Through the Eyes of a Child: The Triumph of Telltale's Walking Dead Season Two

When Telltale completed Season One of its The Walking Dead in mid 2012, the clear question emerged: how could the sequel be better? The Walking Dead: Season One was heralded as one of the best games of the year, with many people dubbing it the greatest adventure game ever made. Now, whether that second part is true or not is a debate for another day. Regardless, Telltale had set the bar high. The company had successfully rebounded from the edge of collapse (remember Jurassic Park: the Game?) and had climbed into more mainstream gamer attention. Unlike the original, which came out of nowhere, The Walking Dead: Season Two would have expectations. In meeting these exceptions, Telltale had to create something both incredible and unlikely: a zombie story that did not sound too familiar. The succeeded with a simple twist in the traditional story-arch. An idea that has never been fully utilized in the genre before: a child protagonist.

Marketing quickly established that this would be Clementine's story.
Marketing quickly established that this would be Clementine’s story.

This is not to say that children have not played a large role in the stories of zombie apocalypse before. From Carl on AMC’s The Walking Dead to Ellie in The Last of Us, children have been playing important supporting roles for sometime. Yet the main protagonist remained an empowered adult, with the child either functioning primarily as the embodiment of innocence, conscience, or some other ‘pure’ element of humanity. At eleven years old, Clementine breaks the mold that she had served in Season One.

Of course, a child protagonist poses problems – namely in the aspect of perspective storytelling, or point of view. Children do not experience the world in the same way that adults do. They live different lives, are ignorant of many issues, and concerned with priorities that not all adults would relate to. It was the triumph of Season Two‘s storytelling (headed by Nick Breckon and Andrew Grant) that allowed Clementine to be a relatable protagonist, while still maintaining the believable personality of a child. In discussing Clementine, the strengths and weaknesses of her portrayal must be observed.

WHERE THEY FALTERED

Since the flaws are so few, they will be highlighted first. As mentioned, problems can emerge with an 11-year old protagonist, namely: just how empowered are they? In a zombie apocalypse, why would the words of a child matter against bigger, stronger human beings? For the most part, Telltale handles this challenge well. Clementine is depicted as friendly and mature while having the all-important ability to keep her head in a crisis. The player sees the adult supporting characters appreciating these traits and trusting Clementine, which leads them to confide in her. Clementine is then able to use the influence she attains to either subtly or directly influence the group. She never brute forces any situation, and when a character does not want to listen to her – there’s little she can do about it.

That said, there was one event early on where the illusion of child protagonist is damaged. In the first episode, “All That Remains“, Clementine has an encounter with a grown woman named Rebecca. Here is the encounter:

There are several reasons why I personally do not believe this scene holds up at all with the nature of narrative perspective. It mainly comes down to the overly aggressive yet frightened attitude expressed by Rebecca. Clementine is a small, young girl who has just entered the group. She can pose no physical challenge and, at that point, it is very difficult to see her having a place of influence. Rebecca’s reaction is too strong and the lack of subtly causes the player to almost scoff at the encounter. This sequence would have fit much better if Season One‘s protagonist, Lee was still the player character. However, that reaction to a child is more laughable than tension-building.

The face of an adult's greatest threat in a zombie apocalypse.
The face of an adult’s greatest threat in a zombie apocalypse.

Quick note – that scene has another problem as Rebecca believes Clementine to be a spy for Carver, a man they are all fleeing. Yet, as Rebecca was a former member of Carver’s group… she would (and later does) know all his people. Another reason why this scene is more contrived than anything else.

WHERE THEY SUCCEEDED

Without spoiling the entirety of The Walking Dead: Season Two‘s plot, the writers at Telltale essentially made it a coming-of-age story. Throughout the course of the story-arch, Clementine is exposed to three (or really two) supporting characters who serve to showcase wildly different mentors. Each believes that Clementine must behave a certain way if she wants to live in a post-apocalyptic world. This style of character interaction allows the player a very clever way to look at the consequences of action, and how actions over time shape an individual’s identity.

Jane serves as one of Clementine's mentors in Season Two. She is also a reflection of who Clementine might grow to be.
Jane serves as one of Clementine’s mentors in Season Two. She is also a reflection of who Clementine might grow to be.

In addition to this, Clementine’s personality has already been greatly influenced by Lee during the events of Season One. There are many moments where the player, like Clementine, find themselves asking “What would Lee do in this situation?” It is a brilliant piece on the importance of influence and how no one grows up alone. Throughout most of the game, the player feels like they are making a human being. Clementine already developed significantly in Season One, but Season Two finishes her growth arc. By the end, it is very clear what type of person Clementine has become – and the player feels like they had a strong role in that act of creation.

Sarah is a character used to contrast Clementine. At 15, she is considerably older, yet far less adult.
Sarah is a character used to contrast Clementine. At 15, she is considerably older yet far less adult.

Yet through it all, Clementine’s innocence and childish ignorance is touched upon. There is perhaps no more memorable scene than one of the final moments of ease in Season Two‘s story. Everyone is relaxing around a fire and joking around (needless to say, alcohol is involved). The subject of conversation turns to sex and everyone suddenly becomes very cautious around Clementine, who defies them by saying that she knows they’re talking about “kissing stuff.” This is not only a great moment in managing tension but a wonderful reminder of who Clementine is. She has had to grow up a lot to survive in a harsh world, but still maintains her child disinterest in anything to do with sex.

The Walking Dead: Season Two surpasses its predecessor with a unique protagonist and a very well-structured storyline. Is it perfect: no, but it is close. There is now a new question to be asked: how is Season Three going to top this?

Regardless of player choices, Clementine grows into a powerfully strong protagonist.
Regardless of player choices, Clementine grows into a powerfully strong protagonist.

10 Video Game Universes that Telltale Should be Exploring that Would be More Interesting than Borderlands

Telltale Games might be the equivalent of HBO in the video game series. That analogy could be a little poor, I do not think Telltale has the money or the fame of HBO, but they do have the best stories. Their game, the Walking Dead Season One is the best adventure game in recent times and could be a contender for the best ever. And Telltale has not stopped there. Since their explosion back into fame (after the abysmal Jurassic Park: the Video Game, which will be seen very soon), Telltale has expanded. They are currently producing two story games with two more on the way. The Wolf Among Us( from the Fables universe) is currently unfolding like an excellent crime novel with the player joyfully inhabiting a sheriff who happens to also be the Big Bad Wolf, and the Walking Dead Season Two continues all the gut-wrenching, no-winning scenarios that made the first game have such an impact. Later this year, Telltale will expand with a Game of Thrones adventure that will no doubt be filled with the sex, betrayal, and political intrigue that makes the show worth watching and the books worth reading… Telltale is also making a Borderlands adventure game…

Now I’ve never played either of the Borderlands games but I have seen enough of them to gleam that that is not a series known for its story. It is known for quirky characters and quirky guns and shooting said quirky characters with said quirky guns. Fun, to be sure, I look forward to playing them one day (I love the song that begins Borderlands 2), but I feel that Telltale is wasting their potential in terms of source material. The following are ten video game universes that would make for better fodder for choice-driven adventure games:

10. Earthbound

I’m not going to say much more about this one since I already touched upon it in an earlier article. Needless to say, Earthbound is one of the most charming role-playing game experiences to be found in earlier gaming, and it is a sad fate that it has vanished from the modern video gaming world. Since Nintendo seems to rather suicide to revival, I wish they would give the license to Telltale. At least we could finally hear Ness and Lucas brought to life, outside of punching noises.

Imagine how rich this universe would look in 3D.
Imagine how rich this universe would look in 3D.

9. Jade Empire

That’s right, forget Mass Effect and Dragon Age, Bioware’s worst original series would still make for better story fodder than Borderlands. If I were to describe the Jade Empire universe, I would liken it to a poor man’s Avatar: the Last Airbender. Nevertheless, there is sufficient mystery and mythology to make a worthwhile game. Heck, maybe Telltale could finally make the “philosophy” system into actual philosophy, as opposed to light side versus dark side.

Two philosophies: in one, you help an old lady cross the street, in the other you murder her and her family. Sounds like legit life perspectives.
Two philosophies: in one, you help an old lady cross the street, in the other you murder her and her family. Sounds like legit life perspectives.

8. Star Wars

Speaking of light side and dark side: come on. I know this is technically cheating (Star Wars is a film universe first) but there is such a rich history of Star Wars games that I feel it counts. From Knights of the Old Republic to the adventures of Kyle Katarn, Telltale could pick any time period they wished without impairing the story options. They could even set it during the prequels and give audiences the first good prequel plot (that’s right, I went there – go cry, George Lucas).

It has been too long since the last Jedi Knight game.
It has been too long since the last Jedi Knight game.

7. Warcraft

I’m going to blow your minds real quick: Blizzard already made a Warcraft adventure game. No, I’m not talking about World of Warcraft, I’m talking Warcraft Adventures. Never heard of it? That’s cause it was never released. Now, Blizzard games are great in every area except one: story. What’s the one thing Telltale excel at: story. Sounds like a happy marriage to me.

Man, the art design for Warcraft Adventures looked amazing.
Man, the art design for Warcraft Adventures looked amazing.

6. Prince of Persia

Assassin’s Creed has replaced Prince of Persia in terms of gameplay, no question. However, if one were to play the first modern Prince of Persia game again, one thing would become apparent: there’s a story there. Not just that but it’s great, it has compelling characters and a time travel mechanic that would be very interesting to incorporate into a choice-driven adventure game. Prince of Persia has no future against Assassin’s Creed, but maybe if the series were to change its identity, it could re-attract its fan base.

5. Wolfenstein

What better backdrop for an adventure game than World War II? What better World War II series than Wolfenstein? What better name for a main character than B.J. Blazkowicz? I’m not kidding, that’s his name. It’s supposed to be a serious game. Awesome.

Mecha Hitler cannot be in enough video games.
Mecha Hitler cannot be in enough video games.

4. Dungeon Keeper

EA has done wrong by Dungeon Keeper. This newly released mobile game: they can go fornicate themselves with an iron stick. Dungeon Keeper, the first game in particular, was one of the most in-depth sandbox games ever made. Despite the fact that none of your minions talked, they all had a personality. Imagine if they did talk and you played a wonderful adventure game as the bad guy?

So many possibilities.
So many possibilities.

3. Saint’s Row

I know, you’re saying what? Let me explain: this would be the parody game, the game to mock all other adventure games. Saint’s Row has already established itself as the parody series, have you seen the intro to Saint’s Row IV (it’s amazing). Telltale is at the height of the adventure game market, meaning they have earned the right to poke fun at themselves and the industry. No better way to do that then getting personal with the Third Street Saints.

I feel that this could be the title for the game.
I feel that this could be the title for the game.

2. Oregon Trail

Think about it, think about what made the first Oregon Trail game so amazing. Anything could happen: someone in your party could get sick, bit by a snake, or drowned in a river crossing. You could lose the trail for a few days or get helped by Native Americans. You could shoot so many animals (SO MANY). Now imagine an Oregon Trail game where you got more direct control of your party and they were all flushed out characters. Oh, and your choices dictate if you survive or not: bitchin’.

Shoot all the buffalo. How fun (and sadly historically accurate).
Shoot all the buffalo. How fun (and sadly historically accurate).

1. Bioshock

Why should Ken Levine get to have all the fun? Irrational Games is gone but Bioshock can live on. It was the story that made those game so memorable in the first place. Who better to continue the legacy than Telltale Games?

 

Maybe Telltale will prove me wrong and Tales From the Borderlands will be riveting. I hope it is. They will be able to take all the credit (or all the blame) for whatever story they come up with though. Maybe that was the point of it all along.