheaded and bitchy, but it would appear to be more out of believing she's right and a product of how her situational analysis works rather than anything having to do with her heart. The death of Larry (who, as early as Episode 1's end, had protectively warned me to stay away from his daughter in the first place), however, clearly threw her for a loop regardless of whether you try to help save him or end him, and with the walls of reason down, perhaps Lilly's biological urges and any pupal-stage feelings she may've had for Lee, essentially the last man on Earth, with a side of fondness for Clementine (later revealed by Clem's admission regarding the source of her hair ties), ending up being Carley's undoing.

Not that any of this Psych 101 gobbledegook mattered to me when things went down. Before Carley's body even had a chance to cool, I was more than happy to leave Lilly to whatever fate the walkers or roving bandits had in store for her. Hell, given the chance, I would've liked to shoot her in the foot, punch her in the face, or something, anything before abandoning her to rot, regardless of whether Clementine's feelings for me would've taken a hit. Not just for Lee's sake, seeing as he'd been denied what was may have proved his last chance at romantic love given the world ending, but because Lilly denied me, the player, something as well.

Romantic ties in games, and in fiction on the whole, are frequently a complete load of crap. Relationships blossom based solely on love at first sight (which I give some credence to, but not with the frequency it's presented), or, more often, on nothing at all rather than the fact a work might draw in more of an audience if it were implied (or explicitly demonstrated) two of the characters want to (or do) swap bodily fluids. It's a rare case when romance, or even more platonic interactions, spring from shared circumstances, chemistry, and time spent together between two characters rather than being shoehorned into a plot and, because of that, feeling forced and disappointing.

Lee and Carley had been through a lot together, and whether or not I'd intended to initially, I'd given Carley reasons to be fond of me, and she'd had my back just as much the entire time. For whatever reasons, be they the ones I've inferred personally or something else off the books, Lilly saw fit to destroy that when it'd barely had a chance to even bud, and because of that, I was more than eager to destroy her. Not that I begrudge Telltale for any of it, mind you. Rather, I applaud their choices' ability to get such a rise out of me, and their writers' success in both developing a such a relationship that felt reasonable within the context they'd provided and their willingness to abort it for the sake of storytelling, rather than floating, even for a little while, the possibility that such a bleak future could even hope to have a Happily Ever After.

I would've liked to have had a little more time to see Carley and Lee grow together, though doing so could easily have made her demise even more poignant at best, or a cheap, obvious go-to dramatic trope at worst, but The Walking Dead handled this pretty well. The morals of the story, I'd say, are that all bets are off regardless of how close or not close you are with your associates in a zombie apocalypse, and anyone named Ben should be thrown off a bridge as soon as possible.

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