Why The Walking Dead: Season 2 is bogged down by a weak cast

There's something missing from this season of Telltale's The Walking Dead. It's hard to get an emotional punch when the new supporting cast is simply weak, in more ways than one. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

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Warning: Story spoilers for The Walking Dead: Season 2 ahead. If you haven't played through Episode 4: Amid the Ruins, turn back now.

My original intention for this article was to write out a character recap for The Walking Dead: Season 2. The plan was to recap where the story's characters have gone over the course of the season's first four episodes and where they're lining up to go for the final episode. Unfortunately, I started to come to a sad realization once I sat down to actually write it.

The characters simply aren't all that interesting.

It's kind of staggering how Clementine is single-handedly carrying the narrative for The Walking Dead: Season 2, because her supporting cast has been quite terrible. It goes beyond them being distrustful of her, but it's also that their survival instincts are so dreadful to the point that they become a liability. When that happens, the entire narrative is affected. The idea of games like this is to become attached to characters so that their deaths and sacrifices are meaningful. It's so that there's genuine emotion when inevitable loss comes.

The first season of The Walking Dead understood this. There were personalities behind those characters, but more than anything, they also grew to become survivors. Carley and Doug started off rocky, but grew into pivotal members of the group. Their deaths meant something. Ben started off as the group's biggest screw-up to the point that even he thought himself to be a liability, but grew up before our eyes to the point that his loss was real punch to the gut. And though Kenny's family didn't have his survival instincts, they helped shape Kenny's character to the point that we became more empathetic towards him, because we witnessed his world shatter around him.

By comparison, there are almost no signs of this type of growth with Season 2's survivors. Characters like Carlos, Nick, and Rebecca were borderline one-dimensional. Their deaths felt more like they were there to fill a quota and as a cheap way to move the story forward. These losses were simply glossed over, because they never evolved as characters. Carlos never went beyond the doctor with a kid. Nick stayed a screw-up to the bitter end. Rebecca was nothing more than "the pregnant lady" for the entirety of the story, so it made sense that once she gave birth, she had nothing left to offer.

Let's also look briefly at Sarah, who was Season 2's equivalent of Ben. Ben had next to no survival instincts, constantly held the group back with his own deficiencies, and was always wallowing in his own self-pity, even though it helped no one. Sarah turned out to be very similar, but her weakness can be seen in Clementine's interaction with her. Clementine helped Ben believe in himself and helped him grow as a person, eventually making him a functioning member of the group and a devastating loss when his death eventually came.

Sarah, on the other hand, was unsalvageable. Even if Clementine opted to help her as much as humanly possible, Sarah could never escape her childhood bubble. When her father died, she was completely lost and hopeless. Instead of understanding the gravity of the situation, she (intentionally or not) became a total liability. Her death should have had some meaning, but because she was such an unhelpful member of the group, it was simply something to shrug over and move on. I never felt happy about losing members of my group in Season 1, but Sarah was among the deaths that affected me the least, helping illustrate what a weak character she was in the end.

The remaining cast members are no different. Luke, especially, has proven insufferable throughout the first four episodes. He thinks himself a brilliant leader, but he's constantly exercising the poorest judgment possible. The scene at the cabin in Episode 2? Luke disappears, fancying himself as a savior. The scenes at the camp in Episode 3? Luke goes to the well once too often and gets himself captured trying to steal food, compromising the group's escape plan and indirectly getting Kenny's eye crushed. And don't get me started on the latest episode, where Luke thought it would be a good idea to stop and have sex with Jane, who he had known for maybe two scenes at the most, knowing that Rebecca was going to give labor any minute.

Luke was supposed to be Season 2's version of Kenny, but the man himself has shown what a poor comparison that is. Even with his world crumbling around him once again and finding himself crushed by despair once again, Kenny overcame all of it to do the right thing and do what's best for the camp. He came to his senses in time to fend off the herd of walkers and help Rebecca deliver her baby. By comparison, not only is Luke continuing to show poor judgment and awful survival skills, but he actually becomes a liability by constantly arguing loudly with Kenny and potentially attracting more walkers.

None of the other supporting cast is any better. The game has done little to give any background to Mike or Jane, making their characters feel superfluous. And even with the benefit of a backstory from 400 Days, Bonnie comes off feeling flat. There's nothing about any of these characters that particularly stand out. I ask myself the question of whether I would be emotionally affected if any of those characters were to die and my answer is always a resounding "No."

It's hard to fathom what The Walking Dead: Season 2 would have going for it if it didn't center around Clementine. She's proven, by far, to be the single most well-rounded, brilliantly-written character in the entire series. In fact, she's probably one of the best characters of the decade, period. The growth she's shown in this season cannot be understated, as she's been forced to grow up and become more of an adult, sometimes in unimaginable ways. But with this supporting cast to work with, you'd have to grow up fast, too, in order to survive.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    July 25, 2014 1:30 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Why The Walking Dead: Season 2 is bogged down by a weak cast.

    There's something missing from this season of Telltale's The Walking Dead. It's hard to get an emotional punch when the new supporting cast is simply weak, in more ways than one. Warning: Spoilers ahead!

    • reply
      July 25, 2014 1:57 PM

      It's funny, I felt pretty affected by Sarah's death, but probably because I had invested so much of myself in that episode in trying to save her. I thought maybe just this one person can overcome the odds. So, it felt like a real kick in the stomach that in the end, she died anyway.

      Ben, on the other hand, was someone I had no problms letting go of (literally).

      However, I would largely agree with most of the other points and the feeling in general. By episode 4, there's hardly anyone that I feel Clementine connects with, other than Kenny, and I find myself going along with him, not because I think he has the best ideas, but because he's the only one I really want to be around, still. The first season build a lot of connections to the group, mainly between Clementine and Lee, but also by having Lee make what felt like important personal decisions - who to give food to, how much to share of his history, when to get angry and when to hold back. It feels like season 2 is lacking in that and opting to raise the tension by just making everything feel like it's a life-or-death decision all the time. It's more like season 2 of the TV show than season 1 of the game. Though that doesn't mean I still haven't felt like I got a good deal of satisfaction out of playing it so far.

      • reply
        July 25, 2014 2:04 PM

        Don't get me wrong, I still like the game. I'm enjoying it largely for Clementine's story and her coming of age. But for the points you just made, there's something that feels missing here. Those elements that Season 1 had going for it is what helped push it to GOTY status for us here at Shack. That stuff, for the most part, is gone and it's kind of a shame.

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          July 25, 2014 2:19 PM

          i haven't played S2E4 yet, but up to S2E3 so far it definitely feels like the heart of what made S1 the GotY in 2012 is missing. it's still a good game that's fun to play, but it's not S1.

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          July 25, 2014 3:54 PM

          I agree totally. With season 1 I felt emotionally drained after playing some episodes (especially the finale), but so far in season 2 I've yet to feel that degree of sorrow or loss.

          Not sure if season 2 finale will move me to tears like season 1, and barring the death of Clem, I don't see the loss of any other supporting characters taking me to that emotional pinnacle.

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            July 26, 2014 5:53 AM

            This is exactly it. There's been maybe one moment that I felt was emotionally rough, and that's it. The dog and the sewing scene.

            I wonder if it's because placing the player, as a child, into those situations wouldn't come across as well; it seems like TTG is concerned about that, at least.

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        July 25, 2014 2:09 PM

        You know, I actually really hated the whole Sarah thing in episode 4. My main reason for that is more because after 10 episodes of playing this game, the mechanics and "game" of it is being too predictable and transparent. In season 1 I hadn't quite grasped that things were as linear as they were, they felt like you were making a choice even if in the end the episode was going to play out basically the same (like in S1 E3 how no matter how you play it, Lilly winds up leaving, etc). Because I realize now how that all works, I knew the instant I saved Sarah that she was just going to die 10 min later instead (because she had to die somehow right? they made that obvious when it was one of the possibilities in the scene where you save her).

        Anyhow, I am still enjoying it. I like how they didn't go and try to lean TOO hard on S1. There are some references and nostalgia and characters from previous but this does still feel like it's own thing which I like, even if it's not quite as good. I don't think it's fair to expect that it would be though.

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          July 25, 2014 2:25 PM

          I kind of get what you're saying about Sarah's eventual deah, but it still makes a tangible difference in how you interact with the group and how you shape up Clementine. I figure that it's more about intentions and choices, rather than consequences. It's pretty good stuff.

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            July 25, 2014 2:34 PM

            Agreed. The strength of the series isn't that different things happen when you make different choices. It's that each choice that's presented to you makes you feel differently about it at the time you make it. And some things are just out of your hands to change.