SPOILER WARNING: This review is for episode five of the second season of The Walking Dead. Understandably this review will contain spoilers for events that have occurred up to this point in the series, and while we have tried to steer clear of spoilers for episode five, allusions are made to certain events in order to make a point within the review. Screenshots may also contain minor spoilers. You won’t find major plot spoilers here, but if you are trying to remain completely spoiler free, read at your own risk.
Let me begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Telltale Games. I loved The Wolf Among Us, was impressed with what I saw at E3 for Tales From the Borderlands, and felt that the first season of The Walking Dead was a great feat of storytelling. The Walking Dead’s second season, however, has felt like a huge stumbling block up to this point. A lack of any kind of clear end-goal has created a meandering narrative, rather than something driving towards a final purpose. I mentioned in my review of Episode Four that tales of survival for survival’s sake tend to limit the emotional connection. The primary question that needs to be answered in any decision is “why am I doing this?” and during Season Two, I often found myself replying with “I don’t know.”
There is one particular scene in No Going Back that conjures up a forceful recollection of Lee and the greatness of the first season. More than helping to drive my motivations of Clementine’s independence in Season Two , this memory served to make me compare the two seasons more critically and come to hate the circuitous path that Clementine’s story was taking. Lee’s experience was the antithesis of independence. It was caring for this child. She was the reason he had to keep going. His decisions were for her, and personally, every choice I made during Season One was with Clementine’s best interests in mind. What will Clementine think if I let a certain person die? How can I survive another day to keep looking after her? Clementine has no such motivation, and as such, my backing for each choice made in Season Two was flimsy at best.
No Going Back picks up immediately where we left the group at the end of Amid the Ruins. Clementine is on the ground in the middle of a firefight. Your first decision is to crawl towards Rebecca’s baby to try and protect it or head for cover. Season Two has so far devolved into a predictable nature of ‘if I don’t do something, someone else will’, so I made the decision to head for cover, knowing that someone else would save the baby and the story would carry on exactly how it was scripted to — yet another decision that held no weight. In fact, the only choices that truly made any kind of difference are the final two choices, which cheapened the experience to me. Everything I did up until that point made no variance in the options that were offered to me. My Clementine can be whoever, and I can still end up in the same place as anyone else. That being said, my favorite conclusion was the darkest ending that isn’t so obvious in how to obtain. This was the only direction in my eyes that truly offered any level of closure to the season instead of the sinuous story so far.
Action, as well as walkers, take a back seat in this episode in favor of a whole lot of reminiscing, talking, and drama. No Going Back is all about the survivors. There is a lot of ‘move to this location, forcefully make you remember everything up to now, repeat.’ So Kenny is unstable, I get it. I’ve been having this conversation with everyone since we met up with him in Episode Two. Jane is a loner and has massive trust issues? Who saw that one coming? It may work for some people, but for me, I was annoyed to be rehashing so much, only to be funneled into scripted beats. When the only thing the story is working towards is the inevitable explosion of the group’s straining trust, events feel less natural as a character breaks down, especially when said events happen no matter which decision you choose. It doesn’t feel organic or weighted enough. And perhaps it was my disconnect from the story, but the animations in this episode seemed to be more robotic and weird than they previously have been.
Without getting into spoiler territory, it’s hard to explain exactly where this episode went wrong, but the paths never branch out. Any divergences are quickly redirected to the scripted flow. Remember at the end of Episode Four when you had to choose to have either Clementine or Kenny shoot Rebecca? That seemingly huge decision doesn’t matter, as was the case in the conclusion of the episode before that. Characters will die, and there is nothing that you can do about it. Decisions will be made with or without your input. I had hoped that with it being the final episode, some decisions might hold stronger consequences and make my story vastly different from other players’, but that wasn’t the case. The moral I derived is that what you do doesn’t matter, motivations are worthless, and the cycle of mistrust and and tension in the zombie infested world will continue. Give me something more.
Disconnects aside, the story is moderately interesting from a purely entertainment standpoint, but the lack of action makes No Going Back more like a mildly interactive graphic novel than a game you are in control of. Your button presses serve to ‘turn the page’ in essence, and bring you to the next predictable unpredictability.
No Going Back — and Season Two as a whole — felt like a disservice to Season One and the sacrifices made by Lee. In Season One there was a beautiful open ending, in which Lee sent Clementine off into the world, better prepared and left to survive. Lee taught us that we needed something to love and live for. Being Clementine is not the same as caring for Clementine. It was a tragic yet happy ending, as Lee ultimately accomplished what he set out to do. To continue that with a story that has no strong motivating force outside of general survival cheapens our time as Lee and his reason for pushing forward. The most poignant line of the episode is one that Clementine comments to Kenny, “I miss Lee.” Me too Clem, me too.
Be sure to check out the Bad Gamers’ Spoilercast for a full The Walking Dead Season Two recap.
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