Season three is a point of entry for new players, but is it ruining the game for the long-time fans?
A major pioneer in the episodic genre and arguably Telltale Games’ most popular franchise, The Walking Dead, has finally been given its third season. Still following the franchise’s much-loved heroine Clementine, it’s warmly welcomed after the very ‘meh’ miniseries of Michonne in between. Little Clementine is back, but she’s not so little anymore. In fact, she’s so grown up, she’s a bit scary. However, I’m sure much to many’s dismay, Clementine isn’t the main character of this five episode season after leading the charge in the previous one, and I’m sure the question on a lot of people’s lips is ‘why’?
If you’re new to Telltale’s Walking Dead franchise, then let me give you a small rundown: the dead are rising and feasting on the living, and the living are all raging assholes who only look out for themselves. The series began with 8-year-old Clementine being found and rescued by a convicted murderer on his way to jail when the dead started to attack. Throughout the years (and seasons), Clementine has seen a great deal of death and sadness after surviving such a long time. Now a teenager, and with her dearly loved and trusted friends either dead or elsewhere, she’s cold, alone, and not looking for any more people to become close to.
Enter Season Three (S3). Titled A New Frontier, it follows a small extended family years after the dawn of the walkers or Muertos. Javier “Javi” Garcia, a disgraced, former professional baseball player leads his family and the game as the main protagonist, accompanied by his older brother’s second wife, Kate, and her cynical stepchildren, Gabriel and Mariana.
So, why isn’t Clementine the star of the show again? Well, as the gaming industry grows and games/genres become more and more popular, there has to be an entry point for newcomers that isn’t four years in the past and a console generation ago. That’s exactly the reasoning behind Telltale’s introduction of new people to care about; a place for people to begin their Walking Dead journey without having to wade through 20-hours of backstory.
Clementine’s history is canon and is sitting in your saved files. We’ve spent four years defending this young girl, watching her mature, and learn how to protect herself from the shitty, apocalyptic world. We love Clementine, but to keep the series fresh and interesting, she has to take a backseat… But do we really want her to? Is Telltale informing long-time Walking Dead enthusiasts to take a back-seat to let the new fans in?
We know that S3 takes place a couple of years after we saw Clementine last, either with Kenny, Jane, or by herself, along with baby AJ. As Season Two (S2) ended, we were forced to make some choices for the fate of Clementine that confused some; they gave us multiple endings – four, in fact – making three of the endings, well, not canon technically. Depending on how you ended S2 (if you finished it at all) you’ll get a different backstory as to what Clementine’s been up to since we’ve seen her last. However, the fates of our beloved old friends are treated like a slap in the face followed by a lazy middle finger. No matter who you sided with at the end of S2, no matter who fought hard to get on your side, no matter the history you had together, they both get killed off through a quick and unfulfilling flashback sequence.
While it’s all done in the name of progression, they’re such undignified endings (one taking their own life, the other killed in a dull cliché) for these characters that we’ve grown to love, and even killed for in the earlier seasons. Fans of the series have even begun reporting that they failed to continue the rest of the story after learning the fate of these characters. Are these people overreacting? Well, yeah, I think so. The story of S3 is (in my opinion) fantastically written and performed, but the underlying feeling of worthlessness is hard to overcome.
However, it’s not just these minor parts of S3 that are testing the faith of the loyal fans. The depth to the decisions we have to make don’t seem to be there as much as before. Apart from a single decision each episode, the storyline doesn’t change as dramatically as the previous seasons did with each choice. Not only that, but these large decisions seem to have Telltale worried more about our loyalty to Clementine, knowing full well that we haven’t been with her for a couple of years, seemingly asking: do you love Clementine? No, but do you still love Clementine? Prove it then.
It turns out, according to the stats given at the end of each episode, the loyalty is still intact. Throughout the Telltale series, we’re given choices that will determine the outcome of the story (and sometimes the game in itself is trying to figure out which choices will determine the future of characters). Some of these choices in the first two episodes ask us who we want to trust: Clementine or everyone else?
There are always a couple of choices in the games that are weighted heavily to one side. It’s no coincidence that the partisan choices in S3 so far have us siding with Clem by over 80%, despite what seems to be the best course of action for Javi and his family. However, that’s something that past players have to figure out along the way; are they thinking about the safety of their cherished Clementine, or are they thinking about what’s best for our new protagonist? A smart move by Telltale to keep the drama unblemished, yet a tough choice for those who are trying to engage in an unbiased playthrough.
The first two episodes of the five episode season were available on the same day and sparked some speculation as to what Telltale was doing. The episodes named ‘Ties That Bind Part One and Two’ are considerably shorter episodes than we’ve played before; around an hour each. The likelihood that these were once a single episode with only four episodes for the season seems pretty plausible.
However, the shorter episodes in no way weaken the overall story of S3. This is where the newcomers to the series really benefit; from a well told, post-apocalyptic story about family and survival. Javier’s story is drip-fed to us through few flashbacks and small amounts of exposition from himself and other characters. His humiliating career-ending stunt before the end of the world is only hinted at through pre-apocalypse flashbacks with his jealous older brother, David until confirmed through various cues and clues.
Javi’s overall demeanour toward his family is explored thoroughly as he speaks to each of them; trying to remain the ‘cool uncle’ while still being firm in young Mariana’s eyes, being a much needed friend while still an authority figure for Gabriel, and a level-headed leader as well as an equal partner for Kate. The story has a natural progression of communication and the chemistry between all characters is extremely believable.
The innocence of Javi’s 10-year old niece and her willingness to hold on to any normalcy she can, despite the new world they live in, is a great contrast to the teen angst and eagerness to mature of his nephew. However, the children’s relationship with Javi and their step-mother, Kate isn’t the only important factor to the overall story, but Javi’s relationship with his sister-in-law is a first for the series. They share a lot in common including age, wit, and love for the children despite some anguish over the loss of their pre-guardianship lives. But now they share something else that is completely determined by the player: their love for each other.
For the first time in The Walking Dead series, you can actually choose to pursue a romantic relationship with another character. Throughout various dialogue options, a choice for romantic flirting, playful banter, or platonic conversation arises, each granting different responses and the possibility of having Kate remember your answer for the future giving the players more control than ever before over the party (which is saying something in these decision oriented games).
Obviously, only being 2 (3 once you read this) episodes in, I could be giving Telltale a lot more credit than they deserve. Misdirects are extremely plausible, and to be honest, what I’m hoping for isn’t necessarily what I’m expecting. But only after 2 episodes, they’ve created such an alluring story whether you’re a fan of Clementine or not. The cliff-hanger questions posed at the end of episode two for Javi and his family, as well the fate of Clementine, has kept me fully excited for the premiere of episode three, which is more than I can say for the past two seasons.
Personally, Clementine has never been a staple character for me to become invested in, despite being the main protagonist in S2. Her inclusion in S3 is very interesting and the mystery of what has happened to her the past couple of years has me invested, but I’m not up in arms about what Telltale has done to the series to include new gamers in this adventure. I understand her addition in the season is what’s bringing the fans back according to what a lot of Walking Dead lovers are saying all over social media, but if she was nowhere to be seen, Javi’s story is good enough for me.