What would you do if you were starving, exhausted, and injured, out in the middle of a snowstorm, and you were forced to make one of the most difficult decisions of your life, all based on your capacity for friendship and forgiveness? It’s not a question that normally pops up in people’s day-to-day lives, but for The Walking Dead: The Game‘s Clementine, it’s just a Tuesday afternoon. Her transition from war-worn group member to take-charge leader is at the heart of “No Going Back,” the game’s excellent Season 2 finale, and it’s up to players to traverse the emotional landscape to allow her to reach the other side with any of her morals intact. It’s a rough journey, to say the least.
Starting off in the middle of the gunfight that ended Episode 4, “No Going Back” exemplifies its title from the very first second. While I’m trying to keep spoilers to a minimum for this review, I don’t think I’m giving too much away by saying the Russians are all disposed of in a most bloody manner here, leaving Clementine with Alvin and Rebecca’s baby, which Kenny becomes obsessed with and names Alvin Jr. The rebellious Jane also makes an appearance early on, joining Luke, Bonnie, and Mike to make this something of a full family unit. And we all know what happens when family gets together under duress, right?
But before the game can rip away everything players have set up for themselves, there are a couple of lengthy sequences where running and fighting are replaced with casual conversation and light revelry. In particular, the group bonds half-heartedly over a fire and a bottle of rum, and it’s quite possibly my favorite scene in this entire franchise. (I’m almost extending that opinion to the AMC series, but not quite.) As with Clementine, we’ve grown up in this game by firing bullets and saving lives, but this evening of quiet time allows her to also grow up in other people’s eyes, as she takes her first drink of rum and has adult conversations. (The sex jokes about Luke and Jane roused a few genuine chuckles out of me.)
It’s also up to Clementine to keep Kenny in line with something that resembles sanity, a task that comes with no instruction booklet. He’s extremely impulsive, with violence as his only tie to humanity. The group is stuck with the young Russian boy Arvo, whom Kenny treats more like a slave than anything else, disbelieving the boy’s claims of supplies and food waiting ahead. But not everyone shares Kenny’s opinions on Arvo, and this leads to a second act twist that I definitely didn’t see coming. It’s not a mystery twist—like “Kenny is actually a ghost”—but the narrative splinters off into a different path.
Honestly, there isn’t much else to say about this story without giving things away. Clementine (and you) is forced to make some hefty decisions, as there are something like nine different ways the game can end, depending on where your loyalties and motivations lie. Everything is guided by hope and the dependency that everything will somehow revert back to the way things were before, even though the “before” we’ve experienced has always been plagued with death and depression. While we know a third season of The Walking Dead: The Game is coming from Telltale next year, there’s still no definite answer as to what state of mind Clementine will be in by that point. As the player, you just have to give her the best possible outcome that you can.
All in all, “No Coming Back” definitely contains some harrowing sequences and rather intense dialogue between Kenny and…everyone…but there is still more hope here than there has been in episodes past. Perhaps because there’s a baby around, or perhaps because the problems experienced were less about zombie bites and more about human decency. Or maybe it’s because I also had my own bottle of rum while playing the game. Either way, this episode wraps up another solid season of The Walking Dead: The Game, and I was able to walk away with a smile on my face, instead of a furrowed brow. Sometimes, that’s the only victory we can hope for.
Oh, and be sure and say hi to Lee for me, will you?