The Walking Dead: “Amid the Ruins” Review
How far does loyalty span? Sometimes, being most dedicated to one means betraying another. Comradery – and its cost – is the underlying theme of the fourth episode in Telltale Game’s The Walking Dead. I began “Amid the Ruins” with high expectations. As the penultimate episode of the second season, I was hoping that it would leave us all on the edge of our seats as the story reached an emotional climax, and as I write this only minutes after completing the episode, I am happy to say that Telltale did not disappoint.
“Amid the Ruins” kicks off right where episode three ended, with the group scattered throughout a massive herd of zombies. Clementine has just witnessed the death of one of the group’s leaders, Sarah has run off on her own, and now depending on whether or not you chose to spare Sartita’s arm, you’ll have more tough choices to make. Priority number one is getting out of the herd alive, and after the attacks, the disappearance of Sarah, the entire escape plan has crumbled as the members fall into a state of panic. To me, this was the most stressful part of the episode and one of the best scenes in the season so far. Season 2 lacked a lot of the fast paced action that drove the first, so jumping right in to an actual zombie attack and having to make Clementine defend herself rather than just watching was a huge plus.
A surprising twist arrives in the form of Jane. The mysterious loner introduced back in Carver’s camp helps both Clem and Rebecca escape the horde, and plays a prominent role in the rest of the episode. We find her opening up to Clementine almost immediately, and as she reveals a tragic loss from her past, we’re able to understand why she is so aloof in the present. The affinity she develops for Clementine and the friendship that forms between them is touching and despite its fast pace, extremely believable. I found that Jane became one of my favorite characters of the entire season within only a few scenes, though that revelation comes bittersweet.
This season is almost over, the number of survivor’s in the group grows smaller with each episode, however I’ve yet to feel any of the emotional connection to them that I did in the first season. When we played as Lee, I felt every death. Even the loss of Doug or Carly in the convenience store caused a twinge of sadness that seemed to resonate for the entirety of the game, and not just through me, but through all the characters as well. The deaths in season 2 are more impassive. The characters move on quickly, and there’s hardly any consequence or emotional significance left in their wake. Jane’s arrival and introduction as a sisterly figure to Clementine was much needed, and it allowed me to feel a closer connection to not just her, but everyone else involved, especially given the question she raises. She advises Clementine to not let the others drag her down. The group has suffered not just physical hits with lives lost and the remaining survivors injured and dispersed, but the events up until this point have taken emotional and mental tolls on everyone. Some members, such as Kenny, seem to have been cut the deepest.
Jane serves as a mentor to Clementine – offering advice on which bodies to search, and showing her a useful trick for killing walkers that you actually have the choice to execute during attacks later on. Seeing the character we’ve watched grow from an innocent little girl we once protected to a capable individual who can defend herself and even risks her life to help others doesn’t make me wonder as to whether or not Clem would make it on her own, but whether or not leaving would be for the best.
The majority of this episode takes place at a Civil War Memorial site. Among the crumbling ruins is an enormous statue of a solider carrying a wounded comrade over his back. The inscription reads “Fallen, but never forsaken.” The allegorical undertones of the setting were a nice touch, with the statue being a strong visual illustration of the message presented throughout the episode. We must carry all our choices, and regardless of how good the intent behind them may be, they can still weigh us down.
The group decides to split up and search for supplies, as it becomes clear the arrival of Rebecca’s baby is imminent. As a player, you’ll have a choice on who to follow, but still eventually wind up needing to visit several different locations. Clementine is forced now to make decisions that aren’t just about life or death, but also morality. At one point, you come across another survivor who has an impressive loot of medicine. With several members in camp injured, it could be helpful, but what matters more? Is potentially helping some of your own worth leaving another human being who claims to have a sick sister empty handed?
There were two decisions in this episode that left me feeling as if there was no “right” choice. The line between good and bad has become blurred, but I find that truer to life. Things aren’t always simple, and I actually felt torn between making the “good” choice that as default would be deemed acceptable for a decent human being, and wanting to protect and care for the members of my group. The resulting emotional conflict is a nice touch that I’ve come to love Telltale for. The choices that we must make don’t just leave an imprint on Clementine as we steer her in a moral direction of our choosing, but also leave us to question our own minds and principles. It’s a key element from season 1 that I missed and am glad to have back.
In terms of combat, there was far more in this game than in any other episode of the season, which I enjoyed. If there was one thing I could add to the series, it would be more hands on action scenes. Taking down one or two zombies at a time only when its integral to the plot can sometimes leave you itching for more. The tip offered by Jane and the ability to use it later on, as well as searching the corpses of other zombies and figuring out how to pull off certain plans, was a pleasing expansion to Clementine’s combat abilities, and it makes me curious as to whether we’ll see those skills develop even more in the final episode, and hopefully a third season.
Graphically, the episode follows the animated style based off the comic book series by Tony Moore. The overall detail seemed to be fine-tuned this time around. Every subtle shift in a character’s expression, particularly during heated scenes, adds a rawness to the game that makes it all the more compelling. Telltale has a talented cast of writers, and I’ve never come across a series that knows how to twist a knife in your emotional gut quite like The Walking Dead.
The episode ends on a tense note to say the least, and for the sake of avoiding any major spoilers, I’ll suffice it to say that when I said I wanted to be left on the edge of my seat, the game went beyond and left me flat out hanging in suspense. The lack of the typical preview clip makes me even more eager for the finale. Given the usual release schedule, I imagine that to be in either late August or September. That gives anyone who hasn’t tried the game out plenty of time to get caught up. The Walking Dead Season 2 is currently on sale on Steam for just $14.50 until July 28th, after which it will return to its retail value of $24.99.