Making choices feel like they matter.
An immediate follow-up to episode 1, The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series – A New Frontier Episode 2: “Ties That Bind Part II” takes Part I’s solid start and runs with it much faster than a walker ever could. The episode feels more tied to both the familiar trappings of Walking Dead and Telltale Games’ plot structures. Yet by building on the foundation of the last episode and the two seasons before it, the conclusion of this two-part opener sets up an intriguing rest of the season — one that makes me feel like my choices actually matter (even if that’s likely an illusion).
Picking up from Part I’s dramatic final moments, “Ties That Bind’s” second half forces Javi to learn the true cost of surviving in this world for the first time since his introductory flashback in the season premiere. It’s easy to see how many dialogue choices and actions only matter in the moment, but I continued to care deeply about how Javi reacted to every blow to his family and his world. I fought to keep Javi’s hope and determination alive, even as the world around him actively worked to shake him of that resilience.
We want to hear it.
And some of those choices paid off within the episode itself as it deepened our understanding of Javi’s relationships. Picking up an item in the environment leads to a kind gesture later in the episode, and the long-term work Javi puts in with Kate and the kids over these two episodes feels important, even if it isn’t drastically altering the plot just yet. Without spoiling anything, however, I was excited to begin to notice how choices I made during Javi’s flashbacks are helping to define relationships in the present.
Even if it’s just in passing conversations, it’s reassuring to see my influence actually carrying some narrative weight.
The same can be said of Clementine, whose flashback in Part II feels much more important than in the premiere. The episode thankfully gives us some more details about the title of the season’s meaning (other than its obvious metaphorical idea), and the New Frontier’s role in things is surprisingly malleable. They have an impact on Clementine’s backstory, but it seems that we have some welcome input on that very impact, which imbues some of the moments in the present-day story with some nice additional emotional heft.
And reaching even further back into Clementine’s history, choices made with her and even Lee in previous seasons will shift the tone of some side interactions with her. How they will continue to impact the season remains to be seen — I’m not prepared to say just how much the overarching story will actually change this season because of those choices, because based on Telltale’s history it’s unlikely that a season’s plot would branch in a significant way this early on — but this far into the series it’s reassuring to see my influence actually carrying some narrative weight.
Outside of those choices, however, Part II offers some sadly familiar events. After a tense standoff early in the episode, the remaining survivors head off to a supposed safe haven for medical attention, only to predictably find trouble along the way. Any Walking Dead fan will certainly find something repetitive in that idea, and the fun appearance of a familiar franchise character didn’t make the overused plot ideas any less disappointing. But I was kept engaged by the continued strong character work, even if Part II lacks some of the cinematic flourishes that felt so special in Part I. And even when the episode’s scenes fell into recognizable territory, the quicktime event action scenes were often executed with tense, well-paced scenarios.
It’s still a little disconcerting to still not have a clear idea where the season as a whole will be heading, but moment-to-moment, Season 3 of Telltale’s Walking Dead continues to deliver some of the impressive world-building and characterization that made me love the series when it first premiered. I feel a part of Javi and Clementine’s plight, and though I hope the rest of the season can avoid some of the familiar Telltale and Walking Dead formula trappings that Episode 2 fell into and to keep surprising me, I’m still invested in finding out what’s next. Especially with a little more context for the New Frontier revealed, Telltale is starting to better lay out all the logs it has to build a cabin. I just hope the rest of the structure is as strong as the foundation.