Please note that this review will contain some spoilers for the previous three episodes of The Walking Dead: Season Two. It’s recommended that you play through those first before reading.
Amid the Ruins, the fourth and penultimate episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead: Season Two, may have just set a record for the series, as far as my opinion goes. Not for the greatest or worst episode so far, like you might think, but instead, for the heaviest. If you thought the hardships Clementine has had to go through during this season were bad, there’s a good chance that midway through this episode, you might need to take a breather.
But considering the pedigree that The Walking Dead has built for itself when it comes to breaking player’s hearts, this record turns out to be for the best, because Amid the Ruins manages to be consistently engaging. While I’d make the argument that its intensity peaks during the first half instead of ramping up gradually until the climax, there’s definitely enough done right in other areas to forgive that.
While I complained that the previous episode, In Harm’s Way, cut off abruptly in the middle of an action scene, this follow-up is nice enough to put us back in Clem’s shoes immediately following her gruesome choice that its predecessor closed on. I do have a gripe in that what happens literally seconds afterwards kind of nullifies any impact or potential for branching story paths that I was hoping for, but what I found myself doing to quell the conflict it created was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in the entire franchise, and that’s saying something.
Once things calm down, Clementine and those who managed to survive the wave of Walkers with her find themselves back at square one, with no shelter, supplies, or concrete plan regarding what to do next. From there, several plot threads begin to unfold. The main one for the first half or so sees Clem attempting to find the locations of missing survivors, while others that become increasingly important include the now-imminent arrival of the long-pregnant Rebecca’s baby, as well as Clem spending some time getting better acquainted with Jane, a hard-edged survivor who made her debut appearance in the previous episode.
Who lives or dies in this particular episode will be partially determinant on some of your previous choices throughout the season, but even as someone used to the series’ depressing tone, it was quite shocking to me how much weight the episode holds as a whole as far as impactful deaths go. To be fair, I did feel similarly at two specific points in the first season – those being Episode 3’s saddest moment and Episode 5’s conclusion – but if you’ve grown attached to Clementine’s new group of survivors, prepare for some major heartbreaks throughout this episode, up to and including the last few seconds.
Part of it may be due to the fact that, as opposed to the first season and The Wolf Among Us, I’ve been feeling the need to make Clementine more hardened as season has progressed. The stakes feel more dire at this point, and some attempts to resolve things in a peaceful or compassionate manner in previous episodes ended in disaster. One of this episode’s heaviest decisions comes roughly in the middle, and even though it wasn’t one I felt good about, it was one that I felt was inevitable. Telltale has done an excellent job of putting Clementine in situations that even Lee from the first game would struggle with, and it’s never been so fascinating to help mold her character as in this episode.
Even more interesting is the fact that, unlike the first game, where I was able to correctly guess the basic outcome of the fifth and final episode based on its’ predecessors’ final act, I still have no idea where Clem and company are going to end up when this season wraps up. An intriguing and terrifying new plot thread makes itself known in the last act, and while its inclusion does feel a bit sudden, it’s probably necessary, since it’s only natural to want the stakes raised for the game’s climax.
Other side characters get some nice development as well. Jane is a fascinating character, both reminiscent of Molly from the first game in her no-nonsense attitude towards survival and fighting walkers, but thankfully unique in others, like her backstory, the reasons she gives for various decisions she makes, and the possibility of her opening up a bit to Clem if the right decisions are made. Also, while I haven’t mentioned him in the past two episodes due to not wanting to spoil his surprise return, I have to talk about Kenny at this point. Seeing the only other recurring character returning from the first game may have been a joy at first, but it’s more obvious than ever in this episode that the constant fight to survive has taken a serious toll on him, and a somber scene later in the episode where he ponders the point of living in a Walker-dominated world has some great emotional resonance for those who have followed this series from the start.
Despite all the things I loved about Amid the Ruins, there are still some complaints I have that ultimately keep it from getting the near-perfect score that past Walking Dead and Wolf Among Us episodes have received from me. First, this episode is once again very obvious in its method of not giving much screen time or dialog to characters who could have died in previous episodes, though to give specific examples would obviously be a spoiler. Also, a hinted-at plot thread involving a connection between Jane and another survivor feels forced and out of nowhere, and doesn’t amount to much by the time this episode wraps up. Finally, on the technical performance side of things, while most of the game ran well enough, during a late scene, a very strange bug caused fellow survivor Luke’s eyeball to disappear for a bit, which definitely distracted me from everything going on for a while.
Despite these flaws, Amid the Ruins is one of the definite highlights of season 2 of The Walking Dead. It’s emotionally powerful, rewarding for longtime fans, rarely feels slow at all, and thankfully picks the perfect spot to end compared to the first and third episodes. Both what happens in the final scene and what you hear after the final cut to black got an audible reaction out of me, but it was only because I’m dying to see what happens in the finale, and not because I felt frustrated by an abrupt conclusion. Seeing how well Telltale has done in wrapping up their recent episodic games (Exhibit A: Cry Wolf), I have high hopes for the final chapter of Clementine’s current journey. Here’s hoping it delivers.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which was provided to us.
Amid the Ruins may be the most hard-hitting episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two yet, but it ends up all the better as a result.