Clementine from Telltale’s The Walking Dead Helped Prepare Me to Be a Parent
The lessons and experiences that Clementine both learned and taught in The Walking Dead has aided me for when I eventually become a father.
Editor’s Note: This editorial contains spoilers for The Walking Dead series from Telltale Games/Skybound Games, including the recently-concluded Final Season.
Recently, I finished The Walking Dead: The Final Season and saw the end of Clementine’s story, whom up to the point of playing the game was one of my favorite characters of all time. We’ve seen several other video game characters reach an end to their story this generation; Nathan Drake and Geralt of Rivia, for example. These are all characters that were extremely important and loved by many gamers: Clementine was that character for me. From seeing her as a timid 8-year-old child to the 16-year-old zombie-slaying badass that she ended up being was an adventure that I don’t think I’ll ever experience in this medium ever again. I cried, I yelled, and I cheered as I played through the game, and is a big reason why The Walking Dead: The Final Season is my current choice for Game of the Year.
As a character, Clementine has ended up doing things that I regretted, and some things that I loved. I really didn’t think about it until reflecting on The Final Season and looking back on her entire adventure: I watched this person grow up. I built her into the person that she is, whether it be through Lee, herself, or even Javier. Throughout the franchise, I saw this little girl grow into a powerful woman. Then it hit me; Clementine helped prepare me to be a parent.
I am currently 25 years old and engaged to be married. My fiancee, Celia, is a casual gamer so she doesn’t know remotely as much about games as I do. At a certain point in our relationship, we naturally started discussing children: how many we wanted, the gender, and what names we like. I told her that no matter what that if we had a daughter, I wanted her name to be Clementine. When I was younger and I found out that I had friends’ names based on superheroes or other characters of entertainment, I thought it was the silliest thing, but my opinion on that has changed completely.
“Why Clementine?”, she asked. I didn’t give her a real answer. All I did was boot up my Xbox One and handed her the controller with The Walking Dead ready and said: “Play and you’ll understand.” While I was unable to watch her play the entire first season of the game, I was able to watch the end (and get up in arms about her shooting Lee, because I didn’t). Tears running down her face, I asked her “Do you understand now?”, with a simple response of “I do.” She ended up playing through the entirety of the series and as of writing this, I think I may have persuaded her.
But why? Why Clementine? When I started the first season of The Walking Dead and met Clementine for the first time, I knew that my goal was to protect her. I would do everything it takes to make sure that she lived, even if I (as Lee) died. She was a child at first meeting, nothing more. But she ended up being charming and having a great personality even though she was shy and afraid.
When it got to the end of Episode 4 when Lee was bitten, I remember being so shocked and upset, but it wasn’t even because Lee was going to turn. Who was going to protect Clementine? Throughout the game, whether they were my personal choices or if it was canon in the story, seeing Lee teach Clementine so many things felt like a father/daughter relationship, even though you (the player) were helping Clementine find her real parents. That was kind of the point though. You knew that they were already dead; at least, you knew that the chances were very slim. Teaching her how to shoot, knowing where to shoot, and making sure she kept her hair short: these things helped establish this fatherly role for me, as Lee.
The second season of The Walking Dead was exciting because Clementine was now the character that choices were being made for. Even though there were not a lot of major choices that impacted the overall story of the series, there was one: making that major decision at the end of the season as to what Clementine was going to do with AJ.
I ended up leaving Wellington with Kenny and AJ, which is probably a decision that I regret. Even though I know the outcome of taking the Wellington choice (which also isn’t particularly good) at the end of the game, I should have left Kenny and went inside Wellington because that was the best thing for baby AJ. Outside of the context of the game, this taught me that sometimes you’re going to make a mistake as a parent.
Going into A New Frontier, the third season of the series, I was confused as to why I was playing as this completely new character, Javier. The one-off story for the season was pretty good, but it did not progress Clementine’s story that much. She learned to drive, dealt with the loss of her friend Kenny, joined a corrupt community called Richmond, and was exiled alone after using up medicine to save AJ. When I ran into her and noticed that AJ was not with her, I was terrified to find out what had happened.
Once I had found out everything–where AJ was, the level of risk that Clementine took to protect him, and the amount of anger she felt in thinking that he was dead–that is what truly brought the realization to me that Clementine is not the young girl that Lee found in her treehouse anymore. In another unexpected moment involving Clementine’s own physical transitions into adulthood, it made me realize just how fast she was growing up; it showed how far she had come.
When it came to The Walking Dead: The Final Season, I thought that this season would largely revolve around Clementine protecting AJ. To a certain level that was true, but that was not the only focus. Clem was still the motherly figure (like Lee as her fatherly figure), but I saw these two characters more as partners. Throughout The Final Season, you would teach AJ the rights and wrongs in this post-apocalyptic world. Teaching him to always aim for the head (which I paid the penalty for severely). Being upfront with him that killing a person that isn’t a threat is murder, but that he can atone for it. That sometimes death is a mercy. That it is okay for him to make the hard calls when the situation needs it. All of these are teachings that either brought good or bad outcomes in the future for AJ.
What really helped me be ready for parenthood was in Episode 3, where Clem talked to Lee one last time in a dream scene. It was when Lee reassured her that all the things that she was teaching AJ were ok, as long as she believed it was the right thing to do. Everything that he did for her was him just winging it and doing what he thought was best. This whole conversation taking place in the train where Lee taught Clem to shoot and cut her hair, bringing everything full circle, helped me recognize that I am not going to be the perfect parent. My children are not going to like everything that I tell them, or maybe agree with everything I teach them. Sometimes I might have them learn something that isn’t the right lesson for them at that time. And that is ok, as long as I try my best.
The name Clementine is more than that to me. It is a definition. It defines all of these lessons that The Walking Dead presents throughout the series. Having a daughter with that name will remind me every day to just do my best in the best way I know how. Then one day, when she is old enough, I will hand her a controller and play to see exactly why she has that name.