It's no accident that Telltale's The Walking Dead game refers to its five-episode run as a "season." The whole thing is structured quite a bit like a season of television, with the accompanying peaks and valleys. And so it's perhaps not a huge surprise after the operatic highs of the spectacular third episode, episode four, "Around Every Corner," might feel like a bit of a letdown.
By design, episode four occupies a precarious place in the season as a whole. Not only did it need to bring together all of the disparate threads of the previous three episodes, it needed to then re-focus everything and set the table for the finale. I thought it accomplished the second part better than the first part, but I'm entirely on board to see how this all shakes out.
Spoilers: For this article, I'm just going to go ahead and assume you've played through the fourth episode. I won't tease around spoilers -- I'm interested in talking about it like we would talk about an episode of television. So, if you haven't seen the episode, consider yourself warned.
As it turned out, episode four didn't have the same kind of megaton spoilers as there were in episode three. A lot of that was by design -- the fates of the cast, including Lee and Clem, will be decided in the finale, and too much resolution in the penultimate episode would've spoiled our appetite for the finale. As a result, we really just got to decide what to do with poor, stupid Ben.
Ben was the weakest link in the episode for me -- throughout the season, he's never quite gelled as a character. His continuing betrayals, fuck-ups and cowardice, while interesting in theory, never quite rang true. In particular, the moment in episode four when he removed the axe from the door was just too far beyond the realm of believability. So many moments in The Walking Dead feel real and believable, and so to have a character do something so boneheaded felt jarring and unnecessary.
Surely there could have been another way to let the zombies into the school? For him to remove the axe from the door (which it was obviously holding shut, and where did all the walkers go, and… OK you get it) just felt cartoonish, right down to the beat after "Where did you get that axe?"
Still, a small complaint in the grand scheme of things, particularly in an episode that had so many fine individual moments. It was a well directed episode, too, as Nick Herman made some very smart decisions about when to have the characters talk, and more importantly, when to have them remain silent. The scene in the attic was so rich and layered, and for the most part Herman just allowed Lee and Kenny to occupy the space and let us sit with them. I could only imagine what Kenny was going through in that moment, and I appreciated that the game allowed me to do just that.
As far as the action goes, I've reached the point where I never quite feel taken aback by anything that happens on screen, even while I'm still absorbed by it. It's a bit of a formula: Now it's quiet, now the zombies are attacking, now it's quiet again -- whether it's a shortcoming on Telltale's part or just the constraints of the zombie genre, in episode four more than the previous three episodes, I got the sense that Telltale is reaching the bottom of their bag of tricks. There were no moments as jaw-on-the-floor as the salt-lick execution in episode two or the mid-episode shooting in episode three. But then, this episode wasn't about shocks -- it was more about coping with what had come before while steeling ourselves for what is still to come.
The script, this time written by Gary Whitta, was strong throughout, though occasionally Whitta overplayed his hand. Some lines, like Vernon's line about always looking for irony when choosing living quarters, made me chuckle, while others, like Ben's "I've got a bad feeling about this," felt too on-the-nose. I loved Molly's backstory, but wished that a bit more had been left to the imagination -- I didn't need to see that final video of her with the doctor. I'd put together enough that a little bit of ambiguity would have made the story more effective. (Granted, I could've just not opened the doctor's locker or not watched that tape, but I can't really imagine that was Whitta's intent when writing the script.)
As for the choices -- I let Ben die, and Kenny decided to stick around and help me out. I could see when he made the decision, and it seemed like he very well could have told me to go screw myself and left. If that had happened, it would've been a big change for the finale, assuming he stayed gone and doesn't just return regardless.
Telltale had a difficult task with this episode, and for the most part rose to the occasion. As I noted before, this episode occupies a tricky spot in the overall season -- it needed to pull together all of the past choices, conflicts and character arcs while simultaneously setting everything up for the finale. Whitta, Herman and the rest of the team at Telltale achieved that goal, and did so with some artful moments, a couple of fun scares (That jump-scare near the end nearly did me in, even though I should've seen it coming), and a solid cliffhanger leading into the big finale.
What did you guys think? Which party did you end up with, in the end? Did you let Ben die, or spare him? And most importantly, what do you think is going to happen in the end? I have my theories, but I'll share them in the comments.