|Clementine takes centre-stage this season.|
Image from themarysue.com
What shines through as the problem with Season Two is poor writing decisions on a story level. In a game this dependant on its plot to get by, mistakes like that can disrupt the entire experience - and this time there's the weight of expectation on the game's shoulders. I'm going to get into more specifics later on, but for now I'll comment on something I noticed - some of my main criticisms of the game's poor writing can also apply to the first season. The difference is that Season Two rarely takes the time to develop the relationships between characters in the same way that the first season does, with characters either dead, doomed or emotionally cold. While some fans argue this is just the way of the zombie apocalypse, this robs the player of their connection to the characters.
Two years after the events of Season One, and Clementine is still travelling with Omid and Christa. After an altercation, Omid gets shot. Sixteen months pass, and Clem is seperated from Christa in a confrontation with bandits. On her own, she gets bitten by a dog and is then encountered by a group of survivors living in a cabin. After learning to trust her, she stays with them and eventually runs with them as they flee from William Carver, the man whose group they had previously separated from. After they meet up with Kenny from Season One in a ski lodge, they are eventually all captured by Carver. With the help of survivalist Jane, they escape, but on the run their group slowly loses members. One way or another, we end up with Clementine travelling with Kenny and Jane. In a surprising amount of choice, the player can either end the season travelling with Kenny, with Jane, or making it on her own.
|Hey Clementine, I know we're two years into a zombie|
apocalypse, but I'm going to leave you alone in a dark restroom
to do something with my pregnant girlfriend that I don't want
you to be in the same room for.
Image from Wikia
Because, no matter what you choose, Clementine will be the smart one here. The Cabin survivors that the season kinda focuses around don't make a very good impression - upon finding that Clementine has a dog-bite, the group's resident doctor suggests leaving her out in a cold, exposed shed overnight without cleaning the wound, because a trained medical professional apparently can't tell the difference between a long, saliva-filled dog bite and the rounder, decaying-remains-filled Walker bite. The way the group and the personalities of its various members has been written, it's very difficult to believe that these people have survived this far - especially as this three year time skip places the game further into the apocalypse than any other media in the franchise. And I don't just mean the strange things they do to force Clementine into doing stuff, I mean the headcount on these guys - Walkers are slow and easy to kill individually, only threateningly dangerous in hordes, but the game (in both seasons) makes false tension out of a few shuffling dudes who you could literally walk away from.
One thing that could explain how the group survived is Pete, the guy who you can choose to try and save as the end-of-episode cliffhanger to the season's premier. The fact that Pete dies either way is a small sample of this thing recurring across the season - there are about five or six characters where you can choose to save them or not, and whatever happens they die anyway. Again, same thing happened in Season One, but this time the inevitability of those characters' deaths isn't worked into the story, and they just sorta leave. This is bad enough with Pete, Sarita, Alvin and Luke, but it's especially painful with Nick and Sarah. (More on them later.) This also reflects one of the greater overall problems - your decisions may affect which scenes you see, but everything more or less happens the same until those last few scenes deciding between Kenny and Jane. And, given the game's track record, I can't help but see Clementine ending up on her own next season anyway, seeing as there's really no way that Telltale would make two or three seperate games all at once just to follow these plot threads.
|Seriously, anyone who doesn't choose [HUG KENNY] here|
has a heart of stone...
Compare this to Jane. Jane is more or less a carbon copy of Molly from the first season - a hardened, pragmatist survivalist who insists on isolationism ahead of compassion at all costs. Jane believes in manipulating people to break them apart and pray on their weaknessses - she leaves a baby exposed in the cold just to try and make Kenny out to be dangerous and irrational. Going with Kenny gives you the chance to live in a safe and thriving community up in Wellington, while going with Jane leaves you living with her in an abandoned hardware store filled with supplies, constantly looking after a child. For me, at least, the game's final decision was the easiest I'd ever had to make, and even taking into account my prior knowledge of events, the lengths the game has to go to to demonise Kenny in the narrative just seems really bitter and cynical. The Walking Dead is a depressing universe, but this second season never has any moments of real levity, and the result is a really harsh and unpleasant look at humanity.
Pushing that even further is Nick and Sarah, who share an issue with Kenny and Jane. In this universe a lot of characters have mental health issues - Jane and Kenny are both changed people because of events in their past, for example. Nick and Sarah are different though - they are both designed to be hated characters, and both characters die horribly, even after you've saved them. Although neither character explicitly says as much, it's fairly clear (at least from my perception and the perception of a lot of fans on the internet) that Nick suffers from depression and that Sarah is autistic.1 The fact that these characters were designed to be hated, the fact that their deaths end up being so gruesome and are intended to be cathartic for the player - that leaves a very sour taste in my mouth. Especially given the producers' seeming delight while discussing the inevitable death of a scared 15 year-old girl in an interview at the time. (More on that here.)
|I hope Bonnie was your favourite 400 Days character. Cos|
you're pretty stuffed otherwise.
Image from Wikia
I didn't get to cover everything in this article and I could go on ranting a lot more - about how Omid and Christa die because they decided to leave Clementine alone and randomly have sex in a disused public bathroom, how Carver decided to kidnap a bunch of random people for no reason, and how the game makes characters do irrational things near the end just to give us our end conflict. But the biggest problem is that which I've mentioned - the game insists on telling its own version of events instead of allowing the player to give events their own context. And the paint with which the game brushes its canvas is in particularly muddy colours, a sad and bitter worldview which makes you hate all of the other characters for their sheer inhumanity. It's really disappointing that a game like The Walking Dead ended up like this, and although I'm still sorta looking forward to Season Three (to just find out what the hell they do), I'm not as gripped by it as I once was.
1 I am not autistic, nor a medical professional, and thus have no real basis on which to actually say that Sarah is autistic. I am basing this entirely on the way I have seen people identify with the character as such, and the hurt they felt when she was treated the way she was. I apologise in advance if this offends any readers who do have autism and who do not feel that the character adequately represents someone with the condition.