Spoilers for previous episodes follow, as well as minor episode four spoilers. For all my positivity and knack for comforting others, for all my efforts to preserve any sense of morality in a dark, dim world full of death, nothing I do seems to help for more than a moment.
Last night I played as Lee for a fourth episode of Telltale's wonderful adventure story, The Walking Dead. Episode four — Around Every Corner — takes the remaining survivors of your zombie adventure on a train ride to Savannah, Georgia. It seems greener pastures or waters may lay ahead. The group intends to find an escape boat, but as we've learned through Telltale's first three episodes, none of their plans play out without at least a few hitches. Zombies aren't the only hazards lurking in the shadows in episode four, and paranoia becomes perhaps your group's biggest threat.
I've played as Lee before. I've taken a stray little girl called Clementine under my wing and grown to love her. I've met many new men and women and seen those same people die. But Clementine has always remained my one ray of happiness and the one motivating factor to staying alive.
The The Walking Dead adventure game series feels like it was building up to this moment all along. Things were always troublesome, whether that included groups of bandits that had formed as a response to the zombie apocalypse, or tensions rising in our own group of survivors that threatened our already miserable livelihood. Telltale has a way of getting you used to getting stabbed in the back. You almost expect that every person you meet has an ulterior motive or a hidden secret that could bring your small shred of current safety tumbling down around you.
But episode four took everything away from me.
And I kind of love it for that.
Playing as Lee, I try to give everyone a fair shake. Even the seemingly dim witted, scrawny kid named Ben seems like he has a good heart. He tested my trust in him during episode three, revealing that good will and bad decisions sometimes play hand in hand.
But episode four broke me. I was finally ready to just not care anymore. To throw my hands up and admit my patience has waned. Even Lilly — the overbearing wench that stole our RV without any thought to what would become of us after all we did to help her and her psychotic father — wasn't enough to push me over the edge. It was Ben's snivelling self-consumption. His obsession with trying to do well but ignoring every piece of advice I gave him. His little quiver when he doesn't know what to do to or what to say. It was Ben that pushed me over the edge. I stuck my neck out for him, I gave him guidance, and he still learned nothing from it. It was enough to make me think for just a moment that maybe the only thing he'd be good for is an emergency push to the ground to slow down any walkers nearby.
I swear I'm a nice, decent person. But at a point of time you have to wonder if what you think is being nice is actually being naive.
I can understand Kenny's drunken stupor and tendencies toward aggression. He just lost his wife and son. But he's always been there for me as a loyal friend, never even doubting me when he found out about my murky past. We not only experienced together, we grew together.
Then there are the new characters you meet, like a sassy lady named Molly. Her colourful attitude can be a bit off putting, but I respect her thirst for survival, even if that means she often neglects others. It's clear she has trust issues of her own, and you know what? Who can blame her? I can't much blame Christa for her snappy attitude, either. Her main concern is her companion, Omid, and shouldering the responsibility for another person's life is something I can commiserate with her on. Although her steely heart and stubbornness certainly don't put her on my list of favourite people.
Clementine, of course, is still my favourite. She's the sweetest, toughest little girl you'll find. And no matter what we've been through, and no matter how many mistakes a person has made, she finds a way to keep smiling. She can see beyond my misgivings and embraces people's good nature regardless of the evidence on the table. Though her frame may be tiny, she might be the strongest survivor among us. And even though I'm at the brink of abandoning my moral compass — which has been battered by repeated betrayal — one look at her furrowed little eyebrows and teary eyes sends guilt rattling down my spine. Clementine keeps me grounded. I never want to disappoint Clementine.
What a powerful, emotionally evocative game The Walking Dead is. When I play games I typically like to experience some amount of fun. Sure, a lot of games' stories may be morbid and the enemies rancid, but The Walking Dead takes that to a whole other level. It breaks your heart at every turn. It strips you of hope and leaves you with nothing but the bad taste of dread in your mouth. And yet, I love it. I love being tortured, submitting myself to the whims of this increasingly devastating game. I love having my instinct for survival put to the test with difficult decisions that, no matter what you seem to choose, always result in even more difficult situations that need difficult decisions. By the end of episode four, you'll see just how much your decisions have impacted the group you travel with.
I've taken each episode, and each problem that surfaces in them, one step at a time. I'll deal with my dying group member or the bitter argument going on just as soon as I get everyone into the safe-looking house first. As long as I keep focused on one problem at a time, it's easier not to look ahead at the dreary road in front of us. Especially when it often feels like getting a shred of luck takes its taxes in the form of a landslide of problems first.
At the end of episode four a new character made a statement that resonated with me. This character said something like, "I don't feel too much. Not a lot on my mind." This was just after an insanely chaotic, insanely harsh fight for survival. We learned horrific things, and lost people in horrific ways. And that's sort of where my journey through Telltale's The Walking Dead has landed me. I'm accustomed to things going wrong. I expect people will die. I anticipate that my decisions will not always be received favourably. Episode four has me finally looking up to confront the horizon of dead in front of me. I can't face my problems one baby step at a time anymore. These new problems are unlike any I've faced before. I'm in a situation that I know I might not be able to come out of, that I might not be able to solve. You thought episodes one to three were serious? Now I'm really starting to panic.
In the end, all I can do is make judgement calls the best way I see fit. All I can do is protect Clementine to the best of my abilities.
But it's never enough.