Spoilers Ahead: As we speak about the whole of Season 3 of The Walking Dead, understand that there will be spoilers. You have been warned.
It’s not often that anything related to The Walking Dead leaves you feeling hopeful. I remember the dread at the end of Season 1, watching as Clem looked out towards the horizon line, people coming into view, and knowing that, more likely than not, those were not friends and Clem was not safe. At the end of Season 2, as I left Clem and Jane in charge of their own small sanctuary, there was always the specter of death hovering over them, and though Clem did not give into despair, Jane did.
Though, with A New Frontier, I might actually have hope that, while things will never be alright, they may, even for however small a time, not be heartbreaking. The end of Episode 4 left Richmond in a terrible state, with the wall breached, the citizenry in chaos, and Javier desperately staring at burning truck that Kate was last seen driving. Episode 5, From the Gallows, doesn’t pick up exactly there, opting to again start with a flashback. Joining a dominoes game in media res, the flashback encompasses a single conversation between Javier, David, and their father, obviously pre-zombieing. Having been shamed by David for not having enough cash to cover his losses, Javier finds a doctor’s note in his father’s wallet, who told him that he had enough to take care of his son.
The letter reveals that Dad has cancer, and his not sharing this revelation starts a fight between the three men. There’s a choice to either agree with David, that Dad should fight the disease, or agree with Dad, that it’s his life and he should do what makes him happy. I sided with Dad, which caused David to storm out, and Dad to chastise me for not sticking with my brother. He made me promise, no matter what, to try and repair the breached relationship, because family is everything.
Back in Richmond, Kate survives the crash and the group manages to escape the herd by entering the main building. While deciding what to do, a bystander pulls a gun on Javi, threatening to kill him because his actions killed the bystander’s daughter. David freaks out, and the group pushes him out, forcing a confrontation on the roof between Javi and his brother. There are a few of these throughout this episode, but this one felt the most real, a calm, rational conversation between brothers who have reached the ends of their ropes, not necessarily with each other, but with the situation, life has thrown at them. David reacts to things like a soldier, or so he says, while Javier feels his way through. In one of those rare introspective moments, David wishes he could be more like his brother.
Once they all get to the roof, a plan to save Richmond is set into motion. The outer wall, breached when Kate crashed the armored car at the end of Episode 4, needs to be blocked so the walkers can be cleared. David points to some old construction equipment that they can get to by walking along the rooftops. What follows is a series of rooftop obstacles, that ends with perhaps the most insane of set pieces, one tailor made to thin the group by at least one member. A span of highway, which they reached by crossing a sign from the rooftops, has fallen apart due to a helicopter crash, and the helicopter is stuck in the hole, blades at just the right height for the group to use to swing across the gap.
They decide to go by weight, one at a time, as a portion of the herd starts to slide up behind them. I don’t need to tell you how this ends, as you have most likely already worked out the end of the scenario in your head. On top of it, the death also cheapens the tent pole choice of Episode 4, marking the death of its survivor as nothing more than a footnote rather than any kind of emotional loss.
I can’t stress enough how disappointing this moment was. The choice, and the betrayal of choice that followed, felt like one of those rare moments where the game series surpassed both pieces of source material, comic and show, and to see it all come to nothing, in the end, encapsulates the gritty reality of The Walking Dead, and everything broken with this kind of narrative. The situation seems to repeat itself with one of Episode 5’s final choices, one in which Javi chooses to an action while Clem assigns herself to the remaining one. It’s a nice moment and the first in which myself, as the decider, felt that both ends of this horrid situation might actually be covered.
Sadly, not only were they not covered, but the situation I was not present for, including the death of another character, was seemingly glossed over, with neither it, nor a narrative describing it, appearing on screen. Does this mean that the characters not dead? Probably, though the narrative trickery required to make sure this person doesn’t immediately come back to Richmond would make Penn & Teller nervous.
Despite what feels like some sloppy story decisions, the actual ending, and pretty bad ass epilogue, left me feeling like everything might not turn out so bad. Javier lost nearly everything that was important to him over the course of A New Frontier, but being given the option to end with a positive look to the future goes a long way in making me care about the next season. And per the credits, Clementine will return.
In regards to ending with hope, I also hope that another entry in their signature franchise means that we might see a new graphics engine. While Telltale finally looks like they are getting the hang of their own tech, with Episode 5 being the most impressive of the bunch in regards to stable framerates and graphical glitches, there has to come a point where something changes and the series, and Telltale as a whole moves on.
So, after another 5 episodes of The Walking Dead, where does that leave us? For what it was, A New Frontier left me satisfied that Telltale has not run out of stories to tell in this world. The family-centered narrative, told from the perspective of new characters, with familiar characters adding flavor as NPCs, really worked, and for the first time since about halfway through Season 2, I’m not dreading more of these. This does not mean that TWD is not without its problems, and I can only hope that more stories mean lead to more new opportunities, with less reliance on stale cliches just to fulfill some character death count.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!