The middle chapter of the second season of Telltale Games’ brilliant “The Walking Dead” turns to the question of leadership and whether or not the survivors of this post-apocalyptic world should be more fearful of the humans they travel with than the brain-eating zombies at the gate. In fact, I think it holds the title of the longest chunk of game time without actual enemies other than the vile humans around you. Our growing heroine, Clementine, is stuck in one of those situations that graphic novelist Robert Kirkman loved to give his readers, one in which she be safer on her own. It’s another narratively strong episode, although it does often feel more transitional than the best of this landmark series. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still great. But I didn’t zip through it with the same passion as I did the first two chapters (chapter one here) of this season or even “400 Days,” which ties into this episode, by the way. The ending features such intense, horrendous violence that I can’t wait to play episode four but this chapter felt more like the bridge between 1&2 and 4&5 than a satisfying chapter of its own.
Clementine and her remaining travelers (I hesitate to call them “friends” because, even more so in this season, it’s hard to know who to trust and it’s becoming increasingly dangerous to feel loyalty to anyone) have basically been taken prisoner by the maniacal Carver (voiced by Michael Madsen) and integrated into his mini-society, which means taking his orders and fulfilling his demands. The one-armed Reggie (Kumail Nanjiani from “Silicon Valley”) asks Clem and her friends to toe the line; don’t get him in trouble. Getting in trouble in Carver’s mini-society often leads to death. Carver is clearly a more feral, animalistic variation on the Governor from the books and AMC hit show. It’s his way or death. And Carver puts Clementine in some horrible situations, including one where a parent has to slap his own child and another in which she witnesses a brutal murder.
“In Harm’s Way” is a chapter that should toughen Clem even more for the end game of this season. I’ll admit that I started this season thinking that I might craft Clementine into a loyal, trusting character but, now, more than halfway through the season, my Clem is TOUGH. She has seen horrible things. She has made difficult decisions. And when a choice came up near the end of “In Harm’s Way” to leave the scene of an impending brutal murder or stay and watch, I really didn’t feel like I had an option. My Clem sees the horror out to the end. (And, man, is the horrific decision that closes this chapter an awful one).
Despite being satisfied by its ending, I must admit to being less enthralled by “In Harm’s Way” than the previous two chapters of this season or “400 Days.” I played all of those in one sitting, marveling at the momentum of their narratives. Not so this time, as circumstance forced me to break this one up into multiple installments and I didn’t feel the addictive, pressing need to get back to it as I often have with Telltale Games. As I said, there’s some really great character development for Clementine in this chapter but it’s the least entertaining from a gameplay level and the script’s regular return to the same themes regarding Carver and his brand of evil get repetitive. I’m a little more critical because I consider “The Walking Dead” to be such an essential reason to even own a PS3 at this point, and there’s no way you should avoid this chapter if you’ve played the first two. It’s the bridge to what I suspect will be an amazing final two acts in this year’s season.