[WARNING: SEASON ONE AND TWO SPOILERS AHEAD]
Telltale Games have a nearly impossible task of living up to the standard they themselves set in Season One of The Walking Dead. A point-and-click adventure game based in the comic series’ apocalyptic world overrun by zombies, nobody could have predicted it would have become the powerhouse success that it was, selling millions of copies and racking up over 100 Game of the Year awards from game publications. Since then, the question on everybody’s mind has been how they are possibly going to improve upon that formula and narrative.
Well, I can certainly tell you one thing: if Episode One of Season Two is anything to go off of, they’re not just going to improve upon it. They may very well blow it out of the water.
The most defining relationships in our lives are the ones we form with adults when we are children. Parents, teachers, and community leaders mentor us in lessons built off of their own experiences, hoping to train us, guide us, and equip us to handle life’s difficult situations on our own. That guidance is forever instilled in as we eventually leave home and make our own way in life, opening up opportunities and choices that define our personality and being. We are certainly our parents’ children, even if that doesn’t mean we have to make the same decisions and mistakes they did.
These are the difficult concepts which Season Two of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead appears to be preparing itself to explicate, dropping you into the shoes of young Clementine nearly two years after the ending of the first season. Protagonist Lee Everett is dead and gone, along with most of the characters of that storyline. The motor inn, the farm, and Savannah are becoming ever more distant memories, even if the nightmarish events are too troubling to ever be forgotten. Clementine is now on the cusp of fully growing up, and is heading into the game’s dark world on her own, with little more to guide her than the lessons and decisions imprinted upon her mind by Lee.
Yet for Clementine, no matter how ‘dead and gone’ Lee Everett may be, there’s no real escaping the legacy he has left behind. Indeed, Lee himself partakes in Season Two as possibly the greatest unseen character ever established in a video game. His ghost lingers on well into Clem’s journey in Episode One, permeating every decision she makes, every line she utters, every quirky facial expression, all indisputably influenced by the way he touched her own life. She may not always directly reference him and the things he’s done in her conversations, but at this point there is no separating her character from those two.
One of the major ways that Season Two shows its’ desire to let you build off of Lee’s legacy is in how much more versatility there is in the choices you are asked to make. Lee had the option of saying and doing some pretty dickish things, but the player has to go pretty far out of their way to truly make him an asshole. The game was geared towards wanting you to be the best person you could be, especially considering that the younger Clementine was with you the whole time, watching your every move.
With Clementine, on the other hand, there’s not whole lot stopping you from just being a total manipulative monster. Even in the first two hours, you have the options of laying into an older, sheltered girl who wants nothing more than to be friends, blackmailing a pregnant women whose baby may not be her boyfriend’s, and basically just using everybody in whatever way you can. There are no real boundaries placed on Clem the same way they were on Lee, other than the lingering specter of his character weighing upon your mind.
As with the first season, there are many characters that will either like you or hate you right from the get-go through no fault of your own. However, there is no real incentive to smooth things over with these characters or try to be kind to them in the same way there was the first time around, and it's starting to look like you could go against people in some pretty brutal ways should they choose to cross you. You’re not trying to build a working community among survivors coming to grips with the new world order; you’ve been introduced into an already established one, and are now being asked to choose whether or not your politics in building a place in that community are going to be benevolent, or cruel.
Telltale Games has their hands in so many pots right now, I have to admit I was nervous to see whether or not they could handle everything they’ve taken on. The past two months have seen the release of the first episodes of both The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead: Season Two, both of which are setting some very promising bedrock for their narratives. If it’s any indication, though, The Walking Dead is looking to still be their most ambitious effort of all they have planned so far.
Season One was centered upon having to make difficult decisions in a dark new world, all the while training and teaching 8-year-old Clementine to survive within it should she ever have to go out on her own. Your decisions and choices train her morality, ethics, and sense of human nature to handle the troubling situations she is going to have to control. Season Two is set to use that springboard by doing something no other game has ever been able to tackle: using that groundwork you yourself have already laid (based on your own decisions from Season One), you now control Clementine as she is forced to make her own decisions, building off of that moral foundation Lee has left her. You’ve done the best to instill a specific sense of humanity into this young girl – now you have to decide how she will utilize and react to it as she walks her own path.
(Mr.Popadopoulis is a writer and editor for the fledgling gaming blog site Gaming Death, where he goes by the name Kaleb Medel. You can find this article and others by Mr.Popadopoulis and his friends on the original site. Check us out!)