Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead has always been known for its focus on monsters—both undead and living—and this theme is central to Season Two’s episode “In Harm’s Way.” The season’s third episode puts players in, perhaps, the most difficult and tense situation yet, forcing both players and characters to face the unwanted consequences of their actions. Because of the degree to which this episode revolves around the building tensions from past episodes, this review will contain spoilers from the previous episodes of the season, though there will be no major spoilers for the third episode itself.
“In Harm’s Way” opens with a brief—and rare—moment of peace. Birds sing, a soft breeze dances through a sylvan environment, and Clementine stares at a moth with an inexplicably sad expression. This is the first action of the episode: players guide her hand to the fragile insect, only to have it flutter away from her fingers. It is a moment of strange normalcy in an otherwise tumultuous, zombie-ridden world. That normalcy is shattered by the intrusion of an armed man, who restrains Clementine and returns her to her similarly imprisoned companions.
Last episode, the sinister Bill Carver caught up to Clementine’s company, overpowered them, and took them prisoner. “In Harm’s Way” resumes with the group in transit to Carver’s community. Bound and unarmed in the back of a truck, those unfamiliar with Carver plot their escape and even manage to unfetter themselves. Those familiar with him are much more resigned, claiming that the others don’t know what Carver is capable of.
This warning is just as easily directed to the players themselves. Telltale has created its fair share of monsters in the past, such as the cannibals of St. John’s Dairy Farm or the apathetic citizens of Crawford. Carver is easily the worst of these. With striking immediacy, I realized just how much I was unaware of Carter’s capacity for violence. He is as monstrous as the titular walking dead, but this monster is very much alive and equally eager to rend flesh and spill blood. I felt that a poor decision or missed QTE could result in the untimely demise of a beloved character at any given moment. More than once, I found myself opting for silence in the face of dialogue choices with increasingly volatile consequences—a first in all of my playthroughs of past episodes.
My silence as Clementine was often motivated by the changing nature of the choices I faced, which dealt less with maintaining a positive image with other characters and more with pitting players’ empathy against their will to survive. Therein lies the true horror of Carver: his unpredictable nature holds a mirror to players, forcing them to choose between their animalistic urge to survive and their human compassion for others. When Carver kills, it is because of my choices. When he hurts characters that I legitimately care for, it is the direct result of my own compulsion to survive at all costs. When the conflict between Carver and Clementine’s companions comes to a head, I feel compelled to play the role of spectator, even though I know it’s wrong. Nothing is safe—or sacred—in this aptly named episode.
It was not until the episode’s gory conclusion that I realized how the opening exchange between the moth and Clementine is a microcosm of the episode at large. The moth—and the pause screens where its image persists—may as well be Clementine’s own childhood. It has danced away from her grasp, perpetually out of reach in a brutal world where monsters come in all forms. Any responses that capitalize on her childhood naivety are carefully calculated to help her evade trouble. Her size is only referenced for its use; it allows her to be lifted to otherwise inaccessible areas and to slip by watching guards unnoticed. Though this results in a few uneven stealth sequences, the episode was largely successful in showing troubling development in Clementine’s own personality—a potential for cruelty and apathy as of yet unseen in Telltale’s young protagonist.
It is truly remarkable how Telltale has continued to present new and increasingly tense scenarios for The Walking Dead. With two episodes remaining in this season, the writers show no signs of laying off the tension. If anything, “In Harm’s Way” has made the season’s stakes clear. Players must not only contend with the brutality of a monster-infested world, but they must also protect Clementine from their own capacity for cruelty if they wish to preserve her humanity.
This review is based on a retail Steam code sent to SideQuesting by the publisher.