What I Learned From Watching My Fiancée Play The Walking Dead
At several moments, the disconnect between what was being clicked and what was coming out of Lee’s mouth might have contributed to Caitlin taking a path that I never did through the course of the game: opting for silence during conversations. Rather than take definitive stands in certain situations, Caitlin would opt out or play mediator. She told me it wasn’t her intention to take sides in some conflicts, like the squabbles between Lilly and Kenny in Episode 2. To do that, she said, wouldn’t benefit anyone in the group long-term.
“I don’t think it helps anything to pick sides — it’s better to just stay neutral,” she told me. “They’re both type-A people, and it’s worse to support one or the other.”
Despite that, Caitlin told me she sided with Lilly over Kenny, at least in Episode 2. Kenny’s hardline attitude about decision-making caused her to move away from him, while she said she felt sympathy for Lilly, who was forced into a hard situation and expected to cope with it, while also similarly forced to deal with the gender politics that went along with her leadership position.
Even after the end of Episode 3 and Lilly’s decisions, Caitlin wasn’t necessarily as hard on the character as I had been. While Caitlin chose to save Carly’s life in Episode 1 and related to that character, even after Lilly killed Carly, Caitlin didn’t force her out of the group. She later regretted the decision because of what Lilly did next, but it didn’t change her choices to show mercy.
“Just because she was a woman, it makes her a bitch (to be a tough leader), but she was clearly at wits’ end,” Caitlin said of Lilly. “She needed a timeout for a little while.” However, she still wished she’d chosen differently and left Lilly behind. “Well, she shot someone in the head.”
But hindsight is 20/20, and despite the way a player might perceive various characters — Larry, Kenny, Lilly, the St. John family, Vernon — unerringly, Caitlin opted for mercy throughout the story. It was interesting to see the way her moral compass carried her through the story’s tougher decisions, as opposed to my own: I’d backed Kenny to finish Larry in the meat locker, killed Danny St. John in a flash of anger and told off Vernon when he suggested he take Clementine.
Caitlin did none of those things. Nor did she ever take a life, or allow one to be lost, unless she was out of options.
“It’s not moral to kill someone. We need to cling on to the humanity we have,” she told me after the incident with Larry in the meat locker. “There’s a difference between people being alive on the floor and needing help, and obviously dead. I try to give all people the benefit of the doubt. Because what if it was your dad?”
But what about how Larry treats you (or Lee), I asked.
“How he treats you has nothing to do with how you treat him,” she replied.
The same was true of Caitlin’s chance to let Ben fall during Episode 4, even as he was asking to be let go.
“It’s not right to let him die; he wanted me to because of his guilt,” Caitlin said. “But at what point do you draw the line? ‘You’re useless, you’re a pain in the ass’ — but you want people to come through for you.”
But while Caitlin was unable to take life or sacrifice others, she was willing to make accommodations for the good of the group. When the group discovered the station wagon at the end of Episode 2, Caitlin opted against Clementine’s judgment and decided to take the food. She said that a lot of elements of the scene, like the car looking abandoned and the overweighing needs of the group, were what pushed her to taking the food. It also wasn’t a decision she would have changed once she knew how the story turned out, she said.
Caitlin’s decision-making in terms of what was best for Clementine extended to her final choice in the game, as well: She chose not to make Clem shoot Lee to keep him from turning into a walker.
“I felt like it could f–k her up,” Cailtin said afterward. “It seems Lee’s sole mission is taking care of that little girl. By asking Clem to just go, she’ll remember him as he was.”
The most striking thing about Caitlin’s playthrough of the game, as compared to mine, was her level of consistency in choices. Her decisions weren’t usually based on whether she particularly “liked” a character or not; she worked for the betterment of the group at all times, for the potential to save lives and create safety, and with a fairly steady hand. For the few times she said after a decision that she’d thought she made a mistake, it never changed her outlook. For my part, the circumstances had me re-evalutating certain values — my choices to side with Kenny in the meat locker and to finish Danny St. John, for example, were made in the moment when, under other circumstances, I would have probably chosen differently.
I have a feeling, after watching her play The Walking Dead, Caitlin might be better under the pressure of a “real” zombie apocalypse than I would be.