*Editor’s Note: This review reflects the complete second episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Final Season, which we received a review code for prior to the recent developments that Telltale Games had begun a majority studio closure, and that most of the studio’s development team were laid off. In the wake of these recent events, it is unknown at this time whether The Walking Dead: The Final Season will have its final two episodes released, as Telltale has removed the title from sale temporarily and explored the possibility of finishing the season with outside partners.
While there is the very real possibility that the series’ story will not be finished in the way that Telltale intended–especially with the game’s development team no longer actively working on the project–our review intends to best reflect on the story as it has been released so far, despite the fact that the series’ conclusion may never be released.
As Telltale made it clear from dubbing it The Final Season, the beginning of the end for Clementine’s storyline has spared little time in establishing itself not only as a hardened, more mature story for a character that we’ve followed for over six years, but also a return to form for the series in its final chapters. The first episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season was an excellent way to kick off the concluding chapters of Clementine’s journey, and while the series’ second chapter is a bit of a slower-paced installment, there are still some action-packed and excellent moments to enjoy in the halfway point of the season, though recent events might have just made it the series’ finale.
Picking up shortly after the events of the first episode, Episode 2 (titled “Suffer the Children”) sees Clementine and AJ at an impasse with the community of teenaged and adolescent survivors at the (former) boarding school they have now called home. Following tragic events that have led to some unexpected circumstances, Clementine and AJ not only find themselves outcast from the community and on their own once again, but threats new and old work their way back into the picture that push the story towards a violent and dramatic conclusion.
Notably, one of those threats comes from the return of Season 1‘s Lilly, who comes back across Clementine’s path as part of a group of nearby raiders. Much like Clementine has changed since the series’ first season, Lilly has also adapted into a hardened, by-any-means necessary survivor, and seeing her return as a new threat not only makes for an engaging callback to the series’ first season, but also makes the stakes much more personal as she faces off against Clementine and her group.
Given the tense interactions and interesting character dynamics that the first episode of the season so engaging, Episode 2 has a bit more of a languid pace as it (largely) explores the fallout from its shocking conclusion. With the episode largely serving to establish the falling action that we presumably would see unfold in the remaining two episodes, “Suffer the Children” is a bit lighter on more significant or plot-heavy moments, but does feature some engaging character interaction and relationship-building between between Clementine, AJ, and the rest of the adolescent Ericson Boarding School survivors, especially in how Clementine begins to step up as a leader for the group.
However, I will say that Episode 2 — in a similar fashion to the third season, A New Frontier — does play with some interesting connections to The Walking Dead‘s larger universe, with one of the most prominent being the introduction of James, a new character that has (seemingly) defected from The Whisperers, a group that readers of the more recent Walking Dead comic’s storylines will surely connect with. Given his association with The Whisperers and comic readers’ knowledge of them, James is an interesting character in that his motives don’t quite seem clear just yet, though his willingness to aid Clementine and AJ in her travels certainly made me hope that we would get to see him again, down the line.
Aside from the character-driven moments and relationship-building that drives this installment, Episode 2 of The Walking Dead: The Final Season also continues to demonstrate the more noticeable gameplay and mechanical rethinking that Telltale has been working towards with this series. Like the surprising shift to an over-the-shoulder camera perspective and some dynamic, engaging combat in the first episode, “Suffer the Children” adds in some exciting–if simple–new gameplay wrinkles compared to what we typically expect from Telltale’s games.
One of the most notable examples comes from later on in the chapter when Clementine has to ward off hordes of incoming walkers with a bow and arrow, a section which eschews the traditional quicktime event-driven combat of past Walking Dead seasons and instead provides actual combat mechanics like you might find something like The Last of Us. While the mechanics are fairly basic, the moments that Telltale integrated like these definitely made me excited to see more traditional gameplay interwoven with the studio’s narrative-driven experiences, and it’s a welcome sight to see the studio taking these sorts of risks.
With all that being said, the elephant in the room when it comes to the release of Episode 2 is the fact that as of last week, Telltale Games has announced the studio’s closure (as a result of largely financial circumstances), and many reports coming from the announcement have suggested that this may be the final episode of The Walking Dead to ever release. As the halfway point of a story that was just starting to pick up, there is certainly something to be said that there’s a bittersweet experience in playing the second chapter of a story that may go unfinished, and especially in knowing that we may never find out how Clementine’s story finally comes to an end.
As an installment that mostly revolves around setting up Clementine and her group for a dramatic confrontation that would have unfolded in the next two episodes, Episode 2 of The Final Season doesn’t quite deliver the same thrills that the first episode of the season provided, but is still an entirely worthy entry in the story so far. However, the question now is what “the story so far” really looks like.