“People are more political now than they ever were before.”
You can keep the AMC mega-hit, the iteration of “The Walking Dead” that I find the most impressive and that I hope has the greatest influence on its medium is the revolutionary series of episodic adventures from Telltale Games. The second episode of season two, “A House Divided,” is finally here, picking up on the difficult decision that ended episode one and setting the thematic foundation of the sophomore season of one of the most essential downloadable game series of all time. Season two appears to be about trust—how do you get it, how do you keep it, how do you stop yourself from doing it to others. “A House Divided” is a little wordier than the best episodes in “The Walking Dead” history but it’s thematically dense in ways that video game rarely are, even changing the way I approached the series by putting me in the skin of a little girl forced to grow up far too quickly. If there’s a major complaint to be levied at “The Walking Dead,” it’s only that I don’t want to wait as long for episode three.
At the end of episode one, you were forced to choose between Nick and Pete. I chose Uncle Pete and so I can’t say my prologue to episode two will be the same as yours if you went with Nick. You might be saying, “You’re a critic! You should rewind and play out all possibilities!” Nonsense. The reason I think “The Walking Dead” has been as beloved and revolutionary as it could be is that it is a series in which repercussions matter. And decisions with impact have to be made QUICKLY. We’ve all been in that moment, faced with a rock and a hard place in two options when we really don’t want to pick either. Or we want time to think about it but the timer bar is shrinking. I have never reversed or altered a decision in my “TWD” history and I ain’t about to start now. It would destroy the creative function of the entire series.
And so MY Clementine finds herself with Uncle Pete in very bad shape. He’s about to saw off his own leg to stave off undead infection and we’re separated from the rest of our group. Without spoiling anything, Clem finds her way back to the group but this is an increasingly troubled cadre of people. The word trust keeps coming up in the narrative and dialogue. “If people don’t trust you, why should you trust them?” The dynamic of trust or lack thereof will be tested when an old nemesis named Carver, brilliantly voiced by Michael Madsen, reappears and an old friend of Clem’s returns to the story. However, he may not be as mentally sound or protective as he once was. In the world of “The Walking Dead,” even old friends may not be there for you.
I decided early on that I was going to play a loyal, trustworthy season of “The Walking Dead.” My Clem would choose to protect people, watch out for those who watched out for her, stay loyal. And yet right at the very beginning, my style changed. The story forced me to be wary when Carver came to my door looking for “his people”. My helpful Clementine became distrustful, apprehensive. This game is remarkable in how it can get under your skin; change the very way you look at gaming. And lest you forget that you’re still just a girl, often put in a position to protect someone even more innocent than yourself. A moment in which I wanted to grab a knife forced me to think about the potential harm that could be caused to another NPC hiding in the house. Think about that. Games have trained us to fight, to take down the enemy. At this point in “A House Divided,” I not only was thinking about the safety of another character but allowing that to dictate non-violent action. That’s kind of revolutionary.
Lest you think I’m overplaying the importance of the “Walking Dead” series, keep in mind that more and more games are going to be downloadable and episodic. In the same way that music went from albums at stores to singles through iTunes, it is likely that we’ll see more games in episodic form that are only available on the PlayStation Network. Telltale Games is leading the way and setting the bar awfully high for those who choose to follow them.
The Walking Dead: Season Two, Episode Two—A House Divided is now available on the PlayStation Network. A Season Pass was provided by the publisher.