The Walking Dead: The Final Season reaches its last episode, and provides a neat if not entirely satisfying conclusion to Clementine's story.
In 2012, Telltale Games created a piece of gaming history through the release of the first season of The Walking Dead. A triumph of video game storytelling, immediately players became enraptured by its take on the adventure genre and a devotion to creating deep, believable characters - most of all the young Clementine. Now, against all odds, Clementine’s story is coming to a close with the final part of The Walking Dead: The Final Season.
That this last episode, called Take Us Back, exists at all is something of a turn-up. Telltale’s dramatic implosion last year and the ensuing fallout over its treatment of staff suggested that there was no way back for its most well-known series, but Skybound Entertainment swooped in to resurrect The Walking Dead. After a successful debut attempt with Episode 3 of The Final Season, all eyes were on the last chapter to see if this story could stick the landing.
In a way, it does. This final episode is full of the same kind of dramatic moments that have been the bread-and-butter of The Walking Dead so far, brimming with tough decisions and moments of individual peril. There’s an attempt to provoke a strong emotional reaction, and at times it succeeds.
That said, this last episode does lack a little something. The Walking Dead has had its flaws over the years, but it has always been able to deliver when it comes to the last episode of each season, from the gut-wrenching finale of its debut to the vicious, sparse moments of its second season ending. Even the less loved A New Frontier found a satisfying conclusion at the end of the day, resolving its themes of family and loyalty in a neat, albeit action-heavy, package.
With Take Us Back, The Final Season feels a little more introspective. Whereas the third episode pulled out all the stops with a bombastic smash-and-grab that was full of twists and turns, it’s fair to say that Take Us Back is a little more straightforward in its approach. Narratively, it doesn’t offer up anything new, with Clementine and the other survivors attempting to get back home to Ericson’s Boarding School and facing problems along the way.
The big moments here attempt to mirror the first season, with youngster AJ taking up the position of Clementine. What would he do if Clementine were to not be around any longer? Has her training and guidance been enough to turn him into a self-reliant, but still empathetic, survivor in this new world full of dangers?
The most interesting parts of the season have revolved around these questions, particularly over whether AJ understands when killing is appropriate. From the first episode there has been a nagging doubt in the back of the player’s mind as to whether AJ, a child born into this world rather than remembering a time before ruthless survival, is turning out as Clementine planned. However, by the end of the episode this heavy issue is tidied up quickly, in spite of some questionable actions by AJ himself.
These swift, clean resolutions are a stumbling block in Take Us Back. Some larger thematic strands, such as whether Clementine truly is able to raise AJ in such a frightening world, are given quick get-outs, while other questions are dropped entirely. The shadow of another, even worse survivor group than the one that is kidnapping kids to use as child soldiers is never mentioned again. Instead, Take Us Back looks at character resolutions.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course - after all, this is likely the last time that players will get to see Clementine and AJ, and so providing a suitable final place for them was always going to be of importance. This last episode does lack a little of the impact of those other seasons, with stakes that feel somewhat lower than in years gone. The material is answered here - who lives and who dies - but the matters of the soul are seemingly untouched.
From a gameplay perspective, those who enjoy The Walking Dead’s new hybrid of adventure gameplay and more action-focused, open areas will find more of the same. There are some fantastic moments, though, with a scene where the player swaps quickly between control of AJ and Clementine being a particular standout. This is in part because it ties is so well with what works about the plot, as we see AJ’s growth into an independent and dependable person in his own right.
There’s still the odd clunky moment to contend with. Some of the open sections feel a little slow and clumsy, but it’s still good to see the formula of The Walking Dead pushed to its absolute limit. Meanwhile, the more narrative-driven moments of dialogue choices once again feel impactful, even if there’s always that burning feeling that it doesn’t truly change all that much.
The question mark over the mechanics of The Walking Dead is easy to ignore, though, with the dialogue and performances once again being captivating. This final episode shows children of various ages struggling to convey how they feel or think, as they - to a person - realize that their entrenched rules and ideology don’t apply in every circumstance. Indeed, the main lesson of the game seems to be that sometimes it is worth trusting people to make the right decision, and nowhere is this truer than with Clementine and AJ.
Take Us Back asks the player to trust AJ in one of the episode's strongest moments. A passing of the torch, from one person forced to grow up too soon to another, in order to show both faith in AJ and faith in Clementine's teaching. The player's decision at this point has ramifications, although once again AJ's muddy actions never reach an expected conclusion.
In short, this final episode of The Walking Dead was always going to be cursed with finishing a story that had gained such investment from players. How do you balance delivering a fitting end to a beloved character like Clementine while still tying into the grim world of The Walking Dead where happy endings are hard to come by? It's a fine line to walk, and Take Us Back perhaps plays it too safe.
Nonetheless, this episode shows that The Walking Dead: The Final Season is by no means a failure. It may lack the ingenuity that the series has shown, particularly in its earlier entries, but it does provide a resolution. The Final Season ends comfortably, but given the highs of The Walking Dead, some may be left wondering if that was enough.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season Episode 4 - Take Us Back releases March 26 for PC, PS4, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PC download code for the purposes of this review.