It’s only been five years since gamers everywhere were first introduced to Lee Everett and Clementine. Since then we’ve been rocked by revelation after revelation and brutal death after brutal death in first Lee’s and since Clementine’s journey through the world of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. Of course by now you’ve no doubt heard of Telltale Games’ episodic properties as they’ve exploded in popularity since The Walking Dead in particular. You might’ve even played a few episodes or perhaps entire series such as Tales from the Borderlands or The Wolf Among Us or Game of Thrones. While some of the more popular properties have already garnered sequel seasons others have yet to see the light of day despite their popularity and success.
I was initially going to do a group review of the newest season of The Walking Dead and the next semi-segment of Clementine’s adventure, as I’ve done in the past with both the first season and bits and pieces of the second season. However I think it would be best to instead simply discuss the merits of the entire season as a whole and hopefully not spoil too much for those of you who have yet to play it for yourself or perhaps even to play through and experience the adventure series at all yet. So this is your last warning- once you go past this there’s no going back in terms of potential spoilers and discussion about all things The Walking Dead (in terms of the shared universe as well as Telltale’s slice of the pie).
To date we have seen several episodic incarnations of The Walking Dead universe- Season One, 400 Days, Season Two, Michonne, and A New Frontier. A New Frontier is something a little different than we’ve come to expect as it fully features two interactive characters- even more so than Season One did with the interesting parent/child dynamic between Lee and Clementine. Now we actually play the majority of the time as Javier (Javi) instead of our young femme fatale herself, who is an integral part in the story but who only influences events and helps build a larger picture as opposed to outright commandeering the story. Once more, Telltale has proven that at any given time they can shift the point of view from even the most beloved of their characters and still keep the plot exciting and fresh and worthwhile. That’s some potent stuff. It also scares me because that means Clementine might not be the Rick Grimes we are looking for- meaning her stay in the universe may not last forever.
Daunting notions and fears aside, A New Frontier is a thrilling adventure and although at times it falls into many of the same pitfalls as previous episodes and seasons, it is the first time since Season One that I’ve truly enjoyed myself completely and been satisfied if a bit horrified by both my actions and their consequences. Although it wouldn’t be The Walking Dead without meaningful and meaningless deaths and destruction at times, I actually found myself quite satisfied by the ending I received upon completion of the season’s story- even though it cost Javi a brother and nearly an adopted son. I must really be a piece of work if I’m okay with being family first one moment but then screw over my admittedly unlikable brother and take his wife and surviving family members. But hey, it’s Telltale and we can’t always be as roguish and likable as Tales from the Borderlands or Batman.
Telltale’s biggest critique in terms of this whole episodic content delivery thing has always been the degree to which your choices matter in each episode and particularly season to season. I’ve enjoyed the little ways in which they bridge the gaps season to season and the ways in which they retrospectively go back to things that happened in the first season as opposed to simply the last episode, however I still see the glaring problem on hand. Admittedly, A New Frontier has some fan service available for those of you who still remember each and every gritty choice you made in the last two seasons of The Walking Dead as well as in some of the other downloaded segments and bonuses. However that’s not to say that there aren’t still plot points that I’d love to see addressed or be more visibly memorable to Clem and her companions than seem to be at least on the surface. A New Frontier does a wonderful job of mixing in meaningful flashbacks so what if in future seasons we could even go so far a to flash back to previously made and saved decisions at integral plot moments? Instead of a little cog and a ‘[blank] will remember that’ actually show us that moment when Clem shoots Lee or Kenny or Jane or something like that as she battles herself internally over what to do.
A New Frontier is very much the story of Javi and Javi’s family, however once you go beyond the themes of companionship and blood being thicker than water you’ll also find that it’s very much an important part of Clementine’s tale as well. A New Frontier shouldn’t so much be considered a full fledged season three as it should be essentially season two point five. It makes strides in terms of believable conversation and emotion and narrative pacing, but it also falls prey to some of the same mistakes that the first two seasons did in retrospect despite being a much smoother and more aesthetically pleasing experience. What I’m perhaps most excited about is the way in which the ending itself showcases Clementine’s development and how that is going to play into what will more than likely be her own adventure and own outing again in the next offering or next expansion or season or whatever. Through her shared experiences with Javier you get to see Clem grow into an even more adult and sure-footed version of herself and strengthen her beliefs as well as double down on her values. In a world about survival that’s something pleasant to see.
Season One holds a lot of nostalgic memories of characters and moments for me but Season Two didn’t always click and I rightfully never became too attached to characters outside of perhaps Kenny (again) and Luke. Everyone had even more visible and glaring flaws in that season than they even did in the first one but it seemed more forced and by the end of it I didn’t particularly care who lost as every decision felt like a bad one or a forced situation. Thankfully even in its darkest moments A New Frontier lightens up a little bit and provides the tensest situations with some redeemable learning points or even the no-win situations with a potentially less harsh and even less fatal factor. Yes, some of your favorite characters will develop ugly flaws or mean untimely ends but then such is the way of Kirkman’s world as is the way of many fictional worlds (I see you George R.R. Martin).
Whereas Season Two left me out in the cold quite literally, A New Frontier genuinely pleased me and I enjoyed the experience even if Javi’s family found it a hard one throughout and Clementine left with an uncertain road ahead. Despite losing David to the horde of walkers he foolishly drove into, I managed to save Gabe and Kate. I managed to rescue the majority of Richmond’s population despite angrily putting a bullet into Joan’s conniving head and ushering in a huge herd of walkers unwittingly. I managed to forge a lasting relationship with people when I needed to most, earning the respect of Jesus and the trust of Clementine and my fellow comrades in arms. Above all else, I paid for the sins of the father, mother, and brother throughout my adventure. A New Frontier pushes past the first few weeks and year of the zombie outbreak and into territory familiar to those up to date and current with the comic series. I really like the way we’ve seen little cameos from characters such as Glenn before he discovered Rick Grimes in Atlanta and Jesus as he’s out and about checking the status of his people away from the Saviors and Whisperers and other dangers.
It’ll be most intriguing to me now to see if we ever get an appearance from Clementine or other beloved and popular characters in the comics or show or vice versa. I know it’s a foolhardy dream perhaps to have and yet it’s one that would wow me anyway so long as it be faithfully done. Those are just some of my thoughts on The Walking Dead and A New Frontier in general but seeing as I am a huge fan of the property (comics in particular), I’ll always be willing to discuss details and other crazy theories and spoilers with anybody interested. Cheers.