The Walking Dead Season 2 Ep. 5 Review: Runaway Train

Warning! Spoilers for earlier episodes of The Walking Dead Season Two, and some light spoilers for Episode 5: “No Going Back.” It’s a review, after all.


There’s no stopping it.

After a full season of groups collapsing under their own weight and protagonist Clementine caught in the middle, we’ve finally come to the finale of The Walking Dead: Season 2. And it’s an intense one, as was predicted — although perhaps not quite as satisfying or meaningful as Season Two’s potential has suggested all along.

For the whole of Season Two, players have been dictating the thoughts and feelings of Clementine, creating a distinctive arc for how the young but capable girl would grow. She could be an optimistic team player or a snarky realist; she could be selfless or focused on her own survival; she could be accommodating or hard-nosed. At the same time, however, Season Two has told the tale of a tenuous group, thrown together by chance and a common enemy — the dangerous psychopathic leader Bill Carver — and that group’s slow disintegration as circumstances get worse and worse.

In a way, the group’s unraveling has felt like a crucible for Clementine, shaping her into the person she will eventually grow up to become. But in “No Going Back,” it feels a bit more like things happen to Clementine more than they happen because of Clementine. Obviously there are more smoke and mirrors at play in The Walking Dead than might be immediately apparent — the game is great about presenting players with choices that feel important even as the game is routing the story in a particular direction.

In Episode 5, however, it gets harder to make out the person Clementine is becoming because of her experiences. She is dragged along in other people’s wakes as situations boil over; a passenger on a train headed for a cliff. Though “No Going Back” is full of powerful character moments and carries a few tough choices, in some ways it feels like a regression for Clementine herself.

The Walking Dead: Season 2: Episode 5 – “No Going Back”
Platform: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Telltale Games
Publisher: Telltale Games
Release Date: Aug. 26, 2014
MSRP: $24.99 (all episodes)

Like Episode 3, the penultimate episode in the second season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead ended with a life-or-death cliffhanger and a tough choice to be made by Clementine. “No Going Back” brings us back into the action at that exact moment, resolving the situation with a few tense moments, although not everyone comes out unscathed. The group knits itself back together at least briefly, and the focus turns to the only remaining loose cannon: Kenny. And Kenny, well … Kenny continues to spiral downward the way he did in the last episode.

The gravity of Kenny’s implosion is tearing up the rest of the group. There’s infighting over where to go and what to do, made all the worse by a lack of supplies and a new baby that has suddenly become everyone’s direct responsibility — and perhaps more to the point, the responsibility of Kenny. It doesn’t take long for players to draw lines of comparison between Clementine’s old friend and the angry, psychotic leader Carver, and soon after that, the game characters start doing the same. Is Kenny a ticking time bomb or a broken man who can be saved and redeemed? It’s the primary question of the episode, but Clementine’s role feels at least as reactive as it does active — to put it simply, it seems like most of the game’s other characters more or less stop listening to her. She can fight to lead Kenny back from the brink, but whether he’ll choose to follow is another matter.

Like the last few episodes of the season, “No Going Back” presents a few solid action moments, intercut by quieter segments aimed at spending time with the game’s remaining characters. One scene around an evening campfire is particularly strong, and a later action scene puts Clementine in the precarious position of deciding whether to risk herself for someone else, even when that might not be the best solution.

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10 Comments on The Walking Dead Season 2 Ep. 5 Review: Runaway Train

GazH

On August 26, 2014 at 2:45 pm

I agree with this review, I didn’t feel like I had a lot of control over this episode with a few exceptions. I’d been leading the character down a path for the whole series and with this episode I felt a bit rail-roaded and couldn’t go the direction I wanted to. A few times the options I was offered weren’t applicable to my character idea. Obviously the game can’t cover every option, but up until this episode it really had been. I especially found the ending quite weak – considering the ending to season 1, this just lacked a whole lot in comparison.

SweetPea

On August 26, 2014 at 3:01 pm

It’s interesting that you mention the smoke and mirrors presentation of choices here, but you didn’t seem to mind that in Episode 4, where it was a lot more obvious, in my opinion. If you had to choose between saving or letting a character die, you knew he/she’s gonna end up dead anyway. I didn’t feel that in this episode. And when people didn’t listen to Clem, it felt realistic, instead of annyoing, in most cases.

SPOILERS

What I didn’t like was the forced drama creation. For example, crossing the lake was stupid as hell. Why couldn’t we just walk around it when there’s nothing in the way? Or Jane hiding the baby ath the end. She knew exactly how Kenny would react, so why test him? And then there are little things, like Jane lighting the wood on fire with a few sparks in the house. I also didn’t like how nearly all of the characters acted like children and kept arguing the whole time.

But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the episode, which I did, all the way through to a satisfying ending. So overall, I feel a lot more positive about it, and would easily give this episode a 9/10, and an 8/10 for the whole season.

Phil Hornshaw

On August 26, 2014 at 3:08 pm

@SweetPea

We’re getting into SPOILERS so be warned, others.

Normally I’m pretty forgiving of the choice-making in TWD, and I’ve liked how it was handled up to now. For example, how Alvin was handled, I thought, was pretty great this season — you can lose him early or keep him around for another full episode, such as it was. I recognize that there’s machinations going on behind the scenes to get the plot to always wind up in the same place, but largely the game is pretty good about keeping you in the moment.

What bugged me here is that while the episode had its choice moments that led to the same result, they didn’t feel as much as if they were affecting Clem and the other characters. What I’ve always said about these choices is that the effect they have might not be on the plot, but they affect YOU. In general it just didn’t really feel like the story was much different for my having been a part of it, which is what I always like about TWD (even if this is somewhat illusory). It just didn’t satisfy me the way it usually does, largely because I felt like I was a spectator for the end of Kenny’s character arc more than I was creating the end of Clementine’s.

I will say that the other endings change that feeling somewhat (I took the “shoot” ending originally, followed by forgiveness). Things shake out a little differently in the other endings and I felt a couple of them were a little more solid as far as Clementine was concerned. Overall though I was hoping for Clementine to be a bigger actor, and have more development, at the conclusion than it seemed like she got.

All that said, still had a good time with the episode and with the season as a whole. Still a huge fan of Clementine’s. Not sure how Telltale will proceed but I hope we stick with Clementine in a third season.

SweetPea

On August 26, 2014 at 5:30 pm

@Phil Hornshaw
I see what you mean, and I tend to agree that we didn’t have much control over the events. Kenny was pretty much the main character of this episode, but maybe that’s why I didn’t mind it, as I’ve been pro-Kenny from the beginning. I enjoyed his story all the same, so Clementine not being in the centre didn’t bother me.

Looking back at the endings now, I guess I would feel kind of disappointed if I choose differently. Fortunately, I went with “look away” then “forgiveness”, and I feel that it was a perfect ending for the season. It didn’t have the same emotional impact as the first season’s ending did, but it came close (yes, I like Kenny that much).

abc157

On August 27, 2014 at 12:36 am

Totally agree with the review. 75/100 makes sense. I don’t enjoy this episode so much.
Telltale changes all characters in this episode into insane evils.

Bob

On August 27, 2014 at 7:02 am

Phil do you seriously think that in a situation like the one proposed in this discussed video game you have control over any event at all? Because if you do you are a bigger idiot than i thought!

also people learn BASIC HUMAN BEHAVIOR to understand how people function under pressure and stress

Bob

On August 27, 2014 at 7:02 am

Phil do you seriously think that in a situation like the one proposed in this discussed video game you have control over any event at all? Because if you do you are a bigger idiot than i thought!

also people learn BASIC HUMAN BEHAVIOR to understand how people function under pressure and stress!

Phil Hornshaw

On August 27, 2014 at 9:10 am

@Bob

Ugh dude.

Obviously I know you DON’T CONTROL THE VIDEO GAME. It’s a written story that branches and plays out as planned. But the entire point of the experience is that it’s the story as filtered through you, the player, and Telltale’s whole schtick is to present a game in which you FEEL as though you are making key decisions at key moments — you are an active participant in the plot. That’s it’s whole point. What do you think #MyClementine is supposed to mean?

When the game fails to create that feeling when that’s been the purpose of the game the entire time, or when it dilutes it, that’s something of a failure.

Meanwhile BASIC HUMAN BEHAVIOR might have been a course I took in college, I’m not sure.

bob

On August 27, 2014 at 3:24 pm

i think you are missing the key point of moments that you can not control, all you can do IS to hope to influence each character as well the games story and situations take place. and the truth of the matter is no matter what choices you make you have no control over your life or events

GazH

On August 27, 2014 at 11:19 pm

Two things about this episode. Firstly, the very beginning. Now, I played the end of the last episode, I’m not stupid, these people were 3 feet apart from each other with assault rifles being pointed at each other. End of episode, guns go off, fade to black. The start of this episode our faithful party are all completely unharmed, have somehow dived into cover, and are now more than 20 feet apart. I was expecting a much different start to the game than that.

Secondly, I just replayed the episode and gave mostly silent responses and it made no difference whatsoever. In fact, if you gave responses (as I did the first time) the arguments just seemed to be more heated because of it, but it was just an illusion as everything they said the first time, they said this time around but without my input. Why was I even a part of things when I could just as easily have been a viewer? That’s not how these games are supposed to work.

In the end my Clem allowed Jane to be killed, then shot Kenny in the face and wandered off for a peaceful life alone. Maybe without the supporting cast the game might start being about her for a change.