It’s been quite a journey for Clementine throughout all of The Walking Dead: Season Two, as we’ve watched her grow from the timid child we protected as Lee in the original game into a hardened survivor in this follow-up. Now, we’ve come to the conclusion of season two with the fifth episode, No Going Back. Given that Telltale Games gave us solid finales for both the original Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us, expectations have been high for this last installment to deliver an impactful, memorable, and satisfying ending. Having been a big fan of the series since the beginning though, I have to say that I don’t really get that.
No Going Back is certainly for its majority a solid episode of The Walking Dead, and it certainly has some impactful and dramatic moments, but by the time the credits rolled, I was shocked to realize that I didn’t feel emotional, blown away, or anything of the sort. I almost felt nothing, and that is the last thing I expected from a series like this.
The finale picks up immediately after the previous episode’s nail-biting cliffhanger, and while it results in a well-done action set piece, I was surprised to find afterwards that when the dust settles, it doesn’t leave a huge impact on the cast or plot outside of some minor things that I won’t spoil. While I complained in the previous episode’s review that the threat at its conclusion felt kind of out of nowhere, I definitely expected something more substantial to result from it than what we ended up with.
As a result, for a good portion of its running time, No Going Back does something I really was not expecting, and that’s the fact that until its last 15 to 20 minutes, it doesn’t feel like things are reaching a head, or that the story is about to reach its conclusion. Compare that to the first season’s finale, which had Lee running out of time to save Clementine and finally confront the threat the season had gradually built up to. Sure, you still have some of the tragic moments and surprises that we’ve grown accustomed to with this series, as well as some nice moments shared between Clem and her fellow survivors, but overall, Telltale made the odd choice to make this episode fairly slow for its majority, and that just didn’t sit well with me.
It’s not until you reach the last act that things come to a much-needed head, but it’s probably best if I don’t give everything away. Something worth noting though is the fact that this finale chooses to focus much more heavily on conflicts among the survivors, rather than the constant threat of the Walkers. Though you’ll have the occasional zombie-based scuffle every now and then, this is far more of a character piece than most of the other episodes.
Instead, we mainly focus on Kenny, our only other holdover from the first season, as well as Jane, a newcomer who Clem bonded with in the previous episode. Kenny has repeatedly shown throughout the season that his past personal tragedies and hardships have changed his mental stability for the worse, and it’s never more obvious than in this installment. One could argue that this is more about Kenny’s inner turmoils than Clementine, since not much happens for her in the way of substantial character growth. The closest we get to that is a bit of a tribute to her earlier times with Lee, but I thought that particular scene both came out of nowhere and ultimately amounted to nothing, and the episode would probably have been better without it.
All of this culminates in a last act that, while hardly epic, definitely leaves an impact. It was genuinely heartbreaking for me to see everything in those later moments play out, particularly when I got to the final major choice, which will probably divide many players on what is the better solution. I knew the moment I got to it what the most logical choice was, but it was still something that was not easy to carry out. The result is the closest this season got me to tearing up since the original game’s ending, and maybe I would have if it kept its momentum. But then, unfortunately, we hit the last few minutes.
Telltale did something very unexpected with how the final moments of No Going Back can play out. One of the more persistent complaints many have had for both The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us is the fact that, while some of your decisions can affect factors like how other characters respond to you or when certain characters die, there’s still generally only one path through the whole game, as well as only one concrete ending. I’ve heard comparisons from many who hoped for something along the lines of Heavy Rain‘s structure, where you can get completely different scenes and conclusions, but I’ve personally never minded it, as the preset paths have almost always been very compelling and satisfying.
That all changes when you finish No Going Back. The final big decision I mentioned earlier will lead you into one of three completely different final scenes, with two of them having one more decision before the credits roll. This is a neat concept, but my big issue is that out of all three of these, none felt particularly satisfying or conclusive. The final scene of the first season is widely regarded as one of the biggest tearjerkers in gaming, while The Wolf Among Us provided a mix of solid action as well as a wrap-up that left me with a sense of accomplishment. None of No Going Back‘s endings did this.
My first playthrough got me what is easily the worst ending scene, which is under a minute long and contains no dialog or sense of resolution. Going back and making some different choices unlocked the other two scenarios for me, but the one I got for performing what I felt was the logical final choice felt very routine, and while the third one packs the closest thing to genuine emotion, and is probably the strongest overall, the final moments still lack real impact, and even have an unfortunate reminder of a mystery established in this season’s first episode that was never cleared up.
I can’t help but feel that in Telltale’s attempt to finally include multiple branching story paths, they were unable to spend the time fine-tuning every scenario to be the best they could be. While I’d only call one of them truly substandard, the fact remains that there is next to nothing that will stick with me in all of No Going Back‘s endings. And considering the reputation this franchise has established for providing shocking moments, that’s very unexpected.
As with previous Telltale finales, No Going Back is noticeably shorter than other episodes, clocking in for me at under two hours before the credits rolled. This hasn’t been as big a problem for past conclusions due to how much they offered, but with fewer standout moments, the brevity is a bigger problem this time around. It also doesn’t help that even some of the things outside of the main game feel off to me in retrospect.
For instance, why did Telltale show practically nothing in their teaser, despite there being plenty of moments they could showcase without giving away major plot points? Why do the credits just play an extended version of the main theme that we’ve heard in every episode when both the first season’s ending and every previous episode of this season have incorporated a fitting vocal song to enhance players’ emotions?
I can’t call No Going Back a bad episode by any means, because there are still quite a few things to like about it. The problem may be that I’ve come to expect better things from Telltale, especially with their endings, and what we got this time around felt much more leisurely and normal. It’s already been confirmed that a third season is on the way, but considering all the unique ways this season can end, I think it might be best for them to focus on a completely new group of survivors whenever that rolls around.
While it would be a shame to leave Clementine and company on such a “meh” note, I can’t help but to feel that they’ve written themselves into a corner. Back when I reviewed this season’s second episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two, which was definitely its highlight, I said that my fear of Telltale delivering a disappointing follow-up had almost completely dissipated. I wish it had stayed that way.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game, which was provided to us.
While No Going Back certainly contains some strong parts, its mostly leisurely pace and multiple conclusions all generally lack memorable moments and emotional impacts, resulting in a disappointing end to The Walking Dead: Season Two.