Editor's Note: Although this review avoids major spoilers for the current episode, past Walking Dead installments may be discussed.
After “In Harm’s Way,” how could my heart not weep for Clementine? Telltale Games cleans house again in the midpoint of The Walking Dead Season Two, sacrificing many faces introduced in past episodes for the sake of our young heroine, while those that survive remain forever changed by physical handicaps (e.g., missing limbs) or coldhearted emotions. As the saying goes, things get worse before they get better, but how could Clementine’s life fall apart further?
With Clementine’s posse forced into captivity by William Carver at a recycled hardware store, players can almost count the minutes until trouble visits this false paradise en masse. The infected have made their way north, and dissension brews among Carver’s people. Who could blame them? Back-breaking labor is mandatory, characters perceived as problematic or in need of “correction” sleep outside in the cold, and armed wardens respond to insubordination with abuse. Stockholm syndrome also plays a part; Carver's people, including 400 Days’ protagonists, refuse to acknowledge their leader’s problem.
Are those guns meant for the undead ... or you?
I harped on the last episode for casting Carver as a Governor copycat, something other critics have just noticed. But after spending some … enlightening time with Carver (and hearing him twist Bible verses to sate his tenets), I had a change of thought. Although he is still the maniacal sociopath we all know and loathe, this series has never had a full-fledged antagonist beyond someone’s ulterior motives. As their first attempt at truly sadistic writing, the developers perfect Carver’s personality. Psychopaths appear likable, despite their intentions. They know how to manipulate people, how to charm others in letting their guards down, and when to use force.
I confronted Bonnie’s reluctance to look beneath Carver’s mask, for example, though Clementine could try to keep the peace. Whenever Kenny gets involved, however, pacifism falls to the wayside. Kenny tests frail alliances with the second season’s cast, but pointless acts of cruelty at the hands of Carver unify the group. Beating kids because they spoke out of turn? Pretty sure that qualifies as senseless. I had to rescue my friends, to get them away from Carver's madness before he tainted them, too. The writers have a story to tell, and they tell it well, even if deaths occur regardless of Clementine’s allegiance. You can only mitigate the splash damage.
Is this another example of Carver protecting the weak? Unlike most people, he sees no line between good and evil.
Not that a lack of control makes instances of murder any less vicious. “In Harm’s Way” features enough arterial spray and broken skulls to do The Walking Dead name proud. One inhumane execution involving a crowbar – a choice in which Clementine can finally give into fans’ demons – takes inspiration from the comics. I had to affirm my decision repeatedly, knowing the outcome would end in bloodshed, with the game doing its best to place blame for any loss of sleep on my shoulders.
And to be frank, I had no qualms letting Telltale take the reins throughout the episode. “In Harm’s Way” keeps interactions to a minimum, like climbing ladders or sneaking around rooftops, but middle chapters can be a story’s make or break – characters must continue to evolve while the climax plants the seeds of the series’ finale. Telltale gives no ground here. Yes, Clementine’s frequent forays into danger seem implausible, but do you really want the pregnant Rebecca scaling shelves? Would you trust Nick to handle a firearm again? In a world of heartless madmen and incompetents, Clementine is the lone survivor players can put their faith in, and I am okay if the developers keeps that way.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: May 13, 2014
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Mac, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, iOS