Few games deliver a punch in the feels like Telltale’s The Walking Dead. I once bought the series’ first season as a present for my brother, author Jack Heath, and after allowing time in-between writing his latest masterpieces he sent me this text:
Also, spoilers from here on in.
That pretty much sums up The Walking Dead. The games are a constant barrage of dread, sadness and ruthless pragmatism in the face of overwhelming danger. And given it is played through Telltale’s classic choice-based, episodic gameplay, the kinds of situations you find yourself in and the decisions you make within them, will haunt you after the credits roll.
But it is also heart warming. In the first season, you play Lee Everett, a man convicted of murdering his wife’s lover but is set free by the sudden zombie apocalypse. You know, the next option after the temporary insanity plea.
Shortly afterwards, Lee comes across an abandoned house. Inside is a little girl adorably named Clementine. She’s cleverly hidden herself in her tree house, as the babysitter her parents left her with had turned into a zombie. Lee rescues her and convinces her to come with him for safety, and maybe they can find her parents in Savannah. Clementine’s bright shining hope is matched only by how depressingly unlikely it is they will ever find her parents.
For the rest of the season, Clementine is the human manifestation of Lee’s moral compass and path to redemption. Every choice you make as the player is judged by her. Do you straight up kill the cannibal farmer who has been using one of your friends for ingredients right in front of her and the group? The man deserves to be punished, but what precedent does it set for Clementine? Like it or not, she’s your daughter now and you need to raise her to survive in this world.
The game is constantly telling you when you have left an impression on Clementine. Aside from her gigantic, ridiculously innocent eyes filling with pride or fear, the message “Clementine will remember that” is a clear indicator that you just did some post-apocalyptic-surrogate-parenting.
And as is the case for all post-apocalypse-surrogate parents, it makes it all the harder then you need to tell Clementine to shoot you in the face.
In the season’s final scene, Lee has been bitten, is handcuffed to a pipe and beginning to turn. They made it to Savannah but Clementine’s parents are gone. He and Clementine are the only group left that they know about, and Lee has reached the point all parents dread: when he needs to send his little girl out into the world on her own.
Now, the decision for her to shoot is optional, maybe you want to spare Clementine that trauma, but if you’re anything like me you know that part of surviving in the zombie apocalypse is being willing to kill a loved one who’s turned.
Lee has one last chance to comfort his daughter, to tell her how to survive, before asking her to pull the trigger. This is the Holocaust museum moment. This is when you hear the feels of gamers around the world crying out.
It isn’t put it up on the screen, but you know what the result of our choice was:
Tom finds it hard to keep moisture away from his computer when writing the teary ones like this. Feel free to make fun of him on his Twitter for it :@tomdheath. For more sorrowful In Memoriams, follow LoadScreen: @load_screen.