After leaving Clementine and her group at the hands of the malicious Carver, The Walking Dead: Season Two picks things up almost immediately after a pretty jarring cliffhanger from the previous episode. Leaving some characters in mortal peril and with uncertain consequences, Episode 4 of the second season, titled “Amid The Ruins,” continues Clementine’s journey with equal amounts of excitement and dread from the sacrifice of some of Season Two’s momentum that’s been building since the first episode.
With Clementine and her group having successfully escaped the clutches of Carver’s oppressive community and now back out on the road looking for safety, “Amid the Ruins” presents many new challenges for the group, aside from their slightly fewer numbers. Still faced with the threat of other humans and the ongoing walking dead, new forces threaten the group around every corner: the fear of running out of food, a newborn baby on the horizon, and the looming presence of cold weather and the incoming winter.
Coming off the incredibly strong third episode of Season Two, “In Harm’s Way,” the latest episode takes a turn as a noticeably quieter episode than the more action-packed focus of the previous installment. With Clementine’s group now back out on the road searching for their next shelter, the episode goes more toward character development and building up the relationships of the characters, though “Amid the Ruins” still packs in a few action set-pieces to break up the story and provide some more physical threats to the group, rather than just the internal ones created by all the devastation.
Up until now, Season Two has gradually built up its characters and story through a successful series of action setpieces that made us care for their lives, while also providing plenty of smaller, more intimate scenes between characters to learn more about them, both in the pre- and post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world. Though this episode still maintains plenty of moments that follow Telltale’s trend of developing strongly-written stories with fleshed-out moments, “Amid the Ruins” also seems to follow in the tradition of the “fourth-episode slump” that has plagued previous Telltale titles (most recently in The Wolf Among Us), leaving it to be, noticeably, the weakest episode in the season so far.
In particular, “Amid the Ruins” suffers in some areas that, while not exactly new to the series as a whole, do show up more noticeably than in previous installments, the most severe being slight inconsistency with character development and actions. Where characters like Luke and Season One’s Kenny both have had established character traits and development since their first appearances, Episode 4 brings a number of choices that force them into odd behaviors and traits that, up until now, have been unlike their development in previous episodes. Though it may not be major in the grand scheme of things (or maybe purposefully done leading into the final episode), seeing some of the characters being forced into situations or actions that have been odd or contradictory from their previous choices makes it feel off, like a slight misstep in the otherwise straight trajectory that the current season has made in building tension and conflict.
Alongside some slight character decisions and actions that may be a bit off compared to episodes of the past, this episode also presents a number of deaths and choices that, without going into too much detail for spoilers, do feel less meaningful toward the story, and instead often feel cheap or inconsequential. With a number of character deaths that often come out of left-field, “Amid the Ruins” strong moments of characterization and storytelling feel undermined by consequences that come off feeling like they were made for shock value, rather than for genuine story progression.
Aside from some slight tonal inconsistencies and story deviations, “Amid the Ruins” does still maintain the great quality of The Walking Dead with a number of tense scenes and overall building toward the final outcomes of the season. With some action setpieces that put the group into peril in the face of looming threats like the imminent snow, and leading up to a conclusion with an enormous and devastating cliffhanger, it still manages to put many pieces into play, despite some noticeable shortcomings in terms of its character development.
Although it fall into some of the same trappings of the “fourth episode slump” for this season, Telltale Games’ knack for leading up to an excellent finale should leave concerns for the shortcomings of Episode 4 at the door. Whether Episode 4 leads up to a disappointing conclusion or a knockout finale still remains to be seen with the final episode’s release this week, but despite its thematic and storytelling slights, there is little reason with “Amid the Ruins” to abandon Clementine and her group in their most dire hours.