Image: Telltale Games, IGDB

An Epitaph for The Walking Dead

In but a matter of days the final season of Telltale’s Walking Dead will commence. A series that has been with us since 2012, that’s eight years ago, will begin to travel down its final road. There will be other Telltale series to give us our shell-shaded fix, but I think it’s fair to say many of us will miss this narratively impressive first outing for an indie company. That said, Season 4 also seems like a good place to end the series, without it limping onwards in a zombified manner towards an overdue end that its silver screen counterpart has been doing. So, what then is the legacy of Telltale’s flagship series, if it is not an overdue one?

First things first let’s discuss the most glaring criticism of Telltale’s Walking Dead. Although from time to time it may give you a choice or a ‘such and such will remember that’ caption, you, the player, have very little impact on the story. Things often end up playing almost exactly the same, with perhaps a few dialogue differences, or if there are changes things usually end up back to where they would be if you’d chosen otherwise an episode or so down the line. Yet, you can say this of all of Telltale’s games and yet they remain interesting and enjoyable experiences from start to finish. Taken with a pinch of salt, these choices remain an entertaining game mechanic simply by the virtue that there are a few small differences that come with them and, of course, the screen that comes up at the end of all episodes to compare your choices with other players, always a fascinating experience.

Taken with a pinch of salt, these choices remain an entertaining game mechanic

The episodic formula is also an interesting one. On the one hand, it harks back to the source material, the Walking Dead graphic novels and indeed the TV show, that too come out in regular installments, but also prevents the game from feeling too repetitive and keeps us invested in the story and characters. Other games, for example, Until Dawn and Life is Strange, have also experimented with this formula since and this could very well be used by other companies trying out new concepts and themes with their video games, by offering them the freedom to do so without the economic necessity to develop an entire full game.

Image: Telltale Games, IGDB

The voice acting throughout was hardly perfect. Starting with a high-point with Lee in the first series I must admit I’m not entirely on board with the stunted and oddly childlike sound behind Clem’s character. In fact, the entire series has been dotted with quite a few under-par performances. But for the most part they hold up and the script is usually good enough to carry them through to their various conclusions. As well as this, Telltale’s Walking Dead has carried us through a number of years of the zombie apocalypse and given us an eclectic look at many perspectives across its world. Therefore, unlike other apocalyptic video games such as the Last of Us, we have been offered a thorough look into this nightmarish scenario that gives the series a richness perhaps only rivaled by its own graphic novel. A pretty impressive feat for such a little developer.

It’s difficult to deny, except perhaps among the grumpiest of gamers, that the series hasn’t been a joy to experience

Has Telltale’s Walking Dead been perfect from start to finish? No. Is the promise of crafting your own story really ever met? No. Is the acting always Oscar award-winning quality? No. Yet it’s difficult to deny, except perhaps among the grumpiest of gamers, that the series hasn’t been a joy to experience from start to finish… except for the depressing parts of course but if Game of Thrones has taught us anything it’s that we, the public, are more robust at dealing with that than we give ourselves credit for. The episodic format is additive and there’s a reason why other developers are going down that route. The series stands strongly among its two counterparts, the TV show, and the graphic novel, while also enabling the unique medium of video games to keep moments of it strongly resonating with you. This season offers a beautifully cyclical way of ending the series, as Clem adopts a similar guardianship role that her own protector, Lee, did in the first season. Therefore, I hope to enjoy the next year or so of Walking Dead’s traumas, choices and emotional baggage with high expectations of a thrilling and interesting closure.

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