***ATTENTION: As the title of this article implies, we will be delving into SPOILER territory with “In Sheep’s Clothing”: the new episode of Telltale Games’ The Wolf Among Us. 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, “Faith”. You have been warned.***
The Wolf Among Us has been a thrilling neon-soaked journey into Bill Willingham’s Fables universe. It’s proven that Telltale Games’ has a winning formula; one that can be improved and innovated over time. Despite the frequent delays between episodes, it feels like just yesterday when Bigby Wolf’s sordid investigation began and I, for one, am sad to see it come to an end. The game has had its rocky moments, but there is no escaping its electric visual style, charismatically compelling characters, and darkly woven narrative.
The final episode, “Cry Wolf”, is an adrenaline pumping conclusion that brilliantly closes Bigby’s character arc and brings a degree of justice to the denizens of Fabletown. It isn’t perfect, but it soundly wraps up the loose threads that have been dangling throughout the series, while relishing in breakneck action scenes that leave the player breathless and longing for just a little more.
It should be noted – before we get into spoiler territory – that because this is the last installment of the series, “Cry Wolf” probably has the most variation in terms of story output. Therefore, my version of Wolf Among Us could be very different from yours.
Stuck in a pocket dimension with just about everyone who’s kicked his ass over the last few days, Bigby starts this installment in a heap of trouble. He finally gains an audience with the Crooked Man, a surprisingly docile and dapper gentleman who carries a hidden fury behind his eyes. At last, we have a chance to get to know the mastermind behind all the mayhem. He isn’t overtly a monster. In fact, he makes some decent arguments for his enterprise: not every Fable can afford the expensive glamours from the 13th Floor. But the Crooked Man’s greatest advantage is the loyalty of his subjects and victims. In one way or another, they are all codependent.
This is particularly evident when The Crooked Man announces that it was Georgie who committed the heinous decapitations. Quickly, his followers turn on the glorified pimp; practically throwing him into the arms of the sheriff in order to protect themselves. In this brief moment, the despicable Georgie is almost sympathetic as he fights for his life (with only Vivian to back him up). He may have committed the act, but it’s clear that it wasn’t of his own volition.
The Crooked Man uses the chaos of the argument to his advantage, summoning Bloody Mary through a mirror. Mary immediately attacks the oblivious Bigby and violence erupts amongst the rest of the henchmen. It’s a frantic and brutal scene as the Jersey Devil and the Tweedles join in on the beating, allowing the Crooked Man and Bloody Mary to escape through a hidden portal. Georgie and Vivian follow quickly behind, hoping to cover their tracks and keep the sheriff off their tail; but ostensibly abandoning their employer to his fate.
Again, Bigby resorts to his bestial form – a trick that has started to feel all too typical. We’ve seen his rage get the best of him over and over again and the shock of the transformation has worn thin. It would almost be more surprising if he attempted to contain the beast and use his formidable mind to defeat his opponents instead. I understand that a major theme of The Wolf Among Us is Bigby’s struggle with his past identity, but in this critical moment, it would’ve been interesting to have the choice to subdue his base instincts. Regardless, the ensuing battle is energetic and tense, ranking amongst the best of the series. It’s truly satisfying to see all of Fabletown’s biggest scumbags in a heap on the floor.
Once the goons have been dispatched, Bigby leaps through the rapidly closing portal and spots the escape vehicles for both the Crooked Man and Georgie Porgie. He can choose whether or not to chase the puppet-master or the true murderer. The sheriff dashes through the streets of New York in his most hulking form; jumping from rooftop to rooftop, bounding between cars, and tossing himself from the edge of bridges. The whole sequence is a testament to everything that Telltale has learned while working on this game. The suspense is palpable, the decisions have significant weight, and the twitchy quick-time mechanics are deliciously fun.
Tracking Georgie back to the Pudding & Pie, Bigby finds Vivian mending her friend’s wounds. She defends Georgie’s actions, claiming that he had been working under the direct orders of The Crooked Man. When Faith and Lily had announced their intentions to leave the organization, Georgie was instructed to kill them to insight fear amongst anyone who would engage in similar behavior. The ribbons around their neck had been The Crooked Man’s means of control, promising silence and obedience from the girls; but most importantly, it’s revealed they had been made by Vivian – the original Girl with the Ribbon. I had always suspected that this little known fairy tale heroine would be revealed as the source of these sinister accessories. Her tragic tale is a perfect fit for the seedy underbelly of this world. She’s absolutely believable as a forgotten member of the community.
But Vivian’s misfortune is not purely in the past. Devastated by the guilt from her own part in the murders – as well as her contribution to the Crooked Man’s cause – she decides to end the curse on her friends once and for all. Georgie pleads with her to reconsider and the genuine affection between these two misfits is becomes achingly poignant. One of the game’s most despicable figures becomes it’s most pitiful. Vivian pulls the tie of the ribbon and her head falls from her shoulders. It’s as heartrending an image as it is disturbing and I found myself choking up over this ultimate sacrifice. The bloodied and beaten Georgie begs for death as a result of his loss, but I couldn’t bring myself to add another body to the count. Murder is a line I wouldn’t allow my Bigby to cross. In his final moments, Georgie reveals that The Crooked Man’s headquarters is an abandoned steel plant on the edge of town.
Sheppard Metalworks is quiet and unassuming when Bigby first arrives. The dark hallways, winding corridors and feeble catwalks feel like the perfect place for a final confrontation with Fabletown’s worst scum. Words of hostility begin to echo through the high ceilings as Bigby explores: Bloody Mary’s attempts to intimidate. The sheriff cautiously continues his investigation, discovering a collection of photographs that include Snow White, Nerissa, Faith and himself. The Crooked Man had been stalking them all along, keeping efficient tabs on any enemy that could bring down his empire. But when Bigby stumbles upon a room dedicated to crafting silver bullets, it becomes even more personal. It’s as if they had planned to take him down like a rabid dog. He’s vulnerable. One more sliver of silver near his heart and he’d be a dead man.
Mary attacks swiftly, drawing the sheriff out into the open so she can reveal her true form: a brutish and disturbing specter covered in shards of glass with blood trickling from every wound. This is the kind of reveal I had hoped for with The Crooked Man; an innovative visual take on a classic character from children’s nightmares. Bloody Mary is truly horrific and her arcane abilities make her seem unstoppable. She replicates herself, severely outnumbering the singular detective. Bigby rears his claws in defense, but is quickly overwhelmed and pinned to the ground; cuts and bruises covering his body. For the first time in The Wolf Among Us, he seems weakened and out of control. Our hero is inching closer to defeat at the hands of a bloodthirsty madwoman.
As mentioned above, we’ve seen Bigby don his wolf form many times before – perhaps too many times. It almost feels like an innate reflex to stress at this point. But the game has one more surprise up its sleeve. It turns out that we’ve only seen shades of the creature the sheriff once was. Bloody Mary’s assault brings out the real deal: The Big. Bad. Wolf. Bigby grows five times his size, his eyes glow with white hot fury and his jaw tears at Mary’s clones like scissors through paper. It’s an impressive, surprising moment where the depth of Bigby’s power finally comes into focus. If there’s one iconic moment in the entirety of The Wolf Among Us, this stunning transformation is probably it. This is why everyone is so afraid him: he’s a god-like representation of the terrible supremacy of nature. Using a huff-and-puff of wind, Bigby blows apart most of his foes and shatters the final incarnation of Mary between his massive teeth. She is one sadistic Fable that world is much better without.
Shrinking back to normal size, Bigby darts after the Crooked Man who cowers in his office with a loaded gun. Six silver bullets fill the revolver, but with no one left to protect him; Crooked is willing to turn himself in if he can face a jury of his peers. He’s smart enough to know that even with Bigby dead, his chances of escaping justice are slim. His quick wits and charismatic appeal, however, might be enough to sway public opinion in his favor. But despite his atrocious crimes, I wasn’t able to kill The Crooked Man. Like Georgie, he was too pitiful to sentence to a hasty execution. I wanted him to answer for the murders of Faith and Lily and to face those who had loved them.
The citizens of Fabletown cry out for punishment. Surrounding the Witching Well, everyone from Beauty to Grendel to Aunty Greenleaf has shown up to witness the trial of the infamous Crooked Man; each of them having been impacted by his dastardly attempts at control. Still, he wields his charm like a pointed sword, reminding everyone that he provided a necessary service: glamours and monetary support for the downtrodden. He also suggests that the corruption of the Business Office under Snow White and Ichabod Crane was potentially more dangerous than his own operation. After all, The Crooked Man wasn’t responsible for killing the prostitutes – it was Georgie Porgie. In that case, shouldn’t Snow White be held responsible for Bigby’s actions? With no evidence to suggest he ordered the murders – save for the words of a dead woman – there is little to connect Crooked to the crime.
Even for the player, his arguments are mildly convincing. It’s not a typical trial by any means, but you can understand why so many of his victims remained under his thumb for so long. This penultimate sequence ramps up the anxiety by throwing the responsibility on Snow and Bigby. For a moment, it feels like there could be a mutiny. The Crooked Man could go free and the authority figures could be sent falling to their death. After an episode fueled by action and violence, this dialogue driven debate is a wonderful change of pace that doesn’t dial down the suspense.
But luckily, Nerissa bursts in with newfound courage, having been freed from the curse of the ribbon around her neck. She reveals that she was in the room when The Crooked Man ordered the decapitations and that Georgie, despite his history, was simply a tool for the destruction. Convinced of the Crooked Man’s guilt, the crowd urges Bigby to toss him into the Witching Well, to cure this plague on the community for good. Again, I took the high road. More death wouldn’t quell the problems of Fabletown’s stratified society; it would only make the Business Office seem more tyrannical in the eyes of its opponents. Aunty Greenleaf promises that she can use her magic to imprison the Crooked Man and silence his wicked tongue. That seems like a suitable enough punishment.
A few days later, a truck is leaving for the Farm and Bigby loads up a birdcage with a crow on the inside. It’s clear that this is the Crooked Man’s deserved fate: to be a bird who will never be allowed to fly. Mr. Toad and TJ are also in the truck, having been unable to acquire the glamours necessary to maintain their human forms. Toad is reasonably upset with Bigby, but the sheriff has promised to start applying the law to everyone evenly. Bigby promises TJ that the Farm will give him the opportunity to run and play in open fields without having to hide from the outside world. It’s a small consolation, but it calms the child’s nerves and sooths Mr. Toad’s temper. Unfortunately, the Farm as a concept is still a bit too abstract and off-screen and so these moments that should be emotionally impactful don’t feel particularly significant. Still, it’s a nice send off for some of the game’s more colorful characters.
The truck pulls away and Bigby spots Nerissa across the street, smoking a cigarette and looking remarkably like Faith. Bigby notices that she is still wearing the ribbon around her neck, a reminder of all the things she’s been through and all the things she’s lost. Nerissa admits that she had been the one to plant the heads on the doorstep of the Woodlands, hoping to bring Bigby’s attention to the Crooked Man’s dangerous organization. However, she had also lied about being in the room when the call was made to kill Lily and Faith. Nerissa simply wanted to bring justice to her friends. This is a slight moral conundrum at the end of the game that implies some doubt; but with the Crooked Man imprisoned and Georgie dead, both of the likely culprits are off the streets. As she walks off, Nerissa utters a familiar line, “You’re not as bad as everyone thinks you are.”
The Wolf Among Us was never really about solving the mystery of Faith’s death. That was simply a narrative tool to explore Bigby Wolf’s relationship with his new home. Ultimately, it’s up to the player to decide if the sheriff is as bad as everyone thinks he is. And that’s the strength of this game: ethics are not predefined. You can easily play a horribly corrupt, overtly violent, emotionally charged Bigby that gets worse as the situation gets worse. However, I was more interested in trying to better the Fabletown community and to rid it of its seedier elements. My Bigby wasn’t perfect, but he did what he thought was right for everyone else.
“Cry Wolf” was a fitting conclusion to Telltale’s Fables saga. It satisfied the player’s need to bring The Crooked Man to justice and brought with it some signature moments that will not soon be forgotten. Not every emotional beat hit as well as it was intended, but blockbuster set-pieces and glorious character moments wrapped up this ambitious fantasy-noir with flourish and flair. If the past is any indication, we haven’t seen the last of The Wolf Among Us and with any luck, we’ll soon be able to join the Big Bad Wolf on his next case.