I was somewhat in the minority with my review of the previous episode of The Walking Dead. After a strong start, I felt it was beginning to lean a little too heavily on plot twists as a way of conveying emotion and meaning. In spite of its strong ending, the last episode suffered because it forgot what makes the game so compelling; making the tough choices when you KNOW what’s going to happen. Episode 3, titled In Harm’s Way, picks up as Clementine and her group of allies have been apprehended by Bill, a brutal and remorseless cult-like leader who had been tracking them down. This episode is light on big revelations, and it’s all the better for it.
As with the previous episode, there is almost no gameplay to speak of in Episode 3. There are a small handful of moments where you do any exploring at all, and literally two sections that involve a fail state. While this sort of thing isn’t necessarily why people play The Walking Dead, the slow march from game to visual novel seems disappointing. What little gameplay there is feels forced; almost as if the developers rolled their eyes and grudgingly threw it in just to satisfy its role as a game. One of them in particular is incredibly frustrating because of how poorly it communicates what you are supposed to do. Once you figure it out through trial and error however, it’s back to the story.
The new characters make varying impressions. Comedian Kumail Nanjiani does a fantastic job as Reggie, a member of Bill’s community who desperately tries to stay ahead of the game while hanging onto his overall kindness. It’s a small but important role, as he is one of the only people who shows genuine warmth in the hardware store, and through that he reveals just how brutal the conditions there are. Todd, on the other hand, is a one-note redneck thug with little to offer in a narrative sense.
Bill, the villain of the last couple of episodes, really takes center stage in this Episode 3. Any facade of being reasonable or flexible towards Clementine and her group from last episode falls away immediately once they are under his thumb. He is terrifyingly decisive and dominates every scene he is in. He also raises uncomfortable questions about one’s chances of survival in the new world versus maintaining a basic sense of humanity and empathy. It’s no real surprise the way things go down with Bill, but he undoubtedly leaves his psychological mark on Clementine.
Where this episode really stands out is, as is often the case, with Clementine. In the transition from the first to second season, we’ve seen how she’s a little bit older and a lot sadder than when Lee was around. I was impressed by the way the story guides you towards a more decisive and pragmatic direction with Clementine. Her toughness has always been apparent, but up until now it’s been focused on survival and enduring the bad times. After one-and-a-half seasons of having to deal with all sorts of annoying, aggressive, mean-spirited, and dangerous people, both I and Clementine came into this episode in a surly mood. Over the course of this series, I’ve played it as a peacemaker who is focused on the bigger picture and moving forward. Something has changed this season however.
In the first two episodes, there was a hint of an edge emerging to her character, and in In Harm’s Way it bursts out in a way that is equal parts satisfying and unsettling. Her dialogue options reveal a kid that is sick and tired of being taken advantage of, and you have the option of really letting loose on characters. One particular scene involves Bonnie, the woman who did recon for Bill last episode, setting up a violent confrontation and the group’s current situation. Bonnie tries to make nice and be apologetic about how it all went down. I called her a murderer to her face and refused to engage in further discussion, and for the first time I didn’t feel the slightest bit of guilt for being a jerk to someone.
In Harm’s Way ends literally right in the middle of a frantic scene where the characters are surrounded by zombies. Here, you need to choose whether or not to take a particular action, foreshadowed by an earlier character, which has life-or-death ramifications. That in and of itself is nothing new to the series, but the way it is carried out is particularly telling of how Clementine is changing as a character. Without giving it away, I chose to do the action and the expression on her face as the episode closed out both elated and scared me.
Lee’s girl is growing up…but into what?
[+Strong contained story] [+Reggie rules] [+Clementine’s character going in exciting new direction] [-More visual novel than anything by now] [-Uninspired QTEs]
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