Nothing knows quite how to ruin a good thing like The Walking Dead. Whether in game, comic, or TV format, Robert Kirkman’s tale of the real monsters stalking humanity (it’s not the dead!) has almost as much fun ripping hope away from its main cast as George R. R. Martin does planning weddings. When we last left Javier and his motley crew in Telltale’s The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Richmond’s leadership was showing its true colors leaving David’s position as chief security officer untenable.
As with the previous episodes, Thicker Than Water, starts in the past, giving us a peek at life for Javier and his family before the zombie apocalypse. During a batting cage hangout where Javier, a professional baseball player banned for betting ala Pete Rose, signs a ball for a “fan” and has the option of completely showing his brother David up while at bat, David reveals that he wants to go back to the army. Knowing full well that this will leave his family, namely Kate and his two kids, in a complete lurch, he asks Javier if they can depend on him for help. It’s a great scene, the strongest since the very first flashback where Javier’s dad “gets up” after dying in bed, and goes a long way in defining the two brothers.
It’s made even more interesting by the characterization of Javier by David up until this point. This conversation clearly takes place prior to Dad rising from the bed, and David went out of his way in the first episode to make Javier seem like he was never dependable. Juxtapose that against this conversation, where David not only plans to abandon his family, but places their care in Javier’s hands, and we get a much clearer picture of David and his need to project his own shortcomings on others.
Moving back to the present, David and Javier are both locked up after their confrontation with Joan, and David is quick to jump on Javier, both in the literal and figurative sense, regarding his actions prior to the meeting, pointing out that if he would have “just listened,” everything would have gone better. The fight that erupts is interrupted by Joan, who’s come to retrieve David for a private meeting, leaving Javier alone, with nothing but time, a loose pipe, and an adventure game’s burning desire to escape from captivity.
From there, the story escalates quickly. David’s set to be tried in front of the Richmond population at the Town Square, Tripp and Eleanor are in the middle of an awkward fight regarding Tripp and his feelings towards her, and Clementine, who had left the group during the last episode to get the hell out of Richmond, finds herself back in the mix and… bleeding.
In one of the most bittersweet exchanges in a Walking Dead game since Lee died, Clementine starts her period. As she tells Javier, she’s traveled with other women who have bled before, but she was just a kid, is still a kid, and never thought to ask why. Javier bumbles through your standard fatherly answer, telling her that she is on her way to becoming a woman, that it’s perfectly normal for someone her age, and that she should talk to Kate for a better answer back at the apartment before handing her a box of pads he found in the doctor’s office where they talked.
Having followed Clem and her adventures since she was 8 or 9, it came as a shocking reminder that Clem was not only still a child, but also having to deal with the pains of growing up in a shattered world. This point is driven home in Clementine’s own flashback, where her she deals with the aftermath of losing baby AJ to David and the New Frontier camp. She’s told in very specific terms that she is a light of hope in a world that desperately needs it, spelling out her very purpose as a character in this series.
The episode ends in chaos, and without revealing any spoilers, leaves a number of questions as to what Javier and crew actually hope to accomplish in Episode 5. Survival easily tops the list, but the situation finds both the characters and the setting, Richmond proper, without even a cluttered road out of zombie hell.
Graphically, the game fares about the same as the other episodes. While the frame rate stayed pretty constant throughout, there were multiple times where the engine’s age, despite some massive overhauls, is starting to show and wear thin. Moments like a herd of zombies moving outside Richmond’s city limits looked like cutouts against a painted backdrop, other moments, like Clementine holding a cloth over a wound Javier sustained on his arm, felt wooden and stale in a way that natural movement wouldn’t.
I would also like to take a moment to personally condemn the use of the Q key in quick time events. While it’s been a standard since the very first Walking Dead and probably beyond that, Telltale seems convinced that forcing me to slam on the key as fast as possible to equate struggle is a good way to do business. Sure it makes sense thematically, as it is difficult for my ring finger to move as fast as they want, thereby being an actual struggle. But seeing that other versions of the game, namely ones using a gamepad, aren’t forced into this kind of life or death finger gauntlet, I would like to escalate this minor quibble to downright annoyance.
With the end in sight, I feel akin to the characters in the game with regards to where the series is heading, namely, I don’t have a damn clue. Thicker Than Water was a good episode in a season that ranks only slightly below the original, and the only thing left for the team now is to wrap up what they started. Will Javier and co. survive? Will Richmond? We’ll just have to wait to find out.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!