By the end of The Walking Dead: Season 2 -- Episode 3: In Harm’s Way, I had one inescapable thought.
What have I done?
As the credits rolled, I wondered if I should have been less forgiving, less brash, less compassionate. If I had been more willing to do things differently, would more people still be here? Probably not. Contrary to The Walking Dead’s previous episode, I had no interest in reliving the events to find out.
They unnerved me too much.
In Harm’s Way writer Pierre Shorette forces many of The Walking Dead’s characters to their physical and mental breaking points. The scenes in which they’re each tested are memorable, excellent, and effectively unpleasant, in a way that is uniquely Walking Dead -- to acknowledge you have enjoyed them is to submit to your own sadistic sensibilities.
Yet there is no glee during the unpredictable story told during In Harm’s Way. Clementine’s new family is imprisoned by Bill Carver, the quiet maniac who debuted in Episode 2: A House Divided. Clementine and company’s overnight escape plans put everyone at risk, and the way In Harm’s Way builds to its devastating climax had me anxious and uncomfortable in all the right ways.
The Walking Dead explores what that means to players while putting them on a hopeless road for Episode 4. In Harm’s Way is about as bleak as this franchise has ever been, and what little optimism exists is only here to remind you how easily it can be used against you.
Bill Carver is Telltale’s vessel for that fear and distress. Carver escalates from a man whose subtlety is scary to someone whose unpredictability made me dread every interaction with him.
Sociopaths in video games usually exist to motivate the player’s violence. Their mental instability absolves you of any uncertainty or guilt when you do something terrible to them. They’re “crazy” -- just kill them. Bill Carver is a different kind of sociopath. He made me play Clementine differently than I had been, but in quite the opposite way of most games. My cold, bitter Clementine warmed to those around her, even those she didn’t fully trust, because of Carver. Yes, I wanted him dead -- he is likely the first person Clementine has ever truly hated -- but that was secondary to protecting those who suffered because of him.
What have I done?
Empathy is the greatest success of In Harm’s Way. It focuses on people, features very little environmental exploration, and doesn’t bother with puzzles. Contextually, this is a human episode, so there’s little room for the more involved “play” aspects of this adventure game. Despite having less interactive portions than previous episodes, In Harms Way has tension, discomfort, and character development that’s among the best of them.
I have no idea what Clementine’s future holds. That’s unnerving. But, like Clementine, I’m focusing on getting these people to a better place than the people I left behind.
Speaking with friends around a campfire, or fighting zombies to save their lives, humanizes The Walking Dead’s cast better than most games characterize their protagonist. My dialogue choices reflect what Clementine and her friends need, rather than what I stand to gain as a player. In Harm’s Way deepened my empathy for characters I’m legitimately worried will die, or worse.
Sometimes, I made choices in hopes that I could stop that from happening. I put others before myself, and that got a lot of us hurt, Clementine included. Maybe these were the wrong choices. I don’t know. I’d rather not think about it -- but I can’t stop.
they are taking Clemmy to such a dark place!! i love it!!! Kenny will always be there for her tho!!!