The Walking Dead Season Two—Telltale's follow-up to their fantastic episodic adventure series—kicks off today with its first episode and it's even more depressing with Clementine as its lead character.
Don't worry, there are no spoilers in this kind-of-review.
In season two of Telltale's depressing The Walking Dead episodic series, an older Clementine is without her protector Lee. Survival is rougher than it's ever been. She's not the kid she once was, either. She can't be. Not when every day is a fight for food, for shelter, for safety, for trust. Everything can change in just one moment. One mistake, one unanticipated detail you're not prepared to deal with can mean a huge shift in narrative.
Getting back into The Walking Dead again, I was happy to see Clementine, the strong, compassionate little girl whose voice has deepened a touch since we last saw her. She holds a gun as comfortably as we'd hold a cellphone, just a normal piece of the daily contents we keep in our pockets and bags. There are moments where you, as Clementine, feel a sense of sanity and protection. Familiar faces help. But that's just the ideal in the cold, uncertain world of the zombie apocalypse.
Before I sat down to play Season Two, I expected Telltale to show me a badass Clementine. She'd bravely volunteer to wriggle into small crevices for her friends, I imagined. She'd slam an axe into the skull of a zombie without hesitation. She'd carry a picture of Lee and look at it occasionally, proud of the person she's become thanks to him. But I realized something while I sat down to actually play as Clementine rather than daydream about it. She can't be the badass I want her to be. Sure, she's tough and can take care of herself to an impressive degree. But she can't be that badass because she grew up in one of the most unfortunate positions you can find yourself in when the world's been flipped on its head. She grew up with too much help.
The good-hearted people, the uncorrupted that Clementine met in Season One, wanted to help her. They were almost obliged to. She's young, after all, and without any family. They took her in early on, before things took an even worse turn as they have in Season Two. Look at a tiny girl like Clementine and you'll probably think that she needs protecting. It's almost instinctive. This means she survives longer than most people. And while her protectors make sacrifices for her, she'll live on and likely outlive them. She'll live with the memories of them and the memories of the loss of them, and I imagine she'll live with a growing feeling of guilt in her stomach, too. Especially after the opening events of Season Two's first episode... It's hard to make sense of a world where you keep surviving and the people you love around you keep dying.
There's a moment in this first episode where Clementine is searching for useful items. You'll remember the process distinctly if you played the first season. You'll walk around an area and click on items of interest. Clementine—in place of Lee for this new season—will make a remark or pocket the item. I directed Clementine to pick up a doll that was laying in a box. It looked old and dirty, abandoned for quite some time now. She considered it for just a second before immediately dumping it back where she found it, muttering something about how it wouldn't be of any use to her. In this moment I knew Clementine had changed, that everything she'd experienced since the world changed had changed her, too. She's a survivor, through and through. Trivial things like toys don't concern her.
It's this kind of storytelling that Telltale excels in. A single look can convey fear, distrust, hate, regret. These are all things Clementine will witness in the faces of the people she meets in Season Two. They're all contextualized in a way that helps you understand, without uttering a word, exactly what's going on. Instead of passively hearing it, you feel it in your gut.
Most of the time in this new episode, Clementine has to decide who to trust, and how to make people trust her. It almost seems absurd, that survivors in the world of The Walking Dead would be so skeptical of a seemingly innocent young girl. It speaks volumes about the things they've seen. Fear and doubt can be awfully convincing, especially when experiences have validated that skepticism in the past.
Clementine meets a lot of jerks in this first episode into Season Two. At some point, one of said jerks feels remorseful to how he's treated Clementine when he realizes that she means well. "Hopefully you can understand," he tells me. And I reply, "Bad things happen to everyone." That simple interaction summarizes a lot of the relationships I've seen develop and then shatter in The Walking Dead. Sure, there are undeniable assholes in this world. The self-serving, cold-hearted kind whose instincts are to steal and kill over grouping with others. These are the people who'll say and do things that make death seem like a gift compared to what they deserve (and it's disturbing to think about how an everyday jerk could turn into a cruel killer in The Walking Dead's lawless world). But not everyone is inherently bad. A lot of the people you'll meet are just scared. Their behavior may seem equally horrifying to the asshole's, but behind their spite and their vindictive nature is a story. Because bad things happen to everyone. Because everyone in The Walking Dead has been betrayed before. Has lost someone before. Has made the mistake of trusting someone before. It's the new human condition.
I only got to see a hint of it in the first episode, but I'm told that Clementine will be able to tactfully use her age to her advantage in Season Two, if you can manage it. She could use it to convince people to trust her, or maybe Telltale will let you use it to convince people that she's not a threat. I imagine lots of people will be underestimating her throughout Season Two.
Playing as Clementine was the perfect and natural next direction for The Walking Dead. She's a character we have investment in from the first season, but we get to see her in a new light. And her experiences throughout surviving are so unique to her position that we get to see a new side of the monstrous things we saw in Season One.
Think about the way that people looked at Lee, the guy who took in a young little stranger. The guy who, some people might've found out, had a bit of a criminal record. Now imagine how those people would look at Clementine, still sporting her hat and a pistol, surviving alone a lot of the time. Tough as bricks. It might be the same dirty, murderous, terrifying world where a feeling of doubt sticks with me long after I've made certain decisions, but this is an entirely new The Walking Dead. This is Clementine's The Walking Dead.