There’s a great moment in the newest episode of The Walking Dead by Telltale Games, in which the group finds itself holed up at an abandoned Civil War memorial. While searching the gift shop, Clementine finds a Confederate jacket for Rebecca, and when she gives it to her Mike apologizes for its connotations. She responds by scoffing at him that she couldn’t care less about such a thing anymore. Indeed, the world of The Walking Dead appears to be post-race, post-gender, post-everything. Like the memories of the Civil War however, glimpses of the past peek through.
The central narrative drive in Amid the Ruins is the imminent birth of Rebecca’s baby and the preparations everybody is making for it. While it all comes together very well overall, the only misstep is the introduction of a character who might as well have ‘PLOT DEVICE’ tattooed on his forehead.
Gameplay is as minimal as ever, but the interactive moments felt much more tense and meaningful than in any episode since the first this season. A particular highlight is when Jane and Clem attempt a rescue in a trailer park. The transition between QTEs and conversation options is thrilling in a way I’ve not seen for a long time in this series.
Episode 3 ended on a moment where something had shifted within Clementine. She’s always been tougher and more resilient than she appears, but after everything she’s seen and done (particularly in this season), that toughness has been giving way to hardness. As a character, she gravitates toward the natural leader of whatever group she’s in; this was the case with Lee last season and with Luke this season. With the latter however, it has become clear that he has nothing much to teach her at this point, leaving her somewhat rudderless, both morally and narratively, over much of this Season 2. Thank goodness then for Jane, because she brings it on a number of levels.
For most of Amid the Ruins, its male characters are either physically injured (Luke), emotionally distraught (Kenny), or content do remain in the background (Mike) while the stories for Jane, Clem, and the others play out. Episode 4 focuses almost entirely on the female characters in the group of survivors, with a particular focus on the relationship between Jane and Clementine. Jane, a highly capable but brutally pragmatic survivor, serves as a different kind of mentor from others who have come before her.
Unlike the father-daughter dynamic between Clem and Lee in Season 1, theirs is more akin to a relationship between sisters, with the elder imparting her hard-earned wisdom on the younger. This dynamic resonates throughout the episode, between Clem and Jane, Jane and her dead sister, and Clem and Sarah. Curiously, near the end of the episode, the group dynamic as well as the narrative suddenly reverts back to Kenny trying to impose a paternalistic shadow over the group; overstepping boundaries and bickering with Luke, while Clem is caught in the middle once again. The truly interesting question arising from this is whether the story will have her break free of this dynamic and go her own way.
Amid these relationships lies a theme about personal choice; specifically, the question of how far one can carry somebody before leaving them to their own fate. It’s a tough question, and one that’s established early on but lingers for most of the episode, culminating in a series of choices that represent the philosophical differences between what she has learned from both Lee and Jane since the end of the world. It’s as effective and bleak as anything we’ve encountered up to this point, and it sure looks like it’s going to get a whole lot worse before the season ends.
So much of The Walking Dead has been about the strong males pushing the narrative in one direction or another, for better of for worse. It’s refreshing to see an episode from a female-led perspective. Clementine’s character has mostly been marked by her reacting to the people and things around her, and less about being a driver of the plot. Thanks to Jane, Clementine is beginning to blossom as a leader within her group. Here’s hoping it sticks, because based on how this episode ends, this group is going to need her more than ever.
[+Unique narrative perspective] [+Strong blend of action and story] [+Nuanced character development] [-Abrupt introduction of character awkward]