Payoff, Glorious Payoff.
The Walking Dead’s Episode 5 has some high expectations to meet. For the better part of a year, we have been making decisions, struggling to survive, and watching those we love fall to the horrors of the zombie apocalypse. Episode 5 was in the position to either raise the artistic bar or falter in its conclusion like so many other great story-based games have done in the past (Fallout 3 and Mass Effect 3, for example).
But The Walking Dead: Episode 5 does not disappoint. Rather, it is one of the most emotional video game experiences that has ever been made. It is a heart-wrenching conclusion to not just Lee Everett’s story, but your story. You did this; you made the choices. Right up to the very last scene, your choices are what the story is all about.
It’s hard to talk about Episode 5 without spoiling anything, and if there was ever a game you don’t want spoiled for you it’s this one. However, you need to know a little bit about the plot for context. Episode 5 picks up exactly where Episode 4 left off, with Clementine being mysteriously kidnapped and you leading your own personally chosen band of survivors on a quest to find her. While finding her is your main goal, it’s not what you spend most of the episode doing. In fact, the episode starts you off worrying about your own survival more than anything else.
This is where the magic comes in. Episode 5 puts you in some of the harshest situations yet, giving you few options for survival, and even fewer options that manage to keep the party together. For the first half of the episode, you are placed in situations that force you to talk with everyone who is still following you and confront them about what you are going to do should you manage to live past tomorrow. The grim circumstances cause all of the personal drama to come to a head, with long-held grudges finally exploding and long-kept secrets finally coming out. You have to decide who you trust, but you also have to decide who you are just fed up with.
That’s one of the reasons why Episode 5 is so interesting; it forces Lee to evolve as a character by forcing you to evolve as a person. Here’s an example: Without naming names, there is a character that I had been trying to get on the good side of for quite a while, but no matter what I did, it seemed as if I could only cause more trouble and anger. This character eventually started an argument about whether or not it was worth it to save Clementine, and at that point, instead of trying to smooth things over, I lost it. I became angry, confrontational, and bitter, and I made choices that nearly brought us to blows.
It wasn’t just because that’s what I wanted Lee to do. It was because that’s how I, as the player, was feeling. I was cornered, I had no choices, and I was done with all of the social drama BS. The barrier between me as a person and Lee as a character had totally been destroyed. I wasn’t an outsider looking in. It was me trapped amongst all of those zombies and at the end of my rope. Some of the greatest pieces of media never manage to get the viewer to feel like they’re one with the protagonist, but The Walking Dead actually does.
That’s just the first half of the game. The second half has less to do with the social relationships you have cultivated and much more to do with the choices you’ve made. Every choice, from as far back as Episode 1, comes back to haunt you. You are forced to face not only the person you have become, but the person you are. You find yourself facing the darker side of your decisions and questioning whether or not they were the right choices to make. Hell, you find yourself questioning your real-life moral values as you see the consequences of your actions play out in front of you.
The entire last half of the episode isn’t about survival and it isn’t about social interaction. It’s about who you are as a person and what that means in this post-apocalyptic setting. The choice is always yours, even if there are only bad choices to make. The Walking Dead hammers that theme home right up to the end credits. This was all because of you. This was what you chose. This is your story, and it will end in a way that you’ve decided. Except that it’s the zombie apocalypse, so you can be pretty certain that the ending won’t be happy.
The sheer amount of choice in Episode 5 is staggering. Not only does the episode start completely different depending on who you took with you to rescue Clementine, but as the game goes on, the fates of the characters accompanying you can change drastically. You never know when a choice you make will make the difference between a safe way out and an untimely death. Not only that, but the mindsets of the supporting cast can change drastically as well. Depending on how you treat those around you, they could become optimistic survivors looking for the tiniest ray of hope, or they could become cynical, suicidal husks just looking for a good way to die. The situations you experience and the way your party reacts to them all come down to the choices you have made. In fact, just to show you that your choices actually mattered, the game actually outlines every choice you made in relation to every other character after the credits.
There were certain elements of the story that the game didn’t address, though, and this may make some people angry. I’ll tell you right now Episode 5 doesn’t get into Lee’s past, and it doesn’t address anything before the zombie outbreak. Episode 5 doesn’t directly address the pasts of anyone else for that matter. There are some characters that you may have parted ways with under mysterious circumstances, and, unfortunately, their fates are not shown either. They continue to be mysteriously lost amidst the zombie apocalypse, and even the post-credits wrap-up describes them as such.
The beginning of the game also has a couple action holdovers from Episode 4. There are a few scenes where you do things that are far too epic for a Walking Dead character. Luckily, these scenes are sparse and are quickly ditched in favor of the more personal drama and survival.
They say that you can truly call a video game art when it makes you cry. If that’s the case, then The Walking Dead Episode 5 is triple art, as it made me cry—or, at the very least, come close—on three separate occasions. At one point, I literally had to put down the game and walk out of the room because of what had just happened to me. The game’s ability to deliver a dark plot is second to none.
Simply put, The Walking Dead from Telltale Games is a shining example of what interactive media should be. If you miss out on this, you are missing out on one of the greatest works of art of our generation.
Oh, and stick around after the credits. The Walking Dead isn’t quite over yet.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.1 Graphics
The comic book style still serves the game well. 4.0 Control
No glitches this time around, though some people have reported strange troubles with their saves. 4.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice performances are second to none, and the ending theme will have you in tears. 5.0 Play Value
Not playing this game would be doing yourself a horrendous disservice. 5.0 Overall Rating – The Best
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.
|Review Rating Legend
|0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid
|2.5 – 2.9 = Average
|3.5 – 3.9 = Good
|4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
|2.0 – 2.4 = Poor
|3.0 – 3.4 = Fair
|4.0 – 4.4 = Great
|5.0 = The Best