Telltale’s ‘The Walking Dead: The Final Season’ Brilliant Send-Off Despite Stumbles


— Warning: MAJOR spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead series follow —


In 2012, California-based video game developer Telltale Games brought Robert Kirkman’s hit zombie graphic novel to life on gaming platforms everywhere with The Walking Dead. Set in Kirkman’s comic book universe, the choice-based point-and-click adventure game sold more than 1 million copies in just 20 days – to new fans and comic followers alike.

To date, the first season has collected over 100 game of the year awards, and is often recognized for revitalizing the adventure game genre with its harsh emotional tone, captivating characters, and resemblance to the original comic book, despite its graphical glitches and dated gameplay.

Since the initial release, Telltale has continued the series through multiple sequels following Clementine through a second and third season, though never quite living up to the quality of the first game. In July of 2017, the developers announced The Walking Dead: The Final Season, leaving fans excited for the conclusion to the series, but worried that the final installment would lack in comparison to the original as did its preceding sequels.

Fans were not disappointed when the first episode, Done Running, was released in August 2018. In this final season, players follow a now-teenaged Clementine and a young boy, AJ, she has promised to protect and look after. The story follows the duo as they encounter a new community of children and teenagers, known as Ericson’s School for Troubled Youth, as well as their problems. It is a refreshing take on the series, as throughout Clementine’s journey she has been surrounded by adults; seeing her interact and lead alongside those her own age is new and interesting. The gameplay and graphics are also much improved, and the addition of player collectibles is a fun touch.

The season continued when the second episode of the season, Suffer The Children, was released, but not before some shocking news: Telltale Games was shutting down, and their crew of over 250 employees was laid off without severance. Due to mismanagement, poor employee treatment, and overall lack of money, the company closed its doors before The Final Season was fully released.

Suffer The Children was an enjoyable, well-paced episode, shocking fans with Lilly (first appearing in season 1) as the main antagonist, AJ’s troubling beliefs, a budding teenage romance, and a gut-wrenching ultimatum. Despite being an excellent episode, the installment left a sour taste in fans’ mouths as the series was unexpectedly cut short.

But soon after, determined to bring closure to both fans and creators, Skybound games, founded by Robert Kirkman and overseers of The Walking Dead franchise, swooped in and saved the day by pledging to complete the final two episodes of the game – with many core members of the original Final Season team. Episode three, Broken Toys, was released in January, and fans were not disappointed.

The action-packed penultimate episode is arguably one of the best in the game’s history. The choices start to really feel meaningful, specifically your final choice of who to save from kidnapping in Suffer The Children, which greatly impacts the interactions this episode. Broken Toys is brilliantly broken up into pieces, giving players both heartwarming scenes of laughter and love as well as traumatically disheartening realizations. (We are also given a flashback featuring Lee from the original game, which might as well be both.) We are given the twisted tale of what happened to two former Ericson students, and it ends with yet another excruciatingly difficult choice, this time one greatly affecting AJ’s humanity: take the chance and have him kill Lilly, or spare what’s left of his innocence and leave her alive. It’s been a long time since The Walking Dead has given us the option to directly decide who lives and who dies – and this one is far from easy.

The final episode, Take Us Back (named after the song that plays in the original game’s final credits), was released on March 26. The episode is shorter than the rest in the series at just over 90 minutes, and consequently feels a bit rushed, at least in comparison. Though it’s understandable, as the Skybound team was likely pressed for time, and the fact that the episode was ever released at all is something fans should be grateful for.

The episode is by no means bad because of this; we are given some excellent sequences – including a chilling bridge sequence with nearly zombified Minerva, some humorous dialogue options between Clementine and her chosen best friend/love interest, and a heartbreaking scene in which Clem, bitten, injured, and sickly, begs for AJ to either leave her behind or end her suffering (depending on player choices) – a not-so-subtle parallel to Lee’s final moments in the first game.

Take Us Back wraps up satisfyingly, giving players a chance to play as AJ and revealing, however cheesily, that Clementine is in fact alive – AJ was able to amputate her lower leg in the barn, going against Clem’s strict orders and saving her life. This was ultimately the right route for Skybound (and Telltale) to go, as killing her in the same fashion as Lee would be predictable and lazy, but it’s the way they wind up there that is frustrating. For one, the episode fails to explain exactly how 4-foot-tall AJ was able to safely amputate Clem’s leg and bring her safely through a herd of walkers back the school (it was later explained by one of the creators in a Reddit thread, though this doesn’t do much good for players who don’t scour the internet for answers). There is also a surprising lack of main character deaths in this episode, which just feels a little too good to be true.

All in all, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is a satisfying conclusion and a brilliant send-off to the beloved Clementine, though it is clear that the journey in between is what makes The Walking Dead such an emotionally captivating series, rather than her final hour or so on screen.