Editor's Note: This review avoids major spoilers for the current episode, but past Walking Dead installments may be discussed.
I think Nick best summarized this rocky Walking Dead season at the outset of “A House Divided,” depending on what Clem disclosed about Pete’s death. The results nearly broke me, but I said Pete wanted to see Nick again before he died. Nick's response: "Fuck." His brazen downswing in mood, from a cautious stride to slow head-hanging saunter, depicts the emotional wringer “No Going Back” routinely puts fans through. Two more hours of malice and anguish await. Are you ready?
Whose well-being do you think of first? Yours or the baby's?
Without spoiling much, the developers keep this finale moving. Promises – and who honors them – become a recurring theme and not-quite-secretly guide conversations. A dream involving Clem and Lee also shows – not tells – viewers why players revisit The Walking Dead despite hardship after hardship. The bonds fans form with these fictional people exceed what average games, movies, and TV programs accomplish. If done well, the ingenious narrative, acting, and musical scores brace ill-fated decisions.
Even when the characters pause to catch a breath, no interlude in this chapter’s human or zombie drama struck me as dead weight. Tending to Kenny’s wounds offers an instance of tranquility he has been unable to handle since his return, and an evening celebration around a campfire restores an overdue fraction of normalcy to The Walking Dead universe. It seems so easy to neglect the horrors I dragged Clementine into while prattling on about birthdays and “kissing stuff.” It would be nice to dwell on the pleasantries, because they do not last.
Hangovers and a zombie apocalypse? Is there a worse combination?
“No Going Back” reverts to the ambiguous arguments that players adore and abhor, arguments that Episode Four expelled. When both sides of the group mention travel plans – to proceed north to Wellington as originally stated or drive south for warmer weather – whose arrangements do you endorse? It sounds minor, but when four adults raise their voices, how can an eleven-year-old girl get a word in edgewise? How should Clementine, who deserves a vote most of all, speak her mind? To paraphrase Bonnie, “Start thinking about what you want.” I took that message to heart.
Although I waited for supporting character personalities to mature, Telltale gives up on broadening Mike’s identity and uses an early mercy killing as an excuse not to properly establish Arno’s disposition. Each attempt to learn about him or his family brought tears or shouts of defiance. Arno largely exists as an instrument to hone Kenny’s rage, so if Telltale cannot be bothered to care about one of the protagonists, neither will I.
I was too caught up in the feud between Kenny and the rest of the group to be Arno’s babysitter either way. Kenny’s unchecked temper reaches boiling points hotter than Hades, severing the last opportunities to mend broken friendships. So supposing Kenny's savagery stunned you before, you may want to wait the final scene out. I realize he lost Katjaa, Duck, Sarita, and Lee – essentially everyone Kenny called family. Except … Luke, Clem, and Jane sacrificed people, too. Kenny just copes poorly. While I tried to overlook the hostility in his time of grieving, I cannot forgive and forget.
Does the party really respect Clementine? They throw her into danger, yet treat her like a kid.
Telltale calls attention to Kenny’s aggression until it corrodes your patience – yes, even more than previous episodes. The ending the writers want you to pick becomes painfully obvious by the climax, however, and plagued me with equal parts regret and relief for caving to its demands. I fell back into the role of a follower instead of ushering Clementine out of Lee’s shadow, yet she endured. I sought what I thought was the lesser of two evils for Clem, and sometimes the best thing you can do for loved ones is grant them the clemency they desire.
Maybe it was my psychology degree at work, but I learned the game’s language and how to manipulate standoffs for the safest outcome. Am I turning into Carver? I didn't resort to violence at least. I savored the moments not overflowing with undead, though repairing a truck or crossing a frozen river provides unjust stress as well. While people may say The Walking Dead has run rampant with predictability for the past few installments (Telltale can only threaten Clem, not kill her), the excruciating survivor theatrics pull no punches, like the day we found an innocent girl alone and afraid in her tree house.
After “No Going Back,” Telltale has the momentum to carve out exceedingly different beginnings for Season Three. Featuring three distinct endings – not counting the lesser variations based on who you befriended during altercations – the writers finally produce a story tailored to player decisions. They challenge your loyalties as you peel back the layers of anxiety and deception. Clem might wind up deserted or alongside someone who always had her back, and all that honestly matters is whether you chose right.
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: August 26, 2014
Number of Players: 1 (Campaign)
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PS Vita, Mac, iOS