Note: this review may contain spoilers for episodes 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead Season 2. While I will endeavor to avoid catastrophic spoilers, consider this fair warning.
“What have I done?” I asked aloud late last night in my darkened apartment. My dog stared back at me, wondering why I was so shaken up (and why I wasn’t just petting her instead). The weight of what I’d just done, what I’d made Clementine do in the latest episode of The Walking Dead had just sunk in. Whereas Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1 was a slower, more deliberate emotional crucible through which we forged Lee and Clementine into the hardened, streetwise survivors they would become, Season 2 is like a rickety old wooden roller coaster – tremendously fun, filled with an underlying sense of tension, full of adrenaline-inducing thrills, and exceedingly dangerous. Honestly, I didn’t think The Walking Dead could go much darker than it already did. But like a Spinal Tap amplifier, Telltale has turned everything up to eleven for the third chapter of its increasingly bleak franchise, putting Clementine and her newfound friends in one of the most precarious positions this side of the St. John’s Dairy Farm.
Episode 3 finds Clementine and company in captivity, forced to toil in Carver’s Costco-like fortress which he’s converted into a prison colony of unhinged utilitarianism. On the one hand, Carver and his cronies offer seemingly endless food and shelter from the increasingly hostile (and increasingly cold) outside world. On the other hand, they demand absolute obedience, backbreaking labor, won’t hesitate to savage you at the drop of a hat, and, in my playthrough, murdered my friend Walter in cold blood. So, you can see how one might take Carver’s offer of citizenship well salted.
As always, the best part and the most horrifying part of The Walking Dead are the people who populate its vicious, unrelenting world. In Harm’s Way introduces us to some new characters and reintroduces us to some familiar faces, but also places an invisible No Man’s Land of trust issues between you and them. Case in point: Bonnie, the meek milquetoast of a redhead from The Walking Dead: 400 Days who reappeared in A House Divided to betray our trust by luring Carver and his assault rifle-wielding psychopaths to our ski lodge lair. Also of particular note is the one-act play of human misery that is Reggie (voiced by Kumail Nanjiani). I won’t spoil anything here, but man alive, Pierre Shorette was a sick motherfucker for dreaming this guy up.
Leadership, strength of character, and a willingness to do what others will not have been recurring themes in The Walking Dead. In Season 1, as Lee, the player tried to impart these lessons to Clementine. Now, in Season 2, we get to put these lessons into action. To call Clementine a tough cookie would be an understatement; she’s more like an adamantium Thin Mint — sweet to the eye, but made of sturdier stuff than most. In Harm’s Way really puts the spotlight on Clementine, showcasing how strong-willed, intelligent, and crafty she can be in spite of her age. More importantly, it shows just how essential Clementine is to the survival of the group. Time and time again, she puts herself in harm’s way, taking on risks at which that most full-grown adults would balk. Sure, they’ll reason it away as Clementine being the smallest or the lightest or the only one able to fit through a particular gap, but the truth is that she is a natural-born leader with a strength of character and resolve that makes her a true survivor.
As the episode’s title would suggest, much of the time Clementine is in harm’s way. Whether it’s speaking out against Carver (Michael Madsen) to protect a weak-willed friend or skulking across rooftops to pilfer supplies or fighting off zombies with In Harm’s Way. All of this is great from a player’s standpoint because, moreso than other episodes, the player feels a real sense of agency over their actions and a sense that they’re affecting real change rather than walking on a conversational tightrope while sharks circle just below. Yet this is something of a smokescreen at the same time because, while Clementine is quick to leap to action, the tone and content of In Harm’s Way is markedly more brutal than in episodes past. Some of the choices I made in the heat of the moment felt right at the time because it was something tangible, a means of taking action against injustice and a way to genuinely achieve something. What you don’t think about are the millions of moments thereafter, the seconds immediately following your actions in which time grinds to a halt and you can only watch slack-jawed as sheer horror plays out.
How far are you willing to go to survive? Is it moral to kill someone if they’ll likely kill again? Can innocence be preserved in a world gone to hell? This episode sends many characters, Clementine included, hurtling down a path towards darkness. Will you embrace it or will you turn away from it? In Harm’s Way is an episode that spurs you to action and leaves you teeming with questions as the gravity of what you just did sinks in. Like most of Telltale’s sterling work, In Harm’s Way ends on a cliffhanger with Clementine having to make one of the most difficult decisions yet. Her actions will clearly have profound ramifications on how events shake out in Episode 4, but moreover if makes us wonder if, in spite of her strength, is Clementine ready for this? Are any of us ready for this? Probably not, but I’m already hungrily counting down the days until Episode 4.
What do you think of In Harm’s Way? Let us know in the comments below or tell me on Twitter.