Spoiler Warning: The events of Episode One of Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season will be spoiled in this review.
Let me get this out of the way right now: I hate the Walking Dead TV show. Sure, it was entertaining when it first aired one million years ago, but then it got caught in a loop of destruction and devastation, and everything completely went to hell. The pace of the show completely faltered, with characters’ roles being reduced before they inevitably got the chop (sorry, T-Dog), and the entire thing just became downright boring.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is not that. Last month’s debut episode of The Final Season ended on an absolute bombshell: Brody was murdered by Marlon, Marlon was murdered by A.J., and the entire final scene honestly left me pretty shell shocked. It turns out, I wasn’t the only one feeling this shock and horror, as the opening scenes of Episode Two have Clementine reflecting on that fateful night in PTSD-like flashback sequences, as the entire community begins to cave in on itself. The steady introductory pacing of Episode One is completely gone—Episode Two opens with a bang, barely letting our leading duo catch their breath before they find themselves with their backs against the wall, yet again.
With the small community utterly divided over the murder of Marlon at the hands of A.J., we’re reminded of how few and far between true friends are in The Walking Dead. Everyone’s understandably a little on edge after seeing their leader take a bullet to the head, and characters quickly take sides over whether Clementine and A.J. should stay or be forced out of the community. It’s an opening that really hits the ground running, with emotions running high, and the same excellent pacing of Episode One.
When we do eventually find ourselves alone with A.J. in the aftermath of the shooting, Clementine sees herself in an incredibly difficult position. The opening episode of The Final Season was constantly pushing how we shape A.J. in the shoes of Clementine, so much so that A.J.’s final line of the episode will exactly echo what you said to him earlier. With precious few moments of peace and quiet, Clementine has to tackle an incredibly tough situation: should she comfort A.J., reassuring him that he did the right thing, or should she come down with force on A.J., reasserting that his actions were wrong, and that the child under our protection is ultimately a murderer?
There’s no right answer here, which is ultimately what decision-based, dialogue-heavy games like The Walking Dead do best. Either we take a murderer under our wing and protect him, or we put the painful truth in front of A.J., ultimately distancing us. The infighting within the community and the hard talk with A.J. at the opening of Episode Two make you feel like you’re walking on eggshells for a good half an hour, but thankfully the pressure lets up after this, and to say anything more of the plot in this second episode would ruin it entirely.
Unfortunately, after about half an hour, it’s obvious how the remainder of this episode is going to play out. The Walking Dead TV show is constantly trapped in cycles of violence, as our ragtag group runs from one settlement to the next, before eventually destroying everything they’ve worked so hard for in an all-out war with a rival group of survivors. The debut episode of The Final Season certainly foreshadowed a war with another clan of survivors, and the second episode continues on this path of mutually-assured destruction between two warring factions.
But, once again, the pacing of this episode is nothing short of brilliant. Know as you might how this episode is going to play out, there’s still heartfelt moments with characters in-between the moments of chaos, as Clementine and A.J. work hard to reintegrate themselves back into the community in the wake of the previous episode. Past seasons of The Walking Dead had us dealing with a range of characters of all different ages, whether we were playing as Lee, Clementine, or Javi, and it’s oddly refreshing to find everyone on a level playing field here—we’re all children playing at being adults, and all struggling with the same common goal of holding the community together through friendship.
It’s a shame then, that we’ll never see the end of Clementine’s story. Since this review was first drafted, Telltale has all but shuttered, with The Walking Dead: The Final Season cancelled after this second episode releases, along with the cancellations of The Wolf Among Us Season 2 and the planned Stranger Things series. At the time of publication, there’s only 25 people working at Telltale Games to finish work on the Minecraft series, and the workers laid off have not received any form of severance pay. This certainly isn’t the end that Telltale, its workers, or The Walking Dead deserved.
As heartfelt and emotionally painful as Episode Two of The Walking Dead: The Final Season may be, I can’t help but feel like we’ve seen this all before. The groundwork has been laid for a brutal war, and everything from now until then seems to be dwarfed in comparison. Friendships are still the beating heart of this Final Season though, and it’s the moment to moment interactions between characters, and the writing, where this second episode excels.