The Walking Dead: Season 2 has officially come to a close. As with many of Telltale's games, experiences vary and stories can often go in a few different directions. Feelings that surface throughout the story can change depending on who you ask.
With that in mind, three members of the Shacknews staff, Steven Wong, Steve Watts, and myself, all completed the second season of The Walking Dead this week. With the ending so fresh in our minds, the three of us all took some time to talk about the season as a whole, its highs and lows, and where Season 3 may be headed.
Ozzie Mejia: I was starting to get a little concerned about The Walking Dead: Season 2, just because that first season was so incredible. I mean, there's a reason we gave it GOTY honors here at Shacknews. The expectations were outrageously high, so it's really easy to say, "Ok, well this wasn't as good as the first season." But in its own right, I thought the season wound up being really solid.
Steve Watts: I definitely feel like it was a step back from S1, but that might just be my memories of being an absolute emotional wreck as I finished the first one up. This season concluded with some pretty big decisions, but it's hard to match the emotional weight of a father figure passing on wisdom as he's dying. The season didn't exactly shy away from referencing Lee either, and those were some of the moments that hit the hardest thanks to Melissa Hutchison's performance. You could really hear the sadness in her voice.
Steven Wong: My feelings too. I think part of the reason S2 lacks the same emotional punch S1 has is because Clementine is looking for someone to help fill the space Lee left behind, but no one really presents a suitable replacement. Christa and Omid are taken out of the picture almost right away. I ended up leaning toward Jane because I thought she had good survival instincts, but she has issues that make her kind of inapproachable. Then again, this season is all about Clementine and how she's coming of age. S1 was largely about preparing her for the new world.
Ozzie: I guess the emotional resonance of this season really depends on how you approached Clementine, especially at the end. I made the reluctant decision to shoot Kenny and pretty much put him out of his misery and I was almost a ball of tears, just because... he was Kenny! This was someone I had known for the entirety of the series and someone that had been loyal and trustworthy through the whole story. So the natural instinct was to give him the benefit of every doubt. So that made it easy to overlook that he wasn't the same Kenny anymore by the end and once I realized what had to be done, it was an emotional kick in the stomach.
Steve: Oh my God! You killed Kenny? You bastard.
I took him out too, because by that point, Jane had been proven right. I kept trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, and sometimes you'd see the kind, gentle Kenny peeking through when he was alone with Clementine. But he was just too unstable by that point, and you can only take so many reckless decisions. I was glad they gave him a little bit of emotional resolution, though. It would be easy to make him curse you for doing it, but he seemed at peace with it. That made it less jarring.
I was definitely caught off-guard when it turned out Jane had set up the scenario just to test him, though. I almost opted not to even go with her anymore at that point, but ultimately I chose the "I forgive you" option. I think that really plays into the arc of this season, which is a coming-of-age story like Steven said. For me, that came down to what it was saying about community, which is why that scene at Howe's is really the culmination of the thesis. The decision to kill Kenny or not was big, but it wasn't the final decision. The final choice, after all you've seen, is: do you trust strangers?
Steven: Maybe the theme of the Walking Dead series is: How many groups can you watch fall apart before you lose it?
I had the profound feeling that I had failed after finished S2, but at the same time, I also succeeded. I was alive, wasn't I? Anyway, I felt exonerated for killing Kenny when he said that I did the right thing. In a way, I think he was hoping someone would put an end to his misery. Plus, I couldn't see myself sticking with someone so prone to flying into blind rages. You saw some of that happen in S1.
Still, as annoying as the new cast of characters could be, it was tough to watch everyone you meet die in some gruesome way. Worst of all, people blame Clementine for the dumbest things. Oh, you don't think actions have consequences because you're a kid. I'm the kid that made escape possible! Luke didn't do it. It's not my fault Sarah freaks out faster than a rabbit overdosed on caffeine. I can't help it if Sarita can't avoid sticking her hand in a zombie's mouth. Bonnie got on my nerves the most because she kept expecting me to foolishly risk my life whenever she thinks I should. I don't remember if there was one, but there should have been an option to shoot Bonnie or Mike for their betrayal. They would have left the group, which includes a 12 year old girl and a newborn baby, to die in destitution. That would have made getting shot in the shoulder worthwhile.
Ozzie: Yeah, that supporting cast was supremely irritating. Luke was a total knob. He tried so hard to carry himself off as the group's leader, but failed at just about every turn, whether it was getting caught at Carver's camp or letting his own pride bring him down at the frozen lake. I couldn't drum up any feelings about Sarah or Sarita, because they got themselves in dangerous situations so often that I couldn't feel any sympathy for them after it finally caught up to them. Then there's Bonnie, who was the whole reason that they were even on the run in the first place. Her betrayal means she had no moral highground to stand on, so watching her blame Clementine for Luke's death was especially infuriating.
Steve: The cast could definitely be irritating, but I read that as a conscious choice. I don't think Telltale forgot how to write compelling characters, I think they just needed a group of broken people to drive the point home.
Last season, Clementine was among a group that was more-or-less cohesive and democratic, with a strong central leader in Lee. This season stuck Clementine with a dysfunctional group of people who were untrustworthy, or reckless, or just plain dumb. Becoming an adult is largely about deciding who you want to be, and if holding onto humanity is important to her, she had to try her best to make it work at every turn despite the group dragging her down. I think Jane was put in place specifically to test the limits, showing the appeal of being a loner, but in the end Jane started to bend more towards Clementine’s side. I felt like my persistence paid off.
For me, this series is dark but the choices I’ve made have kept it fundamentally optimistic. As Lee, I tried to impart lessons that certain moral lines are sacrosanct. Being a good person is more important than surviving, and if it comes down to a choice of putting yourself in harm’s way to hold onto what makes you human, you do it. Now that I was controlling Clementine, I tried to keep to those lessons to fulfill that character arc. I don’t believe Clem would throw away Lee’s wisdom when she’s put in a tight spot, and part of what makes us human is our need for socialization and friendship. Even if those social ties can be harmful in some ways.
Steven: Is it just me, or does it sometimes seems like choices are starting to matter a little less and less? Perhaps not so far as developing Clem's moral compass, but in an overall sense. In S1, you could choose between rescuing Carley or Doug, and the choice had an impact (however minor) on how things played out. The big rescue decision in S2 was whether to follow Nick - the guy who wanted to kill you before you turned - or go and watch Pete die. I chose to go with Pete, even though I knew he wouldn't make it because I genuinely didn't think Nick would survive his little panic attack. And it always seems like the ones least fit to survive keep moving forward. What's the sense of helping itchy trigger finger NIck reform and take responsibility for his actions when he ends up dying off camera anyway? I risked my life to try to wake Sarah up out of her stupor, and she ended up dying in an inescapable way too. Then Luke suddenly realizes, hey, he is a idiot... just in time to fall to his death. It's a little much. It gets a little hard to care about anyone.
I suppose the big choice is the one between Kenny, fresh off the set of The Shining, or lone wolf Jane, but somehow that doesn't seem like a great decision either. It would have been great if there were some interesting mystery, like the walkie talkie voice in Season 1.
Steve: On the whole I think you're right, but the ending left me wondering if the implications here are going to be much bigger for Season 3. I haven't explored what happens if you let Kenny kill Jane, but I assumed you go with him to find Wellington. That would mean that depending on that choice, you end this season in two completely different locations, with one of two different companions. And then on top of that, you have the choice of whether to welcome in the group of strangers. I think that's why the results seemed so fractured at the end. It said only about 20% of players sided with Jane and let the strangers in, so it seemed to be factoring in both choices at once. I wonder how that will impact the next season.
Ozzie: I'm also starting to see accounts from Chatty posters that have played the full season that they're seeing different endings, depending on how you resolved that final conflict between Kenny and Jane. I'm hoping that's the start of a grander trend, because I thought the whole Sarah thing was pointless. I put a lot of effort into saving her and she wound up dead later, anyway. But isn't that part of the whole idea of The Walking Dead? No matter how hard you try, you really can't save everyone. You can't escape death and saving people means you're only prolonging the inevitable.
Steve: Yeah, I can definitely see how the choice with Sarah was frustrating, which makes me wonder if Telltale targeted it too narrowly for one type of playthrough. In mine, it actually made for a nice story arc: Jane saw Clementine saving Sarah, tried to encourage her to be more of a lone wolf, but then followed Clem's example and tried to save Sarah later on. She didn't succeed, but it was part of Jane's "finding her humanity" arc in my story. I really liked that story beat, but given that it may not have played out the same way for others, maybe Telltale didn't play out its implications very well.
Steven: I'm always amused by the stats at the end, like the number of people that decided not to take the food from the abandoned car in Season 1. I was like, 49% of people will be dying of starvation soon. I wonder how many possible endings there are between choosing Kenny or Jane. I'll have to rewind it and see if you do end up in the imaginary world of Wellington.
I realize that you can't save everyone, and that both the comic book series and TV show have a very high body count, but it gets a little cliche at some point, right? Unless you save Kenny, Clem is the only one who survives two seasons. It's getting increasingly difficult to become attached to characters when you know they all have a death clock over them. To be honest, the death that hit me hardest in Season 2 was Sam the dog. I know he gave me a vicious bite, but I forgive him because I know that out of all the characters I've encountered so far, he was the most innocent. Also, because I'm a total dog person.
Ozzie: Actually, it's interesting to bring up that Clementine's the only one left, because she technically isn't. She just happens to be alone again (at least in my story, anyway). There are still people alive out there, like Bonnie, Mike, Arvo, and Christa. Season 3 has to be ripe with cameos, but it's also going to be really interesting to see how they try and tap into that Season 1 dynamic again. Through circumstances outside of her control, Clementine has become Lee, having found herself in the care of a child. So how does she handle that new responsibility while trying to survive and while still growing up herself? Next season should illustrate how much she really has learned from Lee.
Steve: That's a really interesting point, Ozzie. I hadn't thought about Clementine taking on the role of a surrogate parent like Lee. I think that has a lot of room for exploration, especially since this is an infant. Lee had the luxury of talking to a kid who was old enough to remember the world before it went to hell. Once AJ is old enough to have a conversation, this is going to be the only reality he knows, and characters like Clementine will only be able to tell him how nice things used to be.
Steven: That's an interesting point. I almost regretted saving the baby by the end of the finale. A part of me was relieved when Jane made it seem like the baby was lost. It takes a lot to take care of a child even with civilization still standing. It will be near impossible to scavenge and survive against zombies when you have a baby that cries whenever he's hungry or uncomfortable. Then there are a ton of other things, some of which the series has already touched on, like how he won't be able to eat solid food for quite some time. I think an ongoing challenge moving forward will be about what to do with the baby. That kid's life is always going to be in peril.
As for Christa, she might make a return, and I'm hoping she'll take up looking after AJ since her own baby didn't make it. But I never really took to her as a character. She always seemed like one half of the Christa/Omid duo. Chromid? I never really considered Arvo part of the group, especially since he kept shooting angry glances at Clem for shooting his zombie sister. I wrote off Bonnie and Mike when they tried to run off all the supplies. If I see them again, I hope there's a "shoot first, ask questions never" option.
Ozzie: Whatever happens, I just hope next season has a better supporting cast. Really, Clementine can use the help at this point, whether she realizes it or not. Let's be honest, though. After what she's been through and how she watched her last group come apart at the seams, I wouldn't be surprised if she just ends up a loner, like Jane. If any of us had that experience, we wouldn't be ready to trust anybody, either.
If you want to sprinkle in your own thoughts on The Walking Dead: Season 2, toss them into the comments below. Just be conscious of spoilers and remember to use spoiler tags where necessary. For more, be sure to check out our review of The Walking Dead: Season 2.