“ATTENTION. FOR THOSE WHO ACTUALLY READ THIS BLOG, I WOULD ADVISE YOU NOW TO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS POST, IF YOU ARE IN THE PROCESS OF PLAYING THE WALKING DEAD GAME, OR YOU’RE THINKING ABOUT PLAYING IT. THIS POST WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS, AS I PLAN TO GUSH ABOUT WHAT HAPPENS IN THE LAST EPISODE. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. THANK YOU.”
That’s the practical stuff, out of the way. Now, to why my heart hurts.
I’m not exactly an overly emotional or blubbery person, when it comes to experiencing something I know is fictional. Films, books and games, for example, will resonate with me, inspire me and provoke some sort of impassioned response. But I’ve never felt close to tears, whether it’s because of something good or bad, like I do in the real world (A nice card, a heart felt comment or a joyous story, and I can become a wreck). Sure, when I was younger, I would cry a lot at something I knew was only a story (Oh, Mufasa… WHYYYYY!?!). But it seems as I have grown older, and therefore more bitter, the fact that I know it’s only a story has somehow prevented me from being brought to tears. That was until the other day, of course. Telltale Games, broke me down.
If you want the back story on The Walking Dead game (Episodes 1-4), before I begin to discuss what happens in Episode 5 (The Final Episode), I suggest you read the synopses of each episode on Wikipedia. It will make it easier to understand why what I say happens, is happening. Context is awesome.
OK. So, this is why Episode 5 unexpectedly turned me into my mother, after watching a romantic film.
Clementine has been kidnapped by a mysterious man, who uses a walkie-talkie belonging to Clementine to communicate with Lee, and he begins to threaten to move her out of Savannah to live with him, in an unknown location. Throughout the game, you’ve become attached to this innocent girl, who looks up to Lee with such respect and adoration. A number of times, you hear her trying to tell Lee where she is as the man uses the walkie-talkie, and the desperation and fear in her voice is surprisingly difficult to bare. You become exasperated, because you have no idea what this guy’s intentions are for Clementine. You get this sickening feeling that, despite all the death and destruction to life and civilisation that is going on at the moment, some twisted people will still feel the longing to abduct a child and do unspeakable things to her. You don’t know if that is the reason he has taken her, but the agonising thought is what hits you, first. He does though suggest that he considers Lee dangerous, that if she were to remain in Lee’s company she would most certainly be killed, and so taking her was the right thing to do. Maybe he’s not going to hurt her? However, this just further exasperates and scares you, because you’ve been with Lee and Clementine since the beginning, and you know he’s always done his best for her and made sure she was kept out of harm’s way. This man has taken the one person that both Lee and you care about the most, under wrong pretences. So, already, I’m getting a little frenzied.
The group, having lost the boat to another group they came across, decide to go help Lee search for Clementine and her abductor. As they travel to where they think she is being held, the hotel where her mother and father were staying at the time of the outbreak, you begin to see the toll on Lee’s health, caused by the bite. He quickly loses his stamina and his ability to fight off the Walkers they meet. It becomes harder and harder for you to believe that Lee has any chance of getting to Clementine and rescuing her and, even if he’s able to do that, how he can ever be able to look after her, when he’s fighting the Walker virus. My sadness deepened, at this point. I, as Lee, have looked after her, saved her life, made sure she wasn’t hungry or cold. Now I, as Lee, will not be able to ensure she’s safe in this horrible world. That she’s able to live her life. Feeling that, feeling that this will all inevitably end in tragic circumstances, whilst having to continue the game play to get to that point, became really difficult for me. It got worse.
Whilst trying to get to the hotel via rooftops, the group loses the person you’ve come to know, like and sympathise with – Kenny. Ben, one of members of the group, falls through a gap to a alley between two houses, and becomes impaled by the debris that came down with him. Kenny rushes to his side, along with Lee, and attempts to move Ben and get him back to the rooftops. It’s impossible. The wound is too severe. Soon, Walkers from either end of the alley begin to swarm towards the three. My face was a mixture of sheer desperation and the ‘WTF’ face, now. Kenny, knowing that Clementine needs Lee, forces him out of harms way and begins to fight off the Walkers. He shoots Ben, to put him out of his misery, and becomes engulfed in the Walker herd. That mixture of faces before, was multiplied by 100. Ben, although being a coward and jeopardising the group on many occasions, is just a teenager who has lost his family and friends, and is unable to cope with that and the fear of becoming a Walker. As for Kenny. Well, just after Clementine, he’s right up there. He’s always done his best for his family, always kept hope that you can life during these miserable times. He struggled when his wife and son were both killed, and yet he’s still able to live on and keep that fight within him. You respect him, immensely. And now he’s gone. You’re just recovering from the anxiety in your heart about what might be happening to Clementine, and now you are faced with the death of a distraught teenager and a grieving family man. Telltale Games really knows how to drive the emotion, right through your mind.
Lee gets to the hotel, and comes to face to face with Clementine’s captor – he was the owner of a station wagon that Lee and the group ransacked, unaware that the people using the car were still in the area, or even still alive. He’s full of bitterness and hatred for Lee, blaming him and the others for ruining his chances of protecting his family, like Kenny wanted to protect his family, and showing his wife he could still be a good father, after losing their son to a concealed fate. He tells Lee, which is essentially telling you, that he is a ‘monster’ for what he did to him and to people along the way, and he believes that Clementine should be looked after by someone who knows how to be a dad. Himself. At this point, I’m feeling a mixture of relief that this man has good intentions for Clementine, even if the way he has chose to carry it all out is entirely wrong, and fury that he believes that Lee (Me) is a danger to her. But as he continues you talk, your heart gets stomped on again, as it is plain to see he is so saddened by what has happened to him, and he sincerely wants another chance to prove he can be a good father to a child. All the anger towards this man, gradually fades. But, because he is so determined to take Clementine away from Lee, you can only do what you know you have to do, in order to hold on to this lovely girl – you’re going to have to hurt or him, or even kill him. The choice was excruciatingly hard and it makes you feel like you are a bit soulless, but you know you can’t afford to have this man repeatedly try to take Clementine, with or without Lee in the picture. No need to say what had to happen.
It’s the finale though, which left me feeling very upset and numb, for quite a while. Lee and Clementine are out of the hotel, implementing the idea that came to Lee whilst coming across a Walker, that coating yourself in the blood and smell of a Walker, will deter them from believing you are fresh meat to be feasted on. As they begin to walk through a herd of Walkers, Clementine freezes, with a look of pure horror and distress that should not be on the face of a child. She has seen her parents. Dead. Walking towards her. Your heart sinks. Throughout the game, all you’ve been trying to ensure for this little girl, is that she is reunited with her parents. It’s the one thing you know she has held out for, and has filled her every waking moment. You remember how she used the walkie-talkie to talk to them, even though they weren’t on the over end to reply to her. She’s going to be mentally crushed now, and it’s clear that Lee is not going to be around for long to make sure she gets through it. You know that the game needs to end with Lee getting bitten and becoming a Walker, but you feel that, being the one that has chosen how Lee reacts in the game, that you’ve failed her. It’s the most heart-rending thing Telltale Games could have planned out for her character. But that’s just Part One, of the formidable finale.
Lee collapses in the street. Somehow, this champion of a girl manages to drag Lee to safety, into a nearby Jewellers. Lee awakes, and he’s definitely in his final moments of being alive. He tries to move towards the back door that’s in a squared off room, where a Walker is trapped inside. He’s unable to stay on his feet for long, collapsing against the wall. He knows, and you know, that this is it for Lee. He’s got to make sure that Clementine believes she can be safe without having him around, that she’s brave, clever, formidable. He begins to do this, and it couldn’t be more upsetting to watch. As he tries to encourage her and show her how to get in to the room, you see with every word just how more scared and frightened Clementine is becoming. The panic in her voice, the anguish she must be feeling, made every click on Lee’s responses, become harder and harder. You know she can cope, but a child shouldn’t have to cope with something like this, especially on her own. Lee is fading fast though, so he doesn’t have long to make sure she does one last thing for him – she has to make sure he doesn’t come back. Using a pair of handcuffs she finds after gaining access to the room, she chains Lee to a radiator, crying and terrified, and then goes for the gun and keys that the Walker is carrying. Tears are streaming down her face, as she aims the gun at Lee’s head. I actually had to look away. I have never had to give myself a moment before, whilst playing a game. The gun fires, blasts out the bullet, and I blast out a sob. She’s now alone. Omid and Christa, the two members of the group who have said they will look after Clementine once Lee is gone, are somewhere we don’t know where. Can Clementine find them? Will she make it? It’s just too uncertain to be convinced that she’s going to be safe. And that’s all you want for her.
I think the reason this game may have affected me more than any other game or piece of fiction, is that everything leading up to these difficult moments has been decided by what I have chosen Lee to say and do. I chose the response that, if I was there, I would have carried out. Lee has become a mirror of me, essentially. This weird connection means that all his difficulties feel like they are tumbling down on you, and everyone he cares about have also stolen your attention and admiration. It feels ridiculous, feeling like this, when you know it’s just a game. But I don’t think there are many games that have taken something as disturbing as a zombie apocalypse, firing all these life and death situations at you, and placing the decisions in your hands and your hands only. You’re engulfed in this The Walking Dead world, which means for someone who is only really brought to tears by real life experiences, I think it’s understandable why I cracked up.