Review: The Walking Dead: Michonne: Episode 1 – Deep Cut

on February 27, 2016 11:00 AM

When we last left off with Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series, players saw Clementine and her (remaining) friends and survivors going off in different directions. Some have perished, some have stuck around with her, and others have betrayed her.

While player choice and consequence have always been a part of Telltale’s particular brand of storytelling, The Walking Dead in particular has even more so been about having players make tough calls in an even tougher world and environment.

That more or less changes in a way with the latest entry in the series, The Walking Dead: Michonne: not only because the series follows the perspective of a familiar face from The Walking Dead universe (but new to Telltale’s games), but also in bringing players an experience that’s pretty much a standalone experience.

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With no real connections (so far) to either of the previous seasons, the three-episode Michonne mini-series is very much in the realm of being a spin-off/standalone storyline that Telltale intends for players both new and old to The Walking Dead to enjoy.

The Walking Dead: Michonne puts players into the world of Michonne, a fan favorite character from The Walking Dead universe that owns the “strong silent type” role in both the comics series and television show.

Armed with her signature katana, Michonne has always been a character in the previous TWD iterations known for being a woman of few words but deadly with a blade, and the first episode of Telltale’s spin-off series has an immediate appeal by not only following one of the franchise’s most popular characters, but giving her some added depth and motivation beyond just her cool appearance.

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Where previous seasons of the series featured brief cameos by characters from The Walking Dead, the Michonne series follows the previous comics universe a little more closely than in the past both visually and in more concrete ties to the source material.

That tie shows from the game’s opening with a cool credits sequence featuring artwork and iconic moments from the comics, to its placement and setting close to the timeline of the comics series’ current timeline.

That being said, having an appreciation or knowledge of the comics series (or to a lesser extent, the TV series) is not entirely needed to fully enjoy this game, though at least having some knowledge of Michonne as a character certainly makes it feel like a richer experience in going deeper through her backstory and the way that the miniseries is looking to unfold.

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The Walking Dead: Michonne follows her story in a broader sense compared to the comics storyline, as Telltale’s series explores Michonne as she is on her own on a cruiser ship searching for supplies and new territory to explore, outside of Rick Grimes and his group.

From there, Michonne and her company find themselves stranded in the ocean, and in the face of potential new threats once they find land.

In a break from the traditional five-episode structure that Telltale Games typically uses for their titles, Michonne‘s three-episode arc will hopefully push the series in a bit more of an aggressive fashion in terms of its story and character development, as well as avoid some of the lulls that have plagued some of Telltale’s previous games.

The first episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne, for the most part, accomplishes that with some great sequences and some truly interesting character development for Michonne. Given her penchant for being someone of few words, Telltale’s series already shows great promise in bringing some new dimensions to her character.

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In particular, that promise is shown pretty early on in the first episode’s excellent opening segment, where Michonne’s past and present converge in a tense and exciting standoff against walkers.

It also brings in some elements of her personality that will surely be a focus of the upcoming episodes, with a struggle against PTSD and regret at the loss of her family being chief among them.

Even beyond the opening, Michonne really thrives as the centerpiece of the mini-series, and her development is bolstered by an excellent, expressive performance by Samira Wiley (Orange is the New Black).

Though I probably used silence as an option more so than usual in Telltale’s previous games given my understanding and knowledge of the character, Wiley brings Michonne to life in a way that feels believable and real, standing out as a highlight of the series so far.

Michonne maybe more so than ever though also highlights some of the more prominent issues that Telltale has faced across their titles as a whole, with my playthrough of the game experiencing several points of lip-syncing between character voiceovers and animation being off, combined with other technical issues.

Long loading times between chapters came as a bit of a surprise compared to some of my more recent experiences from Telltale, along with the game’s engine having some issues in keeping up with some of the more action-packed moments of the episode.

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The first episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne is not the type of experience that may change your mind if you’re feeling burnt-out on episodic experiences, with the series still following the same blueprint of a linear story with occasional moments of player choice and action helping to steer the story into slightly different paths.

In some ways, I found it a bit of an improvement over some of Telltale’s more recent projects by offering a more focused take on The Walking Dead, providing something closer to a character study than a more traditional story like we’ve seen from the studio.

However, by the end of the first episode the focus of the series still feels like it’s trying to take shape. The mini-series already has a great central focus with Michonne and opens strongly, yet the rest of the episode and the supporting characters haven’t really grabbed me just yet in the way that previous episodes of the series have.

While it’s excusable somewhat given it’s the first episode of the series and there’s still room for improvement, with only two more episodes left in the series it remains to be seen if the rest of the mini-series can catch up to the heights that The Walking Dead proper took players in previous seasons, or even in the excellent 400 Days extra episode that gave brief, novella-like insights to other characters in the series.

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Despite some of these setbacks and a debut that feels a bit uneven at points (a strong character and setting undone a bit by unmemorable supporting characters and story) The Walking Dead: Michonneis still a worthwhile experience so far that fans of the series in any way — the comics, TV series, or the previous seasons of the game — can enjoy.

Given it has no ties (at least that we’ve seen yet) to the previous seasons or to what may come, for now the title has the potential to be something intriguing and different from the usual The Walking Dead experience, though whether it’s solely a diversion until the proper Season 3 remains to be seen.

 /  Features Editor
Ryan is the Features Editor at DualShockers, with over five years' experience in the world of video games culture and writing. He holds a BA in English & Cinema from Binghamton University, and lives in New York City.