First off, I must admit I’ve got a bit of a love-hate relationship with Telltale’s episodic series. For every frantic, fast-paced QTE event, or heart-wrenching decision that I need to make, there’s an odd performance issue, a seemingly meaningless decision, or some other minor flaw that takes away from my overall enjoyment. The Walking Dead: The Final Season largely feels like it does away with these irritating minor issues, but just when it’s about to cross the finish line, it does the same baffling thing we’ve seen happen numerous times in past series.
Before we go diving into what happened in The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s first episode, this is your spoiler warning. If you want to enjoy the game spoiler-free, turn back now!
The Walking Dead: The Final Season follows the story of Clementine and AJ, now back together following the former’s search for the latter after the events of A New Frontier. Clementine’s a strong, young woman now who’s determined to bring AJ up the right way, and ensure she teaches him the same kind of important lessons that Lee did for her all those years ago. It’s a dynamic that the opening episode plays into quite a lot, with many opportunities for players to decide what lessons Clem should teach the youngster, just telling him off or reassuring him for his actions. Ultimately, AJ hasn’t learned many social skills during his upbringing in the zombie apocalypse, and that’s going to cause some problems when meeting a new group of survivors, understandably.
In past Telltale episode series, we’ve seen minor choices that the player has to make seemingly do very little in the grand scheme of things. And while that’s likely the same here – AJ simply repeating what you said at a later date, or altering Clementine and AJ’s relationship status/ score with others – if you’re like me, you’ll feel a sense of responsibility to make sure he grows up to be a nice, young man. Nobody wants to be the person who brings an asshole into the world… even if it’s a digital world overridden by zombies.
So there I was, calling AJ out on all his shit. Trying to steal a fellow young survivor named Tenn’s toys? You bet your ass I called him out on that. I’ll teach him all the lessons Lee taught Clem. I’ll help him control his actions when he’s nervous, and I’ll make him another bastion of hope in the depressing landscape swarming with the undead. When he cursed? I called him out on it. You get the idea, I was being a typical hardass parent.
And then that ending happened. Following some commotion in the middle of the night that Clementine and AJ both hear, Clementine goes to investigate. In short, Marlon and Brody – the leader and one of the settlers at Erikson boarding school – are having an argument that Clem walks in on, and following the events that unfold down there, Marlon places the blame solely on Clementine.
All of the other new faces we’ve seen look on in shock as Clementine and Marlon are facing off in the courtyard, accusing one another of having committed the heinous crime. Things begin to calm down, the truth gets out about Tenn’s sisters, and weapons are dropped. Marlon sobs as he comes to terms with his actions. Then AJ comes out and shoots him in the back of the head. Wait… what?
It’s a classic Telltale episode ending, but one that seemingly disregards everything you’ve tried to do up until that point, just so things can end on an exciting high point, even if it does seem completely out of left field.
What makes the whole thing worse is the fact that The Walking Dead: The Final Season’s first episode even highlights AJ’s apprehension to shoot his gun several times. When Clem’s fighting off a zombie at the start of the episode, he hesitates. When the mysterious stranger Abel stumbles upon Clementine and AJ looting the train station of food, he aims, but ultimately doesn’t pull the trigger on his own. Not to mention that when players are introduced to Louis playing the piano, AJ acknowledges that “noise is bad,” obviously referring to the fact that noise attracts walkers.
So then why, in the middle of the night, when Marlon has dropped his weapon, is sobbing, and everyone’s giving him words of support, does AJ decide now’s the time not to hesitate and put a hole through the head of the guy that’s just welcomed them into their home?
It was a moment that, sure, probably nailed the shock factor that Telltale wanted to leave fans with, but one that just felt heavy-handed. It didn’t take into account the things AJ had done earlier in the episode, not to mention the choices I’d made. Perhaps if I’d told him to “never hesitate” when it came to using a gun, it’d make sense. But I didn’t, and it didn’t make sense.
Despite AJ’s spontaneous desire to have all hell break loose at Erikson boarding school, I still really enjoyed getting to know him, Clementine, and the other new characters, too. I just pray that these heavy-handed hype scenes don’t become a repeat occurrence and spoil Clementine’s final chapters in the spotlight.