This past week, my sister and I decided to conduct a social experiment. No, it has nothing to do with Twitch Plays Pokemon – rather, she was going to write a review of The Walking Dead: Season 2, Episodes 1 and 2 from the perspective of her watching me play through them, and what it’s like observing the very movie-esque gameplay when you have no control over the decisions being made. The following are our thoughts about the game, how well Season 2 follows up what I consider to be one of the best, most engrossing games ever made, and how to best approach stitching up your own flesh.
Episode 1: Around Every Corner
The more things change
Shaun: Well, Episode 1 throws us back into the thick of things, and events quickly go from bad to worse to catastrophic. What I’m curious to know is, as these situations are unfolding, are you “in on” the fact that it’s a game because you still get to see the choices and know I’m controlling, or, since the controller is out of your hands, does it feel more like watching a bizarrely paced film or TV show?
Michaela: It’s…a weird combination of both. Every time I make a mental note of what choice I would go with in the game reminds me that I’m not in control and everything is unfolding at random, but when you specifically control Clementine’s actions to look at a knife or canned food, it still feels like a video game. I really like the way that the mood changes from feeling like a movie or video game, it keeps things interesting for me as the viewer.
Shaun: What’s clear early on in Episode 1 is the feeling of desolation. It’s apparent that Telltale is pulling no punches, and it doesn’t take long before you remember that, yes, this is The Walking Dead, and yes, it’s emotionally brutal.
Michaela: Without a doubt, this is a game series I can never see myself playing. I’m very emotional in everything I do, and watching someone else play this series reminds me that there’s no way I could handle playing it. It’s still a stressful game to watch, that’s for sure, but I’d much rather watch it then try to sit down and play it. It makes things just a little easier to be the observer when you don’t have to deal with making the controversial decisions.
Shaun: Around Every Corner excels at truly emphasizing the feeling of isolation, and creating an atmosphere where you feel like Clementine is truly alone. In Episode 1, it was rare when Lee was alone and not protecting Clem (which in itself provided plenty of its own tension), but in Season 2, it’s completely different.
Michaela: I vaguely remember watching scenes from Season 1, and I can definitely see the difference in tone. I think it’s less apparent now that Clementine has surrounded herself with people (even if some of them are idiots), but the tone is still there in the instances when the other people are against her, for instance. She’s surrounding herself with people, yet it seems like no one truly understood her the way Lee did.
Shaun: That’s not the only aspect that’s different about Season 2. What’s really interesting is that most of the time in Telltale games, you are shaping a character. In the case of The Wolf Among Us, I actually don’t know anything about the protagonist Bigby, so I’m making choices on how I WANT him to be – with The Walking Dead Season 2, I’m still doing that to an extent, but I have an entire previous season of knowing about this established character, so I’m trying to role play based on how I think she SHOULD be.
Sounds small, but it’s pretty captivating in its own way – my Clementine is a lot stronger than she was before, but rather than being a completely broken , hopeless soul that some of the dialogue options indicate, she’s still holding on to hope, and serving as Lee’s legacy. She’s not quite ready to let him go, or forget about their time together and the lessons she learned. This is almost immediately apparent near the beginning of Around Every Corner, where you have a choice to burn his photo and symbolically turn the past to ashes, or hold onto it. My Clem held on.
Michaela: I was really happy you didn’t burn Lee’s picture, that would have been horrible! I was sitting there thinking that if it were me, there’s no way I would have gotten rid of it! I made that decision subconsciously before you did, but I’m usually so engrossed in the game that I experience the decisions just as you make them. Sometimes I try to predict what you will do, and I usually predict accurately, which makes my experience even more entertaining.
Shaun: So, what’s my play style, and how does it lend itself to shaping your experience with the game?
Michaela: First of all, you look at everything. Rarely is anything overlooked, and while that’s good for getting a feel of the surroundings and Clementine’s perspective on the world, it also stressed me out. Like the part when you had Clementine check EVERY SINGLE window even though there were Walkers around (how you calmly did that is beyond me). I felt like saying “SHAUN THE WINDOWS ARE ALL LOCKED, JUST GO TO THE DOOR! DON’T BOTHER!”
THE RESULT IS ALWAYS THE SAME JUST GO
Another thing; you wait until the last second to make a decision. FOR EVERYTHING. Most of the time it was fine because it would have a hefty toll, but there were times when I’d go with the choice I liked the best almost immediately, so anxiously waiting for you to choose made me unnecessarily stressed out. That stupid meter at the bottom of the choice box is responsible. I was always afraid that you wouldn’t select a choice in time!
Hello, my name is Dog
Shaun: Probably the most heart-wrenching scenes is with the dog. I named him George St. George, and I thought he was going to be my companion. But, in classic Telltale fashion, things…didn’t exactly turn out that way…
Michaela: When the dog was first introduced, I was totally on board. A dog that can protect Clementine, help her hunt, and kill Walkers?! Best dog ever! It makes me wish my dog wasn’t such a sissy, because if there was a zombie apocalypse, Mr. Patches wouldn’t last five seconds.
I too was brainstorming a name for the dog (I don’t remember what it was now, but your name was much more sophisticated for him)…until it viciously attacked Clem out of nowhere due to hunger. For a second, it made me scared not only for Clementine, but also personally when I put myself in her shoes. I love dogs, and this game was able to make me question my aberrant adoration for them. But then the dog was seriously injured, and Clementine is given the choice to leave it behind or put it out of its misery.
Shaun: I was hoping there was an option to “Resuscitate the dog back to health and it will join you and be loyal.” For some reason, the dog wasn’t able to recover from having rebar impaling his body, and that option didn’t present itself.
Michaela: I was really hoping that you wouldn’t just leave it there to suffer, but you decided to put it down.
Shaun: I didn’t decide anything. CLEMENTINE decided. I’m simply the vessel of her will.
Oh my darlin’
Shaun: Speaking of which, what do you think about Clementine’s character, now that she’s more fleshed out from the original series and on her own?
Michaela: Clementine is an awesome character, and very capable considering that she’s just a young girl. From a gameplay perspective, it was interesting to watch how a character as small and weak as Clementine navigates the zombie apocalypse.
Shaun: True. Unlike Lee, who was able to fight several Walkers simultaneously, Clem’s inherent vulnerability adds another layer of constant tension.
Michaela: Right. It took Clementine SEVERAL blows to the head in order to finally kill the Walker, whereas Lee would have dispatched it much more easily.
Juice box hero
Michaela: But even beyond just the lack of physicality, Clem is self-sufficient. The adults in the episode are being unbelievable a**holes to her, but she’s able to ignore their BS and takes care of herself.
Shaun: Like when she sends a message to the pregnant women that she better leave Clem the hell alone if she wants her secret kept?
Michaela: Or when she gets fed up and decides to take care of her injury on her own. Watching her stitch up her arm was super painful.
Shaun: Yeah, that was among the most brutal scenes I’ve ever performed in any game, ever…I could literally almost feel the pain of the needle going in and out of her raw skin…
Michaela: Lucky for me, some of the stress was slightly alleviated with the juice box on the table. At every available moment of this sequence, you had Clementine take a sip of the juice box, which was pretty hilarious.
Shaun: Look, she needed an incentive system to keep going. So between every stitch, Clem took a hit from the juice box. She’s too young to drink, so juice is the next best thing. GIVE ME A HIT OF THAT APPLE JUICE. Absolutely brutal.
Episode 1 Wrap-up
Shaun: Overall, I thought Around Every Corner was a solid start to Season 2. The plot was a little meandering, but the character moments – the foundation of which these games are built – were as great as always. I’m excited to see where the story goes, but more importantly, Telltale proved the continuing story is in great hands. I give Around Every Corner 3.5 juice boxes out of 5.
Michaela: You’d think I’d feel more detached simply watching the events unfold, but having no say in the events keeps up the mystery and intensity. Every moment is just as exciting even if I’m not the one directly experiencing the weight of the decisions by not playing it. For me, it’s an interactive movie, and it’s one of the reasons why I enjoy watching other people play games so much – for the most part, I can just sit back and relax (even though that didn’t happen once while watching Walking Dead Season 2, but that’s how it usually is). My score for Around Every Corner is 4 rabid dogs out of 5.
Episode 2: A House Divided
Knife to meet you
Shaun: Episode 2 picks up immediately where 1 left off, with a soon-to-turn-Pete locked in a van with me. So here we are again, with Clem in close proximity with a friend who’s doomed to zombiefication. Admit it, you thought he was going to turn.
Michaela: Oh god yeah. I thought he was going to turn when she was sitting there SNOOZING. You’re just gonna fall asleep NEXT TO HIM?! She really needs to be more careful. I don’t care if zombiefication takes a while, she was not nearly cautious enough. There should have been an option to get out of there to safety sooner.
Shaun: I messed up. I should have asked him what it felt like to turn. It was such a good choice, and the fact I didn’t use it haunted me. Are there ever any choices that you see that I don’t go with that kill you?
Michaela: Sometimes I do, but for the most part, I usually agree with you because you’re taking Clementine’s character into consideration. With that said, yeah, you messed up.
Shaun: Very early on, Episode 2 makes it clear that the s*** is about to get real. The plot ramps up, stakes are raised, and the safety net provided by being in the house is removed fairly early on. Part of that is because the new villain, Carver, is introduced. What did you think? Seemed like a great, stand up civilian to me.
Michaela: Yeah, a stand up civilian who just welcomed himself into your house. He’s an interesting villain, that’s for certain, and I want to see Clementine exact her revenge on him for being a jerk. Make her exact revenge, Shaun.
Shaun: Haha, for being a jerk. Not executing innocent people for no reason – because he was rude to Clem. You got it.
Michaela: He must atone.
Shaun: Speaking of which, I loved the option to pick up the knife when Clem was squaring off with him in the kitchen. I ended up not doing it, because I couldn’t see any way that could end well for me. What was I going to do, threaten him with it? Put it away? Kill myself? The options were endless, so I appreciated it and chose “absolutely nothing.” What a great interaction with Carver in the house, and it really set the stage for the rest of the episode.
A bridge over zombied water
Shaun: As soon as we left the house, the tension that I love about these games returned. We were vulnerable for about a dozen different reasons, and at any moment, it felt like anything could happen. When our homeboy Luke asked me if I wanted to go scouting the bridge with him, I loved that as another opportunity to roleplay Clem and show how much she’s grown. There’s no way she doesn’t go and see it as a chance to prove herself!
Michaela: The operation of sneak-onto-bridge-without-sneaking-in-the-slightest was a lot more intense than I was anticipating. Zombies started coming from all angles, and every step was death. On your right, Zombie A. On your left, Zombie B, C, and D. Below? A plummet to death. It was stressful, but once again, Clem looked awesome while killing Walkers, and I loved the choice to make her eager to join in the operation, and even take out zombies when more placid options were available.
Shaun: And then we found a happy, helpful, seemingly legit guy who was willing to aid us in our quest. So of course, he was immediately shot in a moment of panic by Nick, aka Season 2’s Ben. Sigh. And of course, this would have repercussions later.
Michaela: I know, I still can’t believe Nick did that. You and Luke both told him not to, and did he value your words? NO. What’s also frustrating is that this is the one time he’s actually able to hit something. His aim is atrocious. Good thing his aim wasn’t that good when he shot at Clem in Episode 1, or that would have been a short game. “Clem’s dead, thanks for playing!”
Anyways, I wish there was an option to save the guy, like stepping in between Nick and him. You probably didn’t try hard enough. There was probably an option to jump in front of the bullet. Although that may have just led to you getting shot, at least you would have been trying.
The return of Kenny
Shaun: Eventually, we found a ski resort, aka zombie apocalypse heaven, and were treated (or cursed, depending on your personal feelings) by the return of Kenny from season 1, who everyone thought was most likely dead.
Michaela: I’m going to ignore everything you just said about Kenny and agree that yes, it was heaven! This is the sort of stuff I watch for – the moments when everyone is perfectly safe.
Shaun: Seriously. If it were up to me, Clem and the group would be safe at all times, all the zombies would die, they’d find a cure, and live out the rest of their days in peace.
Michaela: The skiing lodge was really great. Playing the classical music was a nice touch, though I hated that I couldn’t hear it anymore after you went upstairs. That isn’t how music works! If it was up to me, you would have just stood still so I could listen.
Shaun: So sacrifice the narrative so you could listen to a muffled song that you could pull up on your computer anytime?
Michaela: Precisely. Picking the top for the Christmas tree was nice too. I initially thought you should have gone with the angel, but then I saw Sarah’s reaction to the star and decided it was worth it. Not only that, but I also liked the Christmas tree serving as a reminder of the peaceful life everyone once had before the apocalypse.
Shaun: You know, that was a good point. The dichotomy that Telltale displays in these moments is always really fascinating, and drives home just how far gone this world is now. It’s one of the things these games are so good about – being aware, at all times, that this is definitely the end of the world.
Michaela: But you were talking about Kenny.
Shaun: Right. Personally, I was happy to see him come back, because even though I sort of loathed him, I don’t think Clem had any real negative feelings towards him, and it was a nice moment in the narrative for her. Plus, it was great to see that not every single character introduced in season 1 ended up in the ground. Metaphorically, of course, since they’re all zombies now.
Michaela: You seemed excited, but I barely remembered who he was from Season 1, and my memories of this hillbilly bumpkin were not particularly fond ones. Despite that, I was on board for his return, and seeing Clementine react by hugging him certainly convinced me of that. You basically manipulate how I watch the game by how you make Clem act. Not fair.
Shaun: You could afford to give Kenny a bit of a break. The guy’s annoying, but he had easily one of the most tragic arches in season 1, and he did a lot to redeem himself. I was happy to see he is a bit of a different man than we left him as. Losing your entirely family tends to do that.
Group A or Group B
Shaun: Then, all of a sudden, we were in high school again, and were introduced with a new “clique” dynamic – which group does Clem belong with now? The old friend, or the new group that she’s already shared some strife with? Personally, I dislike most of this new group, but I think Clem feels like she’s made her bed with them now and has to stick it out with them. This idea of conflict, and what Clem’s goals are (search for Krista, or simply stay alive), were really pronounced here.
Michaela: It was one of the few times I was okay with you taking forever to decide, because they’re both so sad just sitting there waiting for you to pick. No matter who you went with, the other one was going to give you puppy dog eyes. Clem’s a heart-breaker.
Shaun: DREAM MAKER.
Michaela: ….uh, anyways, now I remember why I don’t miss high school at all. Luke’s reaction was way too sad when you chose to sit with Kenny. Luke is the only one I remotely like of the new group (and even then he was an idiot in the first episode), and it sort of ripped my soul out that he looked so devastated. I love these games because even in the little moments that don’t really matter, the choices you are forced to make are heartwrenching. I’m glad I wasn’t the one who had to make it.
Shaun: LOVE TAKER DON’T YOU MESS AROUND WITH ME.
Nick, meet the bus
Shaun: As per The Walking Dead, survivor relations got heated, and Walter, the kind man who helped and sheltered our group, found out that our dumb-ass Nick killed his friend/lover on the bridge. What followed was Clementine desperately trying to save a man’s life. In turn, I was freaking out. This is the sort of stuff that was missing in Episode 1, and it make the narrative way stronger. Do you tell the truth for the sake of your character, even though you risk danger? Or do you lie and hope for the best?
Michaela: Eh. I was somewhat worried that Walter was going to kill Nick, but I don’t think I would have been against it. Nick is not a character I’m particularly fond of, so I think that I would have been fine with it had it come to that.
Shaun: Wow. Stone cold over here.
Michaela: Actually, you should have just ratted out Nick and thrown him under the bus. Survival of the fittest. That guy sucks. I was way more concerned about Clementine trying to shotgun the zombie and deal with the recoil. That’s real life right there.
Carved up like a turkey
Shaun: So then we reach the end, and Carver’s people are back on us. This was a cool moment, because even though I HATED her, Bonnie was a character in the 400 Days bridging chapter DLC. It was nice to see some crossover there finally, although unfortunately, it was with Days most grating and irritating character.
Michaela: I’m glad you were rude to her. Never be nice to that woman.
Shaun: Don’t worry, I’m way ahead of you. Anyways, things escalate pretty quickly, and it’s not long before Carver is threatening to kill the doctor unless you expose where you’re hiding. Choice time! Venture out to find Kenny and Luke and risk the doctor dying, or give yourself up and hope Carver is a man of his word?
Michaela: At the time when you had to make a choice between the two, I didn’t know which would be better. It was a no-win situation, though I think tying to find Kenny and Luke would have been more improbable given the overall situation. So in hindsight, it was wise that you stayed behind to help the doctor, even if the outcome was completely uncertain.
Shaun: It was here that Carver really established himself as a villain much more fearful than the zombies, and in my opinion, was exactly what this series needed. After torturing a man with the same empathy that you would show a plastic doll, he non-chalantly blows the face off Walter. Was this shocking to you?
Michaela: I was pretty shocked. Everything in these games is shocking, and I don’t think it’s something I’ll be getting used to anytime soon. My reaction to Carly getting shot out of nowhere in Season 1 was very similar. This sucked too because Walter was dealing with a lot of pain after losing his friend/lover to Nick’s idiocy. He was a nice guy, and it was sad to see him go in such a brutal way. At that point, anything could have happened, so my stress meter went through the roof when you tried to make her the hero.
Shaun: Yeah, I did do that. The best I could hope for was he hurt his hand when he easily backhanded Clem into submission. Eventually, Kenny gives himself up, leaving Luke with a tough situation that he somehow needs to solve. At the end, everyone is captured. Yay! I love cliffhangers! Oh, can I just say right now that is anyone surprised that Rebecca’s baby was Carver’s?
Michaela: God I hate her.
Shaun: Is there a female character in the game you actually do like?
Shaun: Besides Clementine.
Episode 2 wrap up
Shaun: Not that episode 1 was bad, but this was exactly what this series needed to provide it some plot direction. Episode 1 established how Clementine’s changed since we last saw her and solidified her ability to be in a starring role, by carefully planting the seeds that were reaped her. Now, the narrative has a clear path forward, anchored nicely by an engaging villain and a compelling situation. I’m even more excited now for how Episode 3 is going to make me miserable. I give A House Divided 4 kitchen knives out of 5.
Michaela: Episode 2 ramped up the intensity on all counts, and I think I enjoyed watching this episode more. We get some insight into the other characters and a much needed foundation for where the story is going. Clem’s snarkiness is one of my favorite parts of this episode, and it makes me wish I could be tough like her. I can’t wait to see what awful decisions Episode 3 will force you to make and dying from all of the stress as a result. I give A House Divided 4.5 generic Christmas stars out of 5.