|System: PC*, PS3, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Telltale Games|
|Pub: Telltale Games|
|Release: August 26, 2014|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Strong Language|
by Angelo M. D'Argenio
The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 5 “No Going Back” is emotionally devastating, truly and wholly emotionally devastating. Telltale games goes places that few video game writers, or any writers for that matter, dare go in this moving title. After episode 4 felt so empty, episode 5 makes you feel full… of everything. Happiness, sadness, anger, loss, this episode is a trip through the spectrum of human emotion. It’s powerful, and hurtful, and I’d say, in a small way, it changes the people who play it. Most of the time I say that Telltale’s The Walking Dead makes you think. It makes you think about what decisions you would make in a post-apocalyptic world when no choice is right. But this episode doesn’t make you think. It makes you stop thinking, and lets you feel.
Telltale loves to say that choice matters in their games, and sometimes that is truer than others. There are plenty of episodes where the same outcome happens no matter what you do. However, that is not even close to true in No Going Back. The consequences of my decisions were so powerful that I routinely stopped the game, went back, created a new save file, and saw whether or not what I did had any impact. Then, when I saw that what I did mattered, I had to make the hard decision of “which save file do I use now?” Which Clementine was my Clementine? What really happened?
That’s the main theme of episode 5, and perhaps all of season 2. Clementine is still a child, and at the beginning of the season she is traveling with people who are mostly protecting her. However, that ends abruptly, and she suddenly finds that she has to fend for herself in a cold and harsh world. As she meets new people and joins new groups, no one steps forward to be Clementine’s caretaker. Multiple people want to, but they are too busy absorbed with their own views of what is right and what is wrong to actually think about others. Emotions run high constantly, and instead of people working out their problems, they come to Clementine as a neutral party and have her sift out their issues for them.
On the surface, this is how the game gives you agency. If the people around you were your caretakers then it wouldn’t be much of a Telltale game would it? You can’t exactly have a choice when other people are choosing for you.
But deep down this also gives the plot an extra layer of meaning. Clementine is growing up as she is put through these trials and makes these choices. Each click of a mouse and press of a button forces the person that Clem is going to be. Does Clem become battle hardened and emotionless? Pragmatic to the extent of abandoning others? Does she become attached to old friends that protected her in the past, or new friends who have proven their worth right now? Does she have tolerance for interpersonal drama? Does she strive to keep people together? Or does she know who she can trust and stick by them through thick and thin? Throughout the whole season Clem is asked the same question over and over again: “What is important to you?” and it’s your choices that serve as the answer.
Normally in the final episode of a Telltale game, we get to see this scene where a character sits you down and runs you through the past decisions you made. That’s not really the case in episode 5. Instead of having one single climactic scene where your choices are brought back to haunt you, the player is reminded of his choices throughout the episode. Sometimes it’s in a heated argument. Sometimes it’s through a happy memory. However, every time it happens it punches you in the emotional gut. It reminds you of the steps you took to get this far, the sacrifices that needed to be made, and most importantly, the person you were when you first made that decisions, as opposed to the person you are now. It makes a powerful statement that real life doesn’t come together in a neat little climax. There is no one person who will make you confront your sins. The greatest judge of your sins is you.
Perhaps the most astounding scene in the game comes a little bit before the end. It would be difficult to say exactly what happens without dropping one of the biggest spoilers in gaming history, and I’m not going to be that guy. However, this one scene makes you reflect not only on the decisions you made in season 2, but also the decisions you made in season 1. It even pulls in decisions you made in season 1 that supposedly had no consequence. It makes you reflect upon how you got here not only as Clem, but as a person, who has been playing this game, and making choices in this world, for over two years now.
The player can’t help but get emotionally involved in the story of The Walking Dead, because Telltale has the guts to go places with their stories that no other studio will. Children get hurt, shot, wounded, and even die. Babies are put in peril. People, good people, do horrendous things for questionable reasons. People have sex. People cheat on each other. No one is a hero, not even the main character. The questions of “who can you trust?” and “what do I do now?” have no right answer. I feel like certain points in the story are so brutal, and so filled with senseless violence, that any other studio would have looked at the script and immediately said no.