The third season premiere episode of The Walking Dead was harrowing, gory, and desperate, but lacked the sheer terror of last season’s that made my sleep intermittent at best. One kid, Sophia, was there one moment, and minutes later, was gone. Then little Carl looks at a deer, smiles, and walks into a hunter’s line of fire. BLAM. Credits.
All this in one episode. I put off watching the rest of season 2 for months because of the terrible feeling the premiere put in my gut. I had been on a rollercoaster to the darkest parts of the soul. The herd, as it is now called, roams where it shall, and no place is ever safe.
Many thought season 2 was a bland slog, with all the characters more or less anchored in one spot. I didn’t find it to be as much, since I was screaming “ITS NOT SAFE! THE HERD’S COMING! DONT YOU PEOPLE KNOW ITS COMING?” at the television. And when it does come, a young girl must watch as a family friend is devoured.
Dread is an important element of Robert Kirkman’s work, and the stable of writers working on The Walking Dead game have done a superb job of staying faithful to it. Kirkman had initial input on the story, and has given the game’s creators free creative reign to tell a compelling story with fully realized characters.
Telltale Games has made a name for themselves by crafting the new generation of PC-style adventure games, even though no one expected there ever would be. Much-loved properties (which many of my generation grew up with) like Back to the Future, Sam and Max, Bone, Jurassic Park, etc. have been adapted into episodic games available on a host of platforms, consoles, and mobile devices.
A staple of classic-style adventure games has been “you can’t die.” In the 90’s this attracted young players and older family members to enjoy these games together. The Walking Dead Game throws this rule from the train. At the start of Episode One, A New Day, my tale of survival was cut short as the policeman who had been driving me to prison bit me in the neck.
I tried again, this time being sure to pick the shotgun shell up quickly after I drop it (you do not play from the P.O.V. of a Navy SEAL) and lining up the shaking barrel to aim at the shambling, cadaverous peace officer’s bald head. First walker down. As the story progresses, it becomes readily apparent that most other people weren’t so fortunate.
Some games allow you to choose which character you want to possess as an avatar. Not this one. You walk the sundered earth as Lee, a man indicted for murder. The first living person you meet is Clem, a young girl who has survived by hiding in her treehouse and wants to get back to her parents in Savannah. It isn’t long before you meet other survivors holed up in an urban bodega.
The story plays out depending on the dialogue choices (remaining silent is always an option), the information gained, and the split-second decisions Lee is often forced to make. Save the sexy reporter who’s good with a gun, or the nerdy genius who is his own walking Radio Shack? You have zero seconds to decide.
Of the first three episodes, Episode 2: Starved for Help is far and away my favorite. This farm is well fortified and staffed by a family of friendly rural Georgians. They welcome the group with open arms and promise a nice, hot dinner, warm, soft beds, electricity, milk, cookies… the extent to which it all eventually goes horribly wrong is inversely proportionate to the naive sense of relief I so wanted to believe in initially.
Episode Three, Long Road Ahead, has the first real gun battle against other survivors, and like the farmhands in Starved for Help, these living humans prove to be in many ways more dangerous than the Walkers. More characters die, and I begin to wonder if my unquestioning support of Kenny’s plan to get a boat was one hundred percent dumbassness. Like Kenny.
The lowest point of the game series comes where you must choose who of three people will put a bitten human down. I (Lee) volunteered, and found that the experience of pulling the trigger was the one that hung in my brain as I drifted in and out of sleep the following night. I didn’t think to look away as I pulled the trigger, perhaps because Lee didn’t have the option to either. Like him, I had to see.
I am apprehensive to start Episode 4, which has timed its release to coincide with the new season of the TV series. Expect to see a review putting 4 and 5 together in coming months.
Night lights sure have gotten expensive.
Tom Gibbons is a freelance journalist living in Albuquerque, NM.
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