[The Walking Dead is a difficult series to write about. I want you to experience the game for yourself. After all, your game will likely play out entirely different from mine, given how dependent on player choice it is. But I still want to give you an idea of what it was like to experience the final episode of this season. So think of this less as an impressions piece, and more of a diary entry.]
I knew we'd end up here eventually, in this dark and bleak place.
Sometimes I look back at the journey we've taken together and wonder how the hell all this even happened. Death, betrayal, moral ambiguity running rampant. Feels like every step we took for survival pushed us further into our graves. We've learned so much—about people and how they change, about the threat of the walkers at hand—and somehow I feel much farther off the track of staying alive than I did back when all this madness first started.
Maybe the only thing keeping me going even after the end of the world is a little girl with a big heart and sweet eyes. Everyone else distrusted me at one point or another. Maybe it's my shady past, my seemingly weird relationship to this girl who is effectively a stranger, or my actions since taking her in. There have been arguments, tussles, even, and a whole lot of hard decisions that often led to death. I have a difficult time not blaming myself, and so it's hard not to see some truth behind people questioning my leadership. They don't always doubt me, but it still stings as hard as if they did. Doing right by everyone is important to me.
But Clementine, she's different. She stood by my side through each decision I had to make. She never doubted me. And while everyone else slowly changed, their stomachs rightfully churning after the horrors they faced, Clementine remained steadfast. It's a marvel, really, to think that an eight-year-old can stick it to the apocalypse harder than a grown adult. Military, doctors, teachers...everyone breaks. But not Clementine. I like to think I had something to do with that, even if this recent episode is making me to begin to doubt my fatherly abilities. The overpowering feeling that I need to, above all else, keep Clementine safe was once what helped me push on in the face of no hope. Now that instinct to be protective is turning into guilt, and that guilt is crushing me, slowly seeping into my conscience and making me second guess everything that has gotten us this far.
People show their true character after a disaster. It doesn't matter if you donated to charity while your life was merry. How did you act when you were starving? Did you steal from someone else, who was likely just as close to death? Did you ever kill someone just to keep them quiet and yourself safe? These are the situations in which your decisions should be judged.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Walking Dead episodic series has been watching personalities and relationships evolve. When I first met Christa, the spitfire survivor you meet in episode four, I wasn't particularly fond of her. She seemed to have good intentions, but she also didn't seem to care much for anyone outside the locked enclaves of her steely heart. I grew to respect her, though. Cherish, even. Love, maybe. Had I had enough time to explore the complexity of her character, I could definitely see myself loving her.
Ben's weak disposition had me fed up by episode four. No matter how hard I tried to guide him, he stumbled over his own feet. It was infuriating. No one else exhibited these problems, I'd impatiently scoff. And then I realized that while Ben would make bad decisions and wasn't too reliable, he was also never violent. Or psychotic. We've definitely met our fair share of sociopaths in this life-after-death scenario. But I came to appreciate Ben's benevolence, even if he did constantly drag the group down (albeit accidentally). Even Kenny, who I've grown to love as a brother, can't be completely trusted in tense situations. We've supported each other this entire time, but I wouldn't put it past him to strike me in a rage or confusion. Ben would certainly never do something like that. He'd bitch and whine, but he wouldn't put his fists up to me.
Episode five is a disaster, and I mean that as a compliment to the game. Lee clings on to a sliver of hope, pushing forward in the worst of conditions. He's haggard, he's at the end of his rope. But, like Clementine, he never wavers. He pushes forward for the few things left that are worth saving in this post-apocalyptic world. Lee's every breath is spent for Clementine. Without her, I'm not sure he could survive the zombie apocalypse.
Episode five is also more intense than ever. You have to make tougher decisions on tighter deadlines. I've never felt as much pressure in the Walking Dead series than I did in this finale. I began to resent my responsibilities and longed for a "let's just wait it out for now" speech option. But this is the homestretch. It all comes down to this, and nothing—not even everything I've experienced up until this point—can prepare me for it.
These aren't just the toughest decisions I've had to make, they're also the most important. Nothing in my journey has mattered as much as the next few steps I take, and how I decide to take them. It's more vital now than ever that I choose the right dialogue options. I'm no stranger to this harsh life. I'm just tired of it. I'm tired of no reprieve.
And secretly I love it.
Because who hasn't daydreamed about the zombie apocalypse before? Who hasn't theorized their strategies and argued tactics? Telltale's The Walking Dead lets you live the zombie apocalypse in the most realistic way possible.
Sure, the animations may be janky and the actual game component of the series is limited to QTEs (that are at least meant to replicate the amount of force you're trying to use when opening a door or pushing a walker off of you) and point-and-click exploration to discover the world around you. But the zombie apocalypse is about so much more than fighting zombies. It's about meeting all sorts of people, and facing all sorts of threats. Threats that rival your most horrifying nightmares. You don't need traditional strength to survive (though a good swinging arm and a sharp eye could definitely help). You need strength of character.
The Walking Dead makes me feel like I've been through the harsh realities of a world where everything is working against me. And by the end of the episode, sitting back in the comfort of my apartment, I (only slightly ashamedly) cried. Because I actually felt all the things that Lee was supposed to feel in this made-up world. And that's perhaps the best thing about Telltale's masterpiece: it's a made-up world that manages to evoke real-life emotions. And those emotions—those thoughts of "what if" and "holy shit"—those have stayed with me even now.
The Walking Dead's final episode is where it all ends. And where it all begins anew again. I cannot wait for the next season to resolve all my unanswered questions and fears, and hopefully gain some closure. Until then, those haunting memories will follow me.