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The Walking Dead Season 2, Episode 2 review: Body count


Clementine is holed up with two factions of angry, desperate survivors. One group cowers on the floor, while the second flashes their guns and makes an example of a rival survivor with two quick, non-lethal snaps. Clementine watches the torment from a raised landing, where she's hiding with two allies who argue about their next move. They reach an impasse and turn to Clementine for advice.

Let's get that straight: Two adults, who have weathered the zombie epidemic for more than a year, pause in their argument about a serious, life-or-death situation to take tips from the 11-year-old girl. An 11-year-old-girl that they would have easily shot two weeks ago. She still has pigtails.

She also has good advice. "A House Divided," the second episode of The Walking Dead's second season, presents Clementine as a complete, independent character for the first time. Though she is surrounded by people – mostly adults – she doesn't answer to any of them, and she doesn't depend on any one person for survival. She can hold her own and she has demonstrated her skills to her new companions. They trust her, and she trusts herself.

Gallery: The Walking Dead: Season 2 - A House Divided | 3 Photos

A House Divided is one of the most action-packed episodes in the Walking Dead franchise, though much of that action occurs in the story itself rather than the gameplay. There are player-controlled action sequences – including a few zombie shooting ranges and moments when Clementine's life is in the player's hands – but these are overshadowed by the tense narrative that takes shape behind the survival.

The acute emotional impact of A House Divided begins, as always, with Clementine. This episode embraces her as a young woman with more gusto than previous installments, and it lets her prove her worth to a world of jaded adults time and time again. Developer Telltale has removed options to respond to tough situations with "but I'm just a little girl," and instead puts Clementine in leadership roles.

A character on his deathbed asks Clementine to watch over another survivor for him; Clementine is left alone in a house with another child, Sarah, and directed to keep her safe; one survivor prefers Clementine's help on a scouting mission over that of an adult man; characters hand her guns without pause; her allies are confident Clementine can figure out how to work a piece of machinery no one understands.

Over the time Clementine has lived with these new survivors, she has proved to be resourceful, insightful and brave – the gut-wrenching scene near the end of Season 2's first episode, "All That Remains," spurred the adults' respect, and she's only built upon that foundation.

The comparison of Clementine with Sarah, another young girl raised in the same apocalyptic nightmare, highlights Clem's innate sense of leadership and the immense importance of every skill that she absorbed in Season One. Clementine is valuable as a fighter because she has shown herself to be capable, not simply because she is the main character.

She is still a young woman, though, and Telltale uses this to the story's advantage. At one point, an adult intruder enters Clementine's house when she's alone with Sarah, who immediately panics and hides. Clementine attempts to shut him out, but he forces his way in and proceeds to poke around the rooms as if he has every right. He eventually pulls out a gun and barges upstairs under the guise of searching for intruders – failing to recognize the hypocrisy of his own intrusion.

The entire time this creepy man is in the house, I'm mentally screaming at him to get out – if Clementine were an adult, he wouldn't have dared enter. Emotionally, Clementine is more of an adult, but physically she's still a child, and the world often treats her accordingly. These situations are delightfully frustrating, offering players a glimpse of life as a "little girl" in the zombie apocalypse. These reminders of Clementine's apparent vulnerability serve to make her more powerful as a skillful, insightful protagonist.

Sarah, on the other hand, is a fragile, naive girl, older than Clementine but still young enough to be bossed around by her father. A House Divided provides opportunities to bond with Sarah and be kind to her, and moments to tell her the truth and earn her trust. It's dangerous to make friends in The Walking Dead, but I couldn't help falling for Sarah (a mistake many players will probably pay for emotionally in some future episode).

Clementine also bonds with Luke, a leader of her group, because he treats her like a capable survivor. And then there are the other characters tied to Clementine – this is an episode you'll want to play with all of your save files locked and loaded, from both Season One and 400 Days.

A House Divided pits survivors against one another physically and emotionally, asking Clementine to keep track of explosive secrets, alliances and past missteps. This deep into the undead armageddon, almost all survivors have blood on their hands and skeletons in their closets, and Clementine must decide who to trust and when to trust them, sometimes with a finger on the trigger. It gets messy.

However, much of the bloodshed (human blood, at least) doesn't come directly from Clementine. She takes down a few zombies in QTEs and point-and-shoot sequences, but they feel compressed, secondary to the drama going down among her companions. In A House Divided, dialogue trees carry more action than repeatedly jamming a button to shove a slobbering zombie away from Clementine's face.

The Walking Dead's impact lies in its relationships, and A House Divided plays to that strength. As an action game, it falls flat, offering a few sections of ho-hum zombie-killing. As a soap opera controlled by the player, it sings.

This review is based on a Steam download The Walking Dead: A House Divided, provided by Telltale. Images: Telltale.

Joystiq's review scores are based on a scale of whether the game in question is worth your time -- a five-star being a definitive "yes," and a one-star being a definitive "no." Read here for more information on our ratings guidelines.

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