While the Episode 4 SPOILERS are kept to a minimum, you’ll definitely want to play Episode 3 before reading.
In the world of The Walking Dead, the only safety is in knowing that there is no safety. Undead walkers are around every corner and behind every door, just waiting to turn people’s faces into mulch. Yet Telltale’s The Walking Dead: The Game has consistently proven that humans are still capable of the most monstrous actions in this post-apocalyptic world, and Episode 4, Amid the Ruins, is a dark and dreary reminder of that fact. Complete with tons of gore, decision-making, and the brief potential for humane sympathy, of course.
In four episodes, young Clementine has gone from being the celebrated survivor of Season 1 to a bundle of bravery that the group members want to sympathize with, while still asking her to do completely heinous shit when need be. She is a hardened soul now, stained by bloodshed both outside and within, and even after all this time with her group, gamers are still being reminded that trust is forever an issue, and that she doesn’t really know these people. As such, I found my choices in “Amid the Ruins” were harsher than those I’ve made in episodes past. While I retained the same level of concern for my own safety, my group motives shifted to survival of the fittest and most mentally capable. It was delightfully refreshing, to say the least.
“Amid the Ruins” begins immediately where the last episode left off. Whether you chose to hack Sarita’s hand off or attacked the zombie biting her, she’s a goner, mate. And though there are ways to be tactful about it, Kenny is going to hate Clementine’s guts no matter how it goes. He is a battered, bruised, one-eyed shell of the man we first met in Season 1, with nearly everything he ever knew and loved ripped from his fingertips. So it’s easy to understand why he is lacking in the conversation department for much of this episode, at least until he finds his inner reserve of motivation and compassion. (Assuming you don’t consistently piss him off, of course.)
As it goes with much of this game’s run time, the beginning of the episode is spent walking around with the pregnant Rebecca and the rebellious loner Jane, trying to find the rest of the group who got separated in all the walker mayhem. These two basically represent Clementine’s psyche throughout “Amid the Ruins,” as Rebecca and her incoming child represent love and regrowth, while Jane is just full of advice for Clementine on how to make it on her own. Jane says survival is the responsibility of one, and she becomes quite annoying with how much she’s seen in the past.
The nimble and timid Sarah, completely shellshocked by the death of her father Carlos, needs to constantly be coaxed into action. Jane has a story about that, too, since her sister Jamie was the same way. It’s obvious that this familial loss is what shaped the rugged exterior Jane shows the world, but don’t believe for a second that her empathy and company are representative of a growing change within her. She’s gotta be Jane. But can we trust her?
Once the group reconvenes, the goal becomes finding a safe place for Rebecca to have her baby, since that little tot is coming whether anybody wants it to or not. And that’s probably a good thing, since Rebecca is definitely struggling, both physically and mentally. They group finds an area with seemingly abandoned buildings and they stake their claim, which comes with a few surprises — including a new survivor named Arvo — and leads gamers to the most exciting and twisted cliffhanger ending that The Walking Dead: The Game has delivered yet. I may or may not have clapped as the credits rolled.
For all its dankness and dour subject matter, “Amid the Ruins” does have several moments of levity. Part of that admittedly comes from the terrible things we’re led to do in this episode, and that definitely includes one of the more gory zombie kills in recent memory. Dan White’s simple-but-winning performance as Mike was a treat, especially his issues with a particular Confederate jacket. It was nice for Clementine to learn some safety skills from Jane, including a “kneekick-to-head stab” walker trick that comes in handy. And when the episode’s “sexual themes” come in, it’s pretty amusing…and deadly.
All in all, “Amid the Ruins” was a fantastic uphill climb after the so-so-ness of Episode 3, and while the actual video game mechanics were as elementary as they’ve ever been, this is a point when the story stepped up and filled the gaps. Episode 5 is looking like it will be one hell of a calamity-filled gaming experience, and I know damned well that I’ll be going into it with my head held high and my sharp new nail file held higher. See you then.