Oh my god. I feel like this second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead has been truly fantastic thus far, without a doubt setting up for yet another run of Game of the Year nominations and awards. The thing is, episode three seems to be a bit divisive on the internet. Kotaku and some others are arguing that it was boring and getting into the realm of cliche, while there are those like me that find this to be possibly the best episode of season two thus far, right there on par with episode three of season one, which was possibly the best of the series. But why?
Because of the way that the game made me feel while playing it. I remember when starting the chapter that even though it was a dire situation for Clementine and her new group of companions, that Clem’s humanity was what would separate her from the rest of the madness. Clem and her group find themselves in the clutches of Carver, the madman that we had heard a lot about in the previous episode and even got a glimpse of when he barged into the cabin while the gang was out, but now the group was at his whim. Carver and his group are heavily armed, fortified inside of an old store and have a ton of supplies with them. It should be heaven, but instead it feels a lot more sinister with how Carver handles his group.
Another thing that makes this episode so effective is that the characters from 400 Days show up. You realize that the characters who chose to go off to this great, new place where they could be safe ended up with Carver. You realize that you know some of these characters, you know what they went through and how they got there, making you understand some of these peripheral characters more and more. They were promised a new start and instead found themselves just under the rule of a madman.
So, like I said before, I did my best as Clementine to be human, caring, understanding and to keep calm in the face of this madness. What really got me about this episode was I went into it feeling like that, but by the time the end of the episode came I found myself making decisions that were gruesome, awful, but necessary. Carver had warned Clem of that earlier, that she was more like him than she’d like to admit and I did my best to say no at that time, but when the end of the episode came, I found myself choosing “just shoot him” without a second thought. There were a lot of tough decisions to happen near the end of the episode and after all of the horrors that Clementine had witnessed since the beginning of the series, it made so much sense for her to have had enough of the coddling, the arguing and indecisiveness and to start just doing what she felt needed to be done.
It was empowering, but at the same time it was horrifying because you come to realize just how great Telltale are at presenting you with these decisions and for leading you upon this path. The list of decisions that they show you at the end of the episode and how other players chose was proof enough of that; most players made the same horrific decisions that I made, meaning that we, collectively, are seeing Clementine morphing into this new character. Not only are we going along with it, but we’ve had enough with everyone else around her making crappy decisions and then dying, it’s time for this little girl to finally grow up.
This is what Telltale is great at and this is what nobody else is really doing right now, which is setting them apart from the rest of the gaming world. Telltale is trying to make you, the player, numb to the insanity around this little girl, they are trying to frustrate you with how stupid all of Clementine’s pals are, they are trying to take you down a dark path and for it to feel natural because you led it there, you made those decisions and you live with the consequences. The consequences at the end of “In Harm’s Way” are brutal just in the way that you’d think they were brutal and they leave you wondering if maybe your treatment of Sarah helped to lead to that, because you knew she was a weak character and knew that she’d get in the way, yet you tried to shield her from the world just like her father did the whole time. There is no room for your humanity, but you know that you are going to cling to it as hard as you can.
Just, yeah, no other game is doing this and making gamers think like this right now on this level.