***ATTENTION: As the title of this article implies, we will be delving into SPOILER territory with “In Harm’s Way”: the new episode of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead. We urge you to play the game before you read this article. We promise it’s good and if you need proof you can check out our spoiler-free review of Episode One, “All That Remains”. You have been warned.***
With the imminent finale of The Walking Dead: Season Two arriving in the next few days, it feels like the perfect time to reflect on the happenings of the penultimate chapter: “Amid the Ruins”. This season has been pitch perfect so far, but with the death of uber-villain Bill Carver and the utter chaos of an invading zombie horde; the conclusion of the previous installment left me feeling as if I was on uneven footing. The game had lost its direction, because the supposed central antagonist had already been offed in a rather dramatic fashion. Luckily, Episode Four maintains the taunt pacing the series is known for, while continuing to explore Clem’s newfound – and unexpected – leadership.
The beginning of “Amid the Ruins” will vary greatly depending on the final decision you made in “In Harm’s Way”. Stuck escaping through a massive crowd of Walkers, Clementine witnesses Sarita being bitten by a particularly vicious assailant. The player can then choose whether or not to kill the zombie or chop off Sarita’s hand; a spur of the moment decision that must be made quickly. My Clementine took out the Walker in hopes of preventing further attacks, but when Kenny arrived to sweep away his injured girlfriend, Clem was left alone.
Stumbling cautiously between dozens of undead thralls, she is eventually grabbed by Rebecca; who has also managed to be cut off from the rest of the group. The pregnant woman had been abrasive early on, but her desperation after Alvin’s death has largely transformed her into a sympathetic figure. She’s lost and afraid, almost to the point of giving up; an excellent parallel to Christa’s position all the way back in Episode One.
But with Rebecca, there’s hope. She could still have the baby. Any new life in this world of death is a small push against the growing darkness.
Finally, the duo comes across another survivor – Jane – whose harsh and stand-offish demeanor makes her seem more prepared than anyone else for these kinds of conditions. At first, she is hesitant to clump together; for fear that the smell of three humans will overwhelm the odor of entrails covering their bodies. But in the “Bad Ass Moment of the Week”, Jane tears off the jaw of one of the Walkers and proceeds to use it as a barrier against the rest of the horde. This is the perfect escape mechanism and soon Clementine, Jane, and Rebecca are safely strolling in the woods to their next destination.
Jane is compelling because she almost feels like a flash-forward. In ten years, Clementine could easily become a woman as cold, distant, and hardy as her new companion. In fact, this whole season has become less about basic survival instincts and more about the battle for Clem’s soul. She could stew in her anger like Kenny and become a powder keg of emotion. She could reject this world entirely and become as naïve as Sarah. She could use her natural leadership skills to prey on the weak like Carver. Or she could continue relying on the practical wisdom of Lee; trying to be the best possible person in the worst of situations. It’s easy to admire Jane’s tenacious capabilities, but what will Clementine have to sacrifice to become her equivalent?
When they arrive at Parker’s Run, an old civil war battlefield, they are welcomed by Mike and Bonnie. Bonnie is still difficult to trust after her heinous betrayal in “A House Divided”, but given how dire the current circumstance is, Clem is forced to make peace with her. They explain that Luke, Nick, and Sarah disappeared after the escape run and Jane is quick to doubt that they survived. Perhaps more importantly, Kenny and Sarita made it out safely. Unfortunately, Sarita is also rapidly deteriorating from her infected bite. Kenny is not taking it well and the group asks if Clementine could speak to her old friend in hopes of mending fences and continuing on the road.
It’s clear that Kenny is not ready to lose another loved-one. Duck and Katja are gone. Lee is gone. Ben is gone. Few characters have seen as much on-screen loss as Kenny. Sitting with Sarita dying on his lap, he is obviously ready to snap; but we’ve never him so angry at Clementine before. This is the first time she’s truly had to answer for her actions. I was a bit taken aback by the scolding and even began to wonder whether or not I’d be able to win Kenny back as a friend. It was a tough, memorable interaction that while small, seemed to have endless implications.
Rather than remain at camp, Jane and Clementine choose to go searching for Luke, Nick, and Sarah. On the way, Jane gives Clem some important advice. She can see that the group is cracking. She knows that sooner or later Clementine will be on her own. This could actually be advantageous. In her experience, every group falls apart and the more attached you get to anyone in this new world, the more likely you are to perish at the fault of your own emotions. Jane explains that it might be easier to live a solitary life; but after all that other people have done to help Clementine along the way, I found it hard to accept her argument.
Eventually, they come across a trailer park and the familiar screams of Sarah echo through the air. Clementine and Jane find a hole in the barbed-wire fence surrounding the park, where a zombified Nick has been impaled on a post. Nick has never been a favorite of mine. In fact, he was the defacto Ben of this season, essentially an inept character that serves the purpose of turning the plot on a dime because of their weighty mistakes. Still, it’s never easy to watch Clem take a life (or an unlife, in this case) and Jane insists that she do it this time to prepare for the harshness of life in the wilderness.
Once inside, Jane teaches her eager student a new method to eliminate Walkers. By sweeping them at the knee and stabbing them in the back of the head, there is no danger of being bitten. With every trick-of-the-trade she espouses, Jane becomes easier to respect. She is perhaps the most adaptable person Clementine has met since Molly back in Savannah.
Sarah’s cries are coming from a mobile home that is surrounded by the undead, but Clementine manages to distract them by dropping a body onto a car horn. The sound draws the horde, allowing Jane and Clem to sneak into the trailer. This kind of innovative thinking is becoming typical for our heroine and demonstrates how wits and intelligence can sometimes be more important than strength and size. Unfortunately, Sarah is catatonic and unable to move or even respond. Her father’s death was her breaking point and Luke has been unable to rouse her attention. Clementine speaks briefly with Sarah, trying to console her and make her feel safe; but the Walkers start to breach the front door and the only way out is to climb through the sky light.
As the zombies burst in, it’s up to Clementine to decide whether or not Sarah deserves to live. Perhaps she is just not meant for this kind of world. But I couldn’t leave a little girl behind. Clementine slaps Sarah, which earns her attention long enough to climb up the bookcase and up onto the roof. Luke hauls the girls out and they make a mad dash back into the woods. Sarah is still quiet on the way back and Luke is reeling from the loss of Nick, but the dangerous journey feels like a momentary success.
Unfortunately, matters at the camp have gotten worse. Rebecca’s water has broken and the baby is coming sooner than anyone had thought. No one is prepared to help Rebecca through the complexities of the labor process, but Clem knows that Kenny had a family and at least has some experience with birth. Alas, he is still locked up inside his tent, tending to Sarita.
Clementine cautiously approaches the structure and makes her way inside. The anger is gone from Kenny’s eyes. The sadness has taken over. He’s still resentful of all that has taken place, but he understands that he’s the only one who can help. If nothing else, Kenny is good at feigning calmness while a fury rages inside of him. I was truly concerned that he’d completely lose his mind after this last terrible loss, so it was good to see him collect himself for long enough to bring a baby into the world. The group scatters to find a clean, safe place for Rebecca; somewhere that the Walkers won’t hear the cries of a newborn.
Jane and Clem discover an old observation deck that’s high off the ground and relatively isolated. A padlock keeps much of the structure inaccessible, but it is only a small obstacle to the ever-thrifty Jane. While she works on the lock, Clementine spots a mysterious figure approaching the deck. They hide as a young man with a terrible limp attempts to deposit a bag into a nearby trash can. Clem attempts to make contact, but the boy – Arvo – spins around and points a gun directly at her. She tries to calm him down, assuring him that she means no harm; but Jane takes the initiative, sneaking from behind to steal the weapon and his bag of goodies.
Inside is a load of valuable medication that could be used to help with Rebecca’s painful birthing process. But Arvo cries that the pills are for his ailing sister and that she needs them to survive. Jane is reasonably skeptical, but Clementine can practically hear Lee’s ethical voice in her head. The last time she stole from someone, she ended up in the custody of a madman. Clementine allows Arvo to take the medicine back to his camp, but Jane threatens him and tells him never to return to this place. It’s an aggressive move that Clem doesn’t entirely agree with. She was trying to make peace and Jane may have brought war.
Clementine proceeds to search for Mike and Bonnie, who went exploring an old civil museum for supplies. She finds an old Confederate uniform that can be used as a suitable blanket and spots a few canisters of water in an office that is protected by a gate. Bonnie and Mike are quick to ask if Clem thinks she can fit underneath the metal door; and for the first time, Clementine can reject the adult’s request. She’s always the one who has to sneak into small spaces and take initiative, so it’s easy to reason that she might be tired of being taken advantage of. But in my case, it made the most sense. Climbing through the tight opening, Clem is met by a nasty Walker, whom Mike is quick to dispatch.
The scare is enough to send them running back to camp with the water in tow, but as they’re about to leave, Bonnie spots a raccoon. The idea of a fresh-cooked rodent seems terribly appealing to the hungry survivors and they attempt to catch the animal. But when it’s revealed that the raccoon is the mother of two, their appetites are diminished. The rest of the animal kingdom seems to be doing just fine in the face of this virus. Only humans are truly infected. Man has been knocked down a few pegs on the food chain and this is a painful reminder. A Walker would not hesitate to devour a living soul.
Rebecca’s labor has been growing in intensity and her screams of pain begin to attract nearby Walkers. With all of the necessary equipment prepared, the entire group dashes to the observation deck. There, they find Jane and Luke in their skivvies, having just had a fling with the erotic. Kenny explodes, blaming Luke’s lack of attention for the incoming hordes, but the infighting only serves as a distraction. The tension between Luke and Kenny is starting fray what little of a relationship they had to begin with. Clementine will probably be forced to choose between these two men at some point in the near future; a decision that will be nearly impossible to make.
With Walkers surrounding the platform and beginning to climb the walls, hope grows dim. Clementine attempts to seal the breaking gate by pushing an old cannon towards it. Unfortunately, the weight of the weapon is too much for the rotted wood of the observation deck to handle and the whole thing collapses, tossing Jane and Sarah overboard. Luke grabs a hold of Jane, but Clementine insists that she save Carlos’ little girl.
Jane pulls on the rubble that has pinned Sarah to the ground, but a plank from the deck falls and knocks her briefly unconscious. Without enough time to do anything else, Sarah is quickly devoured by the Walkers. As unstable as she was, it’s a terrifying sight. Clementine started her journey in a similar place. They were both naïve young girls growing up in a rapidly more sadistic world. But Carlos had chosen to cover Sarah’s eyes from the horrors and so she was not prepared to deal with life without him. In many ways, Sarah’s death is a release from the hell she was born into. It’s sad, but she will no longer have to suffer the pain of being innocent.
Jane leaps back into Luke’s arms and is pulled up just before the rest of the deck caves in. With no available stairway, the group is finally safe from the undead threat. Rebecca, after hours of labor, gives birth to her child.
The Walking Dead has destroyed so many lives in the last few episodes: Omid, Pete, Walter, Alvin, Reggie, Carlos, Nick, and Sarah. But the somber overtone that the game is known for is quickly rejected when the baby wakes up and smiles at his new mother. There’s something beautiful about this group of flawed individuals coming together to bring new life into the world. All of the past tragedies seem to fade into the distance, if only briefly. This is one of the series’ most powerful moments. Despite all of the things that could’ve wrong along the way, the baby is alive.
However, the tranquility can never last long. Jane makes a quick exit. She’s already too attached to the group and knows that sooner or later, this momentary joy will end. It’s a true shame that Jane had to be so haunted by her past. Clementine could’ve been a great ally to her. But being that she’s still alive, there’s always the chance we’ll see her again in the future. Clem has taken all of the appropriate lessons from her short-term mentor and discarded most of those that did not suit her personality.
After his rendezvous with Jane, Luke is particularly distraught over her leaving and his vocal dissatisfaction rouses Kenny’s ire. The two are at each other’s throats again before sunrise. What little peace there was, is gone for now.
Finally, the group begins their trek northward into beating cold and thick snow. Rebecca is noticeably weakened, her features dull and her face pale. The pace is simply too much for the new mother and she collapses to the ground. As Kenny and Luke sit her down to rest, a crowd of Russians surround them, guns drawn. Arvo is with them and he insists that they turn Jane over to their custody. When Clementine reveals that Jane had left the night before, Arvo reconsiders his tactics. The barrels of the weapons drop. However, Clementine hears a startling sound coming from Rebecca’s direction. In an instant, she had died and transformed into a zombie; with her baby still in her arms.
Clem makes a horrifying call and shoots Rebecca in her forehead. Soon, a volley of gunshots goes off and we are left wondering who is among the dead.
It’s a fitting, if confusing, ending to this terrific episode. Enough moments of levity kept “Amid the Ruins” from wallowing in its otherwise tragic and disturbing story arc; with developments that will doubtlessly have a far reaching impact. We don’t know why there is a band of Russian militants tracking through the snow-covered South. We don’t know if Rebecca really was a Walker. We don’t know how many of our compatriots are filled with bullet holes. All of this is left to be revealed and if last season is any indication, we are in for one hell of a ride in the finale.
But what we do know is that Clementine’s innate intelligence, charm, and persistence have seen her grow from an innocent little girl to a determined young woman. It can be scary to see how easily she has taken to killing Walkers, how coldly she responds to the death of those around her. Still, she has done her best to make the right decisions. Lee would be proud.
Ultimately, we will be responsible for her fate. Will she become Jane? Or Kenny? Or Carver? Or will she continue to be just our beloved Clementine?
Time will tell for all of us.