It's been a long journey, but we're finally here: the last episode in Telltale's Walking Dead video game series. When the studio folded in September last year, we weren't sure if Clementine's story would ever be completed. But thanks to Skybound Games -- a company owned by Walking Dead creator Robert Kirkman -- and some former Telltale employees, it's done. Finito. Case closed. The choose-your-own-adventure series has come a long way since its premiere in April 2012. We've lost lead characters and watched the world slowly descend into anarchy. Back in reality, meanwhile, we've seen a once-beloved game studio rise, overextend and fall. Here, two of Engadget's editors reflect on The Walking Dead and its West Coast creators.
I wept at the end of The Walking Dead: Season One. Telltale delivered a heartbreaking finale for Lee Everett -- a former professor and convicted murderer -- and his efforts to protect a young girl called Clementine in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. The bite. The kidnapper. The gut-wrenching farewell inside a jewelry store. It was a bleak and emotionally draining climax that earned the studio countless accolades in 2012.
Almost seven years later, the once-acclaimed series is finally over. I enjoyed the finale but feel the developers could and should have done more with Clementine's character. It was a heartfelt goodbye, sure, but I was hoping for a grander statement on the world and its inhabitants.
For context: I loved season two and how it portrayed Kenny, a friend of Lee's who is kind but increasingly unstable after the death of his wife and son. Picking between Kenny and the resourceful but self-centered Jane was one of the toughest decisions I've ever made in video games. (In my playthrough , Jane died, and I left Kenny at the side of the road. Please don't judge me.) Season three was a bust, though. Javier's story felt like a needless divergence and relegated Clementine to a sideline character.
The fourth and final season wisely switches the spotlight back to the game's central heroine. It begins with an older Clementine driving through the backcountry with AJ, a young survivor born after the outbreak in season two. They stop for some supplies, get swamped by nightmarish 'walkers' and ultimately crash their car in a ditch. Luckily, the world-weary pair are saved by a group of children who live in a nearby boarding school.
The story is well written and has a smaller and tighter scope than season three. It did, however, give me a nagging sense of deja vu throughout. Clementine spends the bulk of the first episode, for instance, persuading her rescuers that she's trustworthy and can help them survive the apocalypse. It also mirrors the start of season two where a still-young Clem has to convince a wary group of survivors holed up in a cabin.
Later in season four, Clementine defends the school from raiders and manages to capture one of its members -- just like Michonne did in her Telltale mini-series. The details are different, but the broad strokes are oddly familiar.
At first, I thought these retreads were intentional. A chance for the player, and Clementine, to make different decisions that reflect her experience and the world's changing state. But your dialog options and resulting actions rarely diverge from previous seasons. If Telltale was trying to say something clever about the cyclical nature of life, it didn't come across.
It's a fascinating setup that never quite pays off.
The final season does try something new with AJ, however. Clementine's teachings -- which oftentimes are kill or be killed -- have turned the five-year-old into a cold and emotionally confused murderer. He struggles with right and wrong because everyone, including Clem, is living with such a skewed moral compass.
It's a fascinating setup that never quite pays off. James, a former 'whisperer' who wears a mask and can safely move amongst the walkers, wants AJ to stop killing altogether. His pleas are supposed to make you pause and question your parenting approach. It's a pointless debate though: What happens if Clementine dies? AJ would have to live as a whisperer or accept defeat the first time he runs into some bandits.