Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 2 started off with an episode that was heart wrenching, as we stepped directly into the shoes of Clementine for the first time, and viewed the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of an eleven-or-so year-old. After experiencing yet more loss, and yet more distrust, Clem finally seemed to be accepted, at least for the most part, with a new group. And then there was a choice, and a death, and a blackout.
And that’s where Episode 2: A House Divided kicks off, with Clementine trying to get used to this new group of survivors, and trying to deal with the choice she made at the end of the last episode. In fact, it picks up just seconds later, rather than using the break to jump forward a day, or a week, or any other significant amount of time.
These games are very hard to discuss without getting into spoiler territory, but rather than go into the individual events as much, I’ll try to focus on the most surprising thing about this particular episode, which is the way it made me feel.
Telltale’s games have been shocking before, and they’ve been heartfelt before, as have other video games. In this short hour and a half of gameplay, though, I felt true tension, intense fear, deep regret, soul-filling hope, and sadness (and relief) that brought tears to my eyes twice. There is something about experiencing it all through Clementine’s eyes that makes this so much more affecting than Season 1. You want to try to project your own eleven year-old naiveté, but you have to take into account that the things she’s experienced in the last 2-3 years are so far beyond what most experience in a lifetime, and that should inform your decisions, too. The major decisions in this episode go by so quickly, you’re barely wiping away a tear before your heart is pounding with tension once more. It’s hard not to shout out loud when your characters are shouting, because you just want so badly for everything to be okay for Clementine. Despite what Lee may have said, it just doesn’t seem, now, like that will ever be the case again.
And that’s the hard part about A House Divided, here. Despite being part two of five, it has very much a “finality to the second act” feel. Hope is given, and torn away. Lives are lost, and decisions are easy to regret nearly as soon as you make them. When playing games like these, I try very much to stand behind the choices I make, but some, in this one, really had me questioning – both myself, and my version of Clementine. Am I sure that’s how she’d respond here? Is she being too defiant now? Has she let go of her innocence completely, or does she still want to live a “normal” life?
And then there’s the way everyone treats her in this Episode, even moreso than the first. It’s amazing to see how, with a few simple lines of dialogue, you start to see characters like Luke and SPOILER and just about everyone, really, turn to Clementine for her opinion – and even for her guidance. I found myself getting very angry at them – “why are you asking a little girl to make decisions like this?” I would say out loud to the computer. But then, as I continued playing, I realized: Clem wouldn’t have it any other way. For better or for worse, she’s a leader, she has a better head on her shoulders than most “adults” around her, and she is the guiding force with whomever she comes in contact (and not just because she’s the player character).
A House Divided is about deciding whether or not you can hold onto hope. It’s about deciding whether or not you can hold onto your principles and innate kindness and empathy in the face of constant, overwhelming adversity. It’s about feeling, and that’s something you don’t see many video games even bother to attempt, let alone accomplish. There is a terrible sense of foreboding, with how many things go wrong here, about how much worse things could possibly get over the coming three episodes of the season, but it only hurts because I care so much about these characters.
The Walking Dead: Season Two continues to be a master class in storytelling, in emotional manipulation, and in moral examination. I simply cannot wait for more.
'Rama Rating: 10 out of 10