Final Thoughts on Telltale’s Walking Dead Season Two
WARNING: This article contains major spoilers regarding Telltale’s “Walking Dead: Season Two.” This includes the recent finale and all other episodes. It also contains spoilers regarding “Walking Dead: Season One.” So if you haven’t played that one, why are you even reading this? This is your last warning.
Telltale’s first season of “The Walking Dead” was far from a perfect game, but it still managed to tell one of the best stories of 2012. It deservedly earned heaps of praise for the heart wrenching narrative that it managed to weave over the course of five episodes and set a new standard for storytelling in games. So how could a sequel possibly top the first story? I thought that if anyone could do it, it would be Telltale. Turns out even they couldn’t outdo themselves.
“Walking Dead: Season Two” doesn’t have a terrible story by any stretch of the imagination. It’s completely fine, but also unremarkable. The first season created a story that felt like it was naturally evolving over the course of the season. With the second season, it felt like a disjointed series of events that were strung together to underline one singular theme. Season two was also plagued with underwhelming characters that lacked the chemistry displayed in season one.
Season one is the story of Lee’s redemption and his journey to help Clem survive the horrific new world they find themselves in. Every choice in the first season is designed to make you feel like Lee is trying to overcome his anger and be a better man for the sake of Clem. It’s a very thoughtful and deliberate story that plays out to a natural conclusion.
Season two, on the other hand, sets out with the goal of having Clementine witness increasingly horrible shit. Every episode sets out to make you feel slightly worse than the last. The game starts out with you and your new friends seemingly happy and making the best of things. Than one of them gets murdered in a bathroom, a pregnant woman loses her baby, and Clem is forced to kill a playful dog. I get it, it’s a zombie apocalypse and messed up stuff is going to happen. Unfortunately, the entire season just felt like Telltale was trying to see how dark they could get at the cost of creating an engaging story. As a result, I felt like I was a witness to most of the calamity rather than being a participant.
However, I think that the direction of the story is an interesting companion piece to the one told in the first season. While the first season was about redemption, season two questioned how a good person could fall so far. We see this play out in many instances throughout season two, particularly with the introduction of Carver. Many of the characters reflect on the fact that Carver was a good man just trying to do right by his people at one point. When we meet him we see that this pursuit, and other factors, have corrupted him beyond repair and he now has a tyrannical hold on his people.
It’s a plot we often see in stories like “The Walking Dead.” Evil men who weren’t always so evil, but the thing about those stories is that we don’t often take the journey with those men when they begin to slide into madness. Usually we learn about their path after the fact. The most interesting element about season two is that we get to see a character we know take that dark road.
Kenny, who was seemingly lost to us at the end of season one, made a surprisingly emotional return this year. After Clem’s rough start, it was refreshing to see a familiar face, even if I did want to punch his face in several times last year. Still, it was interesting to see Kenny return because this was someone who had lost everything. His wife committed suicide, his son succumbed to the zombie virus, and he was separated from his only support group. His path was about as dark as it could get by the time season one ended.
That wasn’t the end of his journey, though, and in season two we see that he’s found some peace with new companions and a new safe haven. Unfortunately, this season was all about how many beatings a character could take before they broke and Kenny was about to receive the brunt of the blow. Telltale did an excellent job of systematically ruining this man’s life again by not only destroying his new home, but by beating him nearly to death. Then, to top things off, they make him watch his new love interest get savagely ripped apart by zombies.
If anyone was to justifiably lose their shit at this point, it would be Kenny. I don’t think any one particular character has been beaten down in this entire series like Kenny has. And now you’re left with this ticking time bomb and everyone is warning Clem that he’s about to go off and that only she can bring him back from the edge since they have a history together. That’s a lot for a little kid to deal with, but then again, so is a zombie apocalypse.
Meanwhile, there’s a new character who has taken up the role of Clem’s older buddy. A very guarded woman by the name of Jane who becomes fond of Clem over the course of the season. After having lost her younger sister to the zombie outbreak, it’s easy to see how Jane cares for Clem in a way that she doesn’t exhibit for other characters. The two grow closer and, as a result, Jane begins to warn Clem about the danger an unstable Kenny represents. Kenny takes notice of this budding relationship and begins to worry that Jane might be a bad influence on Clem. There’s a moment in one of the episodes where Jane gives Clem a drink of rum and I/Clem gladly accepted. So, maybe Kenny was right to be a little concerned.
Essentially, Jane and Kenny become the two most important characters in the entire season. There’s also a baby, but he’s really more of a plot device. The other characters prove to be pretty inconsequential and are either used as zombie bait or to move the plot along. There’s a scene towards the end where the group breaks apart and some of the characters attempt to steal your supplies and a car. This may seem like an important moment, but really this scene could’ve played out the same way with random bandits and it would have had the same emotional outcome.
Season one didn’t have the strongest characters, but a few of them stuck with me and I got to seem them slowly evolve over the season. Characters seemed to come and go in this season and none of them changed in any meaningful way. They all remained static and uninteresting. Characters suffered from lack of development either because they were killed off too quickly or because nothing of interest was done with them. It’s one of the more disappointing aspects of the season as a good zombie story often hinges on the strength of its characters.
This brings us back to the three-way relationship between Clem, Kenny, and Jane. By the end of the game I was convinced that Kenny was about to go all “Governor” on me and I was prepared to put him down like a rabid dog. Unfortunately, that opportunity presented itself when Kenny attacked Jane after she lost the baby. In the middle of the heated battle, I was forced to choose between killing Kenny or letting Jane die. With a pit in my stomach, I turned my gun on Kenny and put a hole in him. As I watched Kenny slowly die, I immediately regretted my choice and began to hate myself for betraying my long time companion. It was honestly the most heartbreaking moment in the series since the finale of season one.
However, my sorrow soon turned to disgust and anger as it was revealed that Jane had actually hidden the baby in order to purposely set Kenny off. An insane act to show me how desperate and unhinged Kenny had become. Jane tried to rationalize her actions to Clem, but me and the kid weren’t having it and I promptly reset the game and started a new scenario.
This time, armed with the information that Jane was an insane person, I had Clem look away and let Kenny put her down. I was still saddened by the end result, as Jane had been my favorite character up until that point, but I was confident that this was the timeline that would work out best for Clem.
From there Clem and Kenny finally made it to Wellington where we discovered a fortified safe haven. But in true “Walking Dead” fashion, it wasn’t the perfect situation we had been striving for. In fact, Wellington was full up and not accepting new survivors. This is where Kenny proved that he hadn’t gone completely mad and, instead, made the ultimate sacrifice for the sake of Clem and the baby. He desperately pleaded with Wellington to accept Clem and the baby and he would leave peacefully. Mercifully, they accepted.
For a character who rubbed me the wrong way more often than not, I thought this was an incredibly poignant moment that retroactively resolved him of all his sins. Hearing Kenny hurriedly give his goodbye before he changed his mind, I realized just how alone in the world Clem really was. Sure she had a baby to look after and the word of a strange that she would be protected, but none of that mattered as she was finally losing the last connection she had to the past. This was another quasi-parental figure being ripped from her life. The thought of losing one parent is unbearable, to imagine a small child losing four in the space of a few years was actually upsetting.
As Kenny walked away, I desperately wanted the game to surprise me with one final glimpse of hope. Perhaps a new familiar face or that Kenny would be allowed in at the last minute. But the game was unrelenting in it’s pursuit of absolute despair and it slowly faded to black as the credits rolled.
I don’t know if the journey was worthwhile, but the game’s grand finale was nearly as impactful as the first season’s. Given the varying quality of this season, I don’t know if Telltale has it in them to possibly do a better third season centering on Clem. We’ve left her at a safe place where she might finally find some peace, I honestly hope we leave here there. I don’t want to see a third season with Clem as the star. Not because I don’t love her character, but because I think her journey has reached a sensible conclusion. We don’t definitively know that she’ll be truly safe and happy, but for the moment, she has a chance at a better future. And as someone who has feared for her safety and shepherded her over the course of two seasons, that’s enough for me.