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.