Telltale Games’ adaptation of The Walking Dead walked its own brutal path. It strayed from the black-and-white tales of Rick Grimes and his crew (although it briefly flirted with the comic’s continuity with brief encounters with side characters) to follow an ex-con named Lee and his trials and tribulations with a little girl named Clementine. It cut Lee as a reluctant but willing father figure, trying to offer hope to a scared little girl in the midst of the zombie apocalypse sweeping the globe, trying to offer her both kindness and survival skills in equal measure. Over the course of the game’s first season, we saw the two of them grow closer and suffer immeasurably as friends and family alike fell to walkers and humans as they trekked towards the “promised land” of Savannah, only to have the game deliver the ultimate emotional middle finger and have Lee bitten by a walker and had none other than Clementine, the little girl he taught to fire a gun, dispatch him before he could turn.
That final sucker punch is the springboard for Season 2, with players now controlling Clementine, hardened in the wake of her travels with Lee and the group. Almost immediately the game throws her in harm’s way, and simply does not let up for the rest of its brief-but-dense runtime. This poor little girl does not know a moment’s peace from beginning to end of the episode, with even the quiet moments undercut with choking bleakness or punctuated with horrific violence. One scene in particular is incredibly upsetting, with Clementine being forced to fight for her survival against an unexpected foe over a can of beans that ends in a fatality. She even has to fight off a walker in close quarters, a quick time event that left her soaked in zombie gore and my palms soaked in sweat. This event, as if this wasn’t enough, actually occurs after players are forced to mash buttons and flick analog sticks to perform minor surgery on a wounded Clem, trying to stitch up a wound without anesthetic.
The emotional response to controlling Clementine is certainly a unique one, and a new one for me. There is a certain degree of vulnerability to her character, despite the game being no more difficult an experience than when controlling the adult Lee last season, and there’s a deeper emotional undercurrent as well. Clementine, with her skinny child’s body and shock of curly dark hair, bears an uncomfortable resemblance to my girlfriend’s seven-year-old daughter, and that makes the experience an upsetting one with this recent personal development. I’m incredibly desensitized to violence and gore in general, but the plight of a small child, especially one in the age bracket of a loved one, is a far more grueling experience than even the first season delivered. We’re only one episode in to a promised five-episode season, and the experience has already been immeasurably harrowing. I’m both scared—and excited—to see where Telltale Games takes this little girl over the course of the remaining episodes.
The Walking Dead: Season 2 will be available on Xbox 360, PC, Mac, and iOS.