It’s easy to get fatigued by The Walking Dead. Both the comics and AMC’s TV show exist within the status quo of a post-apocalyptic world where rotting, lurching death hides around every corner, humanity has been reduced to packs of roving survivors and bandits, and every hope of permanent shelter seems constantly beset by attempts to destroy it – both from without and from within.
Rick and co.’s current home of Alexandria is, so far, the longest-standing settlement of the series. With high walls and an idyllic white picket fence suburbia behind them, the safe zone seems to offer real hope of recovery for civilization. Yet The Walking Dead is caught up in a constant struggle: if the characters are too safe from the zombie threat, then it stops feeling like a show about zombies; if they’re too exposed and constantly wandering the show feels aimless (not to mention the fact that the budget limitations require at least some kind of permanent setting for each season).
The Walking Dead also has a lot of characters, one of the side effects of which is that the show can’t feasibly dedicate time to each character’s personal arc in each episode. With so many newer characters crowding for attention, fan favorites like Daryl and Michonne have become the “muscle” of the group: reliable, stable, and ready to show up and scatter zombie brains whenever the occasion calls for it. One the one hand, this is part of what makes them fan favorites; The Walking Dead‘s go-to method for developing characters is to have them break down emotionally, complain a lot, or have existential crises when there are far more urgent matters at hand, which can get pretty grating. On the other hand, Daryl and Michonne have become so unshakeable that they’ve lost the cracks of vulnerability that made them such compelling characters to begin with.
For Michonne fans who want to see the character given a spotlight, Telltale Games’ latest offering, The Walking Dead: Michonne, is absolutely worth checking out. Telltale’s original episodic take on The Walking Dead franchise remains one of the best examples of storytelling and characterization in video games, so there was a keen interest from both fans of the studio and fans of The Walking Dead in seeing Telltale’s take on one of the most intriguing and badass characters in creator Robert Kirkman’s zombie-filled universe.
While the first episode of The Walking Dead: Michonne, “In Too Deep”, doesn’t quite live up to the heights of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 1, it’s a welcome return to the choice-and-consequence gameplay and sharp-edged suspense that the studio has mastered so well. It’s easy to get into it right away when the opening credits roll with Dorothy’s “Gun In My Hand” playing against a montage of panels from the comic books – because this series features the version of the character from the comics rather the one from the TV show. This is important mainly because fans who’ve only watched AMC’s take on The Walking Dead may be confused by Michonne’s reference to leaving behind two daughters, rather than losing a son.
Voiced by Orange is the New Black‘s Samira Wiley, this version of Michonne is in a bad place when the game begins, fighting walkers to the point of exhaustion and experiencing hallucinations about her missing daughters. Fortunately she is rescued from the edge of suicide and taken in by Pete, the captain of a small boat called The Companion, whose crew have been escaping the undead menace by staying out on the water and trading with other boats. Unease strikes when they return to their usual trading post to find Pete’s friends missing and a mysterious voice calling out for help over the radio.
Telltale’s titles frequently come under fire by accusations that the player’s decisions don’t effect the storyline enough – at least, not enough to save lives and prevent disaster. But the focus of The Walking Dead games, and arguably the rest of the franchise, is not on preventing terrible events but on deciding how to respond to them. To that end, players can use dialogue choices to influence what kind of person Michonne has become in the harsh world of post-apocalyptic America. Is she bitter, cynical and pessimistic, or is she still holding out hope for a decent future? Is she unwilling to take a chance on anybody, or does she still have faith in mankind? Would she sell out a stranger to save her own skin, or stand on principle?
It’s not all talking, of course. Without the sturdy walls of a stronghold to hide behind, Michonne frequently finds herself under attack from the roving zombie menace (and the occasional hostile living person). The combat in the game is fairly straightforward, with players prompted to hit certain commands within a limited space of time in order to execute attackers. Move too slowly, and Michonne will suffer a gruesome death.
This first episode of the three-episode miniseries feels more like a set-up for much darker times to come. That’s not to say that nothing bad happens; on the contrary, Pete and Michonne come across some gruesome discoveries in their search for other survivors, and towards the end the stakes and tension definitely escalate. However, the game has yet to throw players any seriously gut-wrenching moral or tactical choices.
With a world full of new characters, it’s unclear how many apart from Michonne will make it out of this miniseries alive – but we’ll definitely be sticking around to find out.
Episode 1 of The Walking Dead: Michonne, “In Too Deep”, is available now on PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Kindle Fire HDX, iOS and Android.