With only one episode left to go, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is racing to the end with a lot hanging in the balance. Aside from the hordes of Walkers that have loomed over the series since it first began with Season One, Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead has instead proven that often its most dangerous conflicts are emotional, rather than supernatural. That factor comes to a head in the season’s penultimate episode.
Compared to the previous installments of A New Frontier, Episode 4 (titled “Thicker Than Water”) surprises at its opening by starting with a flashback of simpler times. This flashback — which takes place prior to the events of the apocalypse that sets The Walking Dead in motion — gives the player not only a stark reminder of what the game’s characters have lost in the years since everything changed, but also serves as a poignant bit of character development for both Javier and his brother David, which ends up taking much of the stage in the series’ fourth episode.
Much like the first three episodes have proven, Episode 4 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier shows that the heart of the series isn’t just providing a zombie apocalypse-flavored take on the adventure genre, but in providing deep characters with complete personalities and relationships that players get to shape and chart their course.
While Telltale has delivered this in spades — with some episodes feeling just a bit too linear in how players can affect the narrative — Episode 4 mostly provides an installment filled with tough choices and meaningful character development, only undone by some of the series’ weaker points that have plagued it all season long.
Most of Episode 4 revolves around Javier and David, who are now imprisoned under the watchful eye of the Richmond’s newly-appointed leader Joan, who come to terms not only with their current situation, but also come to terms with their past.
Thanks to the strong opening and moments between the two throughout the episode, Javier and David’s relationship makes for a strong focal point on family and the ties that bind us. It’s a theme that’s certainly been done before in The Walking Dead (whether in the games, comics, or on TV), but in the case of Telltale’s series, the relationship they’ve built and the regrets that they share with each other feels believable and genuine.
Aside from Javier and David, Episode 4 also provides plenty of opportunities to explore the rest of the cast’s backstory in the face of the tense situation happening in Richmond, though to varying effect. While Javier and Clementine continue to have an incredibly strong and engaging relationship built on the past three episodes, in Episode 4 Clementine takes a bit of a backseat to the action and has far less screen-time than before, making her lack of time in the spotlight this time around feel noticeable.
The same can be said for Kate, who has developed into an intriguing character (and romantic interest) for David throughout the season, but similarly gets left out for much of the episode, though makes the most of her few appearances in the episode. Less enjoyable though are the conversations between the player and Gabe, whose angsty teen persona continues to make him feel less like a relatable, fleshed-out character and more like a borderline caricature.
Despite some of the unevenness with its attention to some of the series’ stronger characters (and effectively developing its weaker ones), Episode 4 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier makes up for a languid pace in its first two thirds by setting up an explosive final act. Though Joan hasn’t exactly served as the most believable or interesting of villains, the conclusion to Episode 4 sets up a situation that feels ripped right from classic Walking Dead moments in the TV series or the comics, and had me (almost) pausing the game to determine the best course of action with the least amount of impact.
Telltale has noticeably struggled in the past with the episodes leading into their season finales in previous titles, though by-and-large Episode 4 of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier manages to deliver some deep character moments and development while anchored by a tense conclusion that sets up its last episode for a big finish. Though some aspects of the episode may leave fans wanting a bit more, “Thicker Than Water” shows that family is just as much the root of some problems as much as it is the answer for them. Of course, the bigger question is how many of the Garcia clan makes it to the end remains to be seen, but the answers will be devastating either way.