I get dead with some of the unliving, for the folk at SquareGo.
First posted here.
The Walking Dead – Episode 4
After several thousand years, you’d think that humanity would know a bit about telling stories. Man has been at it as long as we’ve had language, and it’s been ever clear that we like bite-sized chunks. Even with works such as Homer’s epic poems were broken into books, which poets could regale leisurely of an evening, leaving their audience satisfied but with a strong appetite for the next portion.
More recently this last decade’s proliferation of well made, long running, syndicated TV shows has taught the average joe a lot about storytelling. Narratively-threaded shows like LOST, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead have shown us that there comes a time in any ongoing series of stories where the story is approaching its ultimate conclusion and the pace falters. It’s called the penultimate episode, and more often than not in a badly plotted story, it ends up being crammed to the gills with lots of tension defeating ‘filler’.
With videogames still in their episodic infancy, it’s not surprising that The Walking Dead series from Telltale Games has lurched straight into this literary tradition with Around Every Corner, the fourth chapter in Lee Everett’s ongoing adventures in misery during the zombie apocalypse. With the surviving crew now in the ghostly city of Savannah, looking towards the sea for salvation. It’s a chore of frayed nerves, tempers, and the struggle of will against defeat.
It’s not surprising either, the First episode introduced our characters, set out the landscape and got players into the idea of making difficult decisions. Starved For Help continued the narrative while upping the stakes and making clear what dark places the series, and characters would have to survive. Long Road Ahead, was a definitive turn of the tide, with surprise deaths, character turnarounds and no easy answers. After such an ever-rising gauntlet of intensity and emotional trauma, fatigue sets in. By now, players have been thoroughly drained, and without giving much away, many of the emotional links to the earlier games have been severed by either character deaths or personalities altering so far from recognisable social norms that ambivalence sets in.
In some ways this this move is indicative of the brilliance of the series. There’s a tiredness to this chapter which feels bone-deep. Moments which would have been both poignant and touching simply don’t stir as they once might have done. There is even a point in the episode when a character complains to Lee that they no longer feel much emotion when friends die in front of them. The near-constant attrition has left both player, and character in a state where the grim inevitability of death hangs over every situation and indeed the only moments where true catharsis shows are those where the player, through Lee, have to make moral and potentially damning choices.
However, this is a penultimate chapter in the series, and that there is material being held back for the finale shows, even painfully at times. Although the story never gets dull, it feels as if the most pertinent points are sidelined by events to prevent them being dwelt upon by characters. There are several key motivational factors that are skipped over glaringly only to predictably come to the fore in the final minutes of the game. This does however mean that the closing moments are the most gripping out of any segment thus far. This combines with the chilling lack of the usual look-ahead trailer, usually tacked onto the end of each episode, and the final episode’s title No Time Left, hint that the bleakness that has reared it’s head throughout the series will permeate through to the close of this landmark gaming series.