It’s been emotional. We’ve followed the story of Clementine and her cadre of soon to be brutally murdered companions for the last seven years and now their tale is finally coming to an end. Can the last episode in this often good, sometimes a bit naff, series deliver on all that has come before it?
Please note: there will be some mild season spoilers beyond this point. Find our episode 1 review here, and episode 2 & 3 review here.
The key to any good TV season finale is to provide a satisfying ending. That sounds obvious enough, but ensuring that the events of previous episodes are integrated and not ignored is vital to the audience feeling their investment of time has been worthwhile. This is tricky at the best of times, made even trickier when the experience is interactive and you’ve allowed your audience to make supposedly meaningful choices along the way.
For the final season of The Walking Dead the best barometer of this success is to observe if AJ’s actions tie-in with the lessons Clementine and I have taught him over the course of the season. My thinking was that, in order to survive and thrive in this post-apocalyptic world, AJ would have to be tough, responsible and capable of making difficult decisions. So, when it comes to a choice between sleeping on a bed or on the cold hard floor under it, then the floor will be best. AJ has observed Clem commit multiple bow and arrow induced homicides, lie and deceive when necessary and even conduct torture, all in order to save her friends and protect those that she loves.
I have seen my behaviour shape the man that AJ will become and yet I was still shocked by the climatic events of this final episode. To avoid spoilers, let’s just say that I was left feeling like my choices and actions through the season had carried real weight. In the fateful decisions that AJ has to make he does to his own agenda, but his actions were clearly based on what I had taught him. I may have been a bit too effective at turning AJ into an unremitting badass. The important aspect is that my decisions were not ignored to fulfil a generic and catch-all storyline, instead I felt like the events I witnessed in this final episode were tailored to my personal experience.
That’s not to say that there aren’t issues with the storytelling elsewhere. This is a break-neck action packed thrill ride of an extended chase sequence, for the most part. There’s a lot of QTEs and little time for chit-chat in this finale, and while that keeps proceedings pacy, it loses a little of the emotional heft that one would expect from a last ever episode. There’s just not enough time allocated to let things breathe and generate the same emotions as to those felt over Lee’s fate in the first season.
There’s also far too many convenient occurrences in this episode. Characters managing to randomly and conveniently find each other in the middle of dark zombie-filled forest is a bit of a stretch, for example. The effects of the zombie virus are also wildly inconsistent across the two hour run-time, making the bending of TWD universe’s rules to fit the plot even more noticeable. And whilst the twist is certainly welcome, it’s left with too little explanation to be believable.
The slightly misjudged third person shooter segments have been smartly dropped this time out, allowing the overused but reliable QTE mechanic to once again take centre stage. Inputs make sense contextually and the action sequences tick along nicely – there’s even a standout sequence that see’s player control switch effortlessly between AJ and Clementine in their heated last stand. Other welcome refinements include making it clear which button prompts in free exploration sequences will move on the story, preventing irritating moments of missing a collectable through no fault of your own.
Graphically this is the best thing that Telltale (and now Skybound) have ever produced. The comic book art-style has more detail than ever before, character facial animation allows for nuanced and believable emotions, and the frame rate remained smooth over my time with the game on PS4. Though the inconveniently timed blanks loading screens make an unwelcome return.
Looking back on the season as a whole, it really has been a return to form, both for Telltale and The Walking Dead itself – which had been suffering a slow decline across both its TV and comic properties for some time. A significantly improved game engine has eliminated many of the stability issues that has plagued Telltale’s previous games, whilst tighter plotting and more confident storytelling has kept me hooked on the plight of Clementine, AJ and friends from beginning to end. There’s has been some genuinely shocking and compelling twists and turns that will stay with me for quite some time to come. Personally I hope that Skybound Games and the Not Bitten Yet team will return to tell the ongoing story of AJ, he’s shaping up to be a very interesting character – in my version of the story at least!
Back to that first question then, can the last episode of this series deliver on all that has come before it? For a long time, with the tragic collapse of Telltale, it looked like we would never have an answer to this question. Now, with some of the original development team having the opportunity to finish their story arc we have our answer: yes.