I didn’t think we’d be here. I was quite honest about that in my review for Episode 2 of The Walking Dead: The Final Season. And yet, just like the titular world its story is based on, The Final Season found new life after its seeming death, led out of its shallow grave by Robert Kirkman’s own Skybound Games. And so, here are my thoughts on Episode 3: Broken Toys. Some light spoilers to follow.
The story picks up just after Clementine and the group of troubled youths defend their school from Lily’s raiders. The kids, minus Violet, who was taken during the raid of the school, and another student who was shot, regroup to try and decide how they are going to get their friends back against the seemingly overwhelming odds that Lily’s Raiders present. And that means getting information from the prisoner they captured during the raid: Abel, the bible passage smoking raider that Clementine first ran into during Episode 1.
Back in the basement where Marlon’s initial sin of trading the twins for peace was discovered, Clementine and AJ are dropped into an impossible situation of having to torture someone for intel. Not only that, but Abel is smart, and not afraid to call what he believes are the bluffs of a child. How far you are willing to go is up to you, and while the few choices I made did get me the information I desired, I was nonetheless left with the impression that AJ took more out of the torture than I would have liked.
Broken Toys is filled with small quiet moments that work and earn the time you spend in them, but this torture scene just feels mean, something written just to continue to drive home that Clem and AJ are kids forced to deal with the worst humanity has to offer. There’s no reason AJ should be there watching this from the beginning, and feels like an exceptionally cheap use of the “will remember” prompt.
The other smaller moments leading to the eventual climax of the episode work much better. There’s another scene where the remaining kids get together to play a game that eventually ends in one of them giving up a hidden truth about themselves to Clem, and we get to spend some more time with James, the ex-Whisperer, and learn about why he believes that the Walkers are worth saving. That’s one of the more affecting scenes I’ve experienced in the whole series, and for once let’s the Walkers be more than just moving horror props.
My favorite moment, however, is one that occurs right before the climax, and one which I will spoil here. Clem falls asleep after talking to AJ, and we’re treated to what looks like a flashback at first. The scene is aboard the train from the first season, and Clem is little again, staring wistfully out of the open train car door. Out of the shadows walks Lee, and I am not lying when I share that even writing this, my eyes tear up. The two talk about Clem’s worries, about how even though she though Lee always knew the right thing to do, he was just winging it, hoping to come out ahead at the end. They embrace and Clem grows up to her Final Season self, and Lee jokingly chides her for letting her hair grow out some. He tells her that she will save the kids because that is who she is, and the others follow her because she gives them hope.
That hope, that ray of light in the tremendous darkness that is The Walking Dead, has been what’s always propelled me forward through Clementine’s story. It’s that hope that everything will eventually work out for her, even though this season seems to be steadily speeding towards the moment where AJ will be forced to make the same choice she was with Lee and she can only hope that she’s taught him enough. Throughout the episode, it also starts to spell out whether just teaching AJ to survive is enough of a life to live for, or if it’s even possible to eek out something more.
The climax is one of the better actions scenes that The Walking Dead has put forward, and it delivers for the most part. I was a bit upset at the end, as there is at least one senseless death that seemed thrown in just to remind you that any choice you make has consequences, but there were also some really great moments, including one that calls back to Lily’s father Larry, and his incredible death during the first season. For the first time that I can recall as well, you are given the option to knock out the Raiders instead of simply ending their life, and I wonder how that will play into the overall narrative as this train comes to the end of its track.
With one episode left, I’m left wondering where The Final Season will leave us. I’m happy that we’re going to be given the chance to find out rather than having the story left to the ether, but now I’m left with nothing but foreboding. Will Clem and AJ make it out alive? Will it end as the first season did, with AJ left watching Clem turn, and the final choice being whether or not he takes her life? I don’t know, but whether or not we find out is now no longer the issue.
Reviewer and Editor for Darkstation by day, probably not the best superhero by night. I mean, look at that costume. EEK!