That's what "Amid the Ruins" teaches us. More than any previous episode of The Walking Dead, it throws the importance of life in our faces – the fragility of breathing, the futility of fighting, the need to do it anyway – and it makes us wish for life harder than we ever have. Not necessarily our own lives, either. Clementine, for her part, is capable and in charge in this episode. She's rarely in direct danger herself (at least not in any way she hasn't already conquered 50 times before), but she bears witness to the potential deaths of many others, multiple times over. She saves some people. She kills some people. And she survives.
The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 4 "Amid the Ruins" (7/22/2014)
Still, Amid the Ruins finds reasons for us to continue seeking these relationships, reasons for us make friends with people in the group even when we know we'll probably have to stick an axe in their skulls down the line. Jane is a wonderful example of this dynamic: She's a lone wolf traveling with this hodge podge of survivors – for now. So far she's been shrewd and practical, showing little emotion but exceptional skill in taking on hordes of zombies. She knows how to survive alone, and she could easily leave at any moment, but instead, she makes a point to take Clementine aside and share her story. Jane takes the time to teach Clementine new moves and to tell her that she could survive alone, without the liability of people who aren't as fast, strong or smart as Clementine is. Jane has a softer side and the ability to care deeply, two traits that make the idea of her leaving even more upsetting.
This episode asks moral questions aside from "kill or don't kill?": At what point do other survivors become threats to be eliminated, rather than people going about their own business? When do the rules that governed behavior before the apocalypse fly out the window? When is it OK to steal? Can you trust anyone? Should anyone trust you?
Everyone is doing what they think is right. Clementine is doing the right thing when she kills someone who is about to turn, even if it crushes other members of the group. The crux of it, however, is that she's also doing the right thing if she doesn't make the kill. These "right" actions change with every player's experience – we are all doing what we think is right, and there are hundreds of definitions of the concept, each presented four dialogue options at a time. Being right doesn't mean being good, or fair, or just. Doing the right thing could mean leaving someone to die, shooting a friend in the head or calling someone a jerk. It could mean saving someone's life, but that kind of serendipitous opportunity doesn't manifest often in the zombie apocalypse.
Amid the Ruins is a simple episode, in theory. It revolves around a woman giving birth in impossible circumstances, an event that is going to happen no matter what you do, but it provides a myriad of paths to get there. Friendships are formed or destroyed in this episode, survivors die by your hand, and more people are shown for the fragile monsters they truly are. In this world, one second you're living, and the next, you're not dead – and that's far worse than being dead.
This review is based on a pre-release Steam download of The Walking Dead: Amid the Ruins, provided by Telltale Games. Images: Telltale Games.
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