By Marty Mulrooney
Thicker Than Water is the penultimate episode of A New Frontier, the third season of Telltale Games’ critically acclaimed episodic adventure game The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series. Following Joan’s betrayal, Javier must find a way to rescue his brother and keep his loved one’s safe. But with Richmond surrounded by zombies and an execution on the horizon, time is running out…
Episode 4 has arrived a lot sooner than expected and wastes no time picking up where the previous episode left off. Javier is thrown into a makeshift prison and his brother David is taken away by Joan and her soldiers. With Kate and Gabe in hiding and David in danger, waiting isn’t an option. Although the interaction is still limited, it’s nice to start the episode with a scene of exploration and some light puzzle solving.
There is also a flashback showing Javier and David hitting baseballs and talking about the future. It’s always great to see Javier when he was younger and his troubled relationship with his brother. David was far too hard on him – Javier wasn’t that bad – but there was definitely an element of immaturity to his personality that no longer exists in the present. In actual fact, Javier has grown up to become a far more responsible – and ultimately, better – man than David ever was.
Once Javier escapes from his cell, the action moves quickly and continues to ramp up until the very end. Javier’s relationships with the various supporting characters have developed beautifully and it’s wonderful to start witnessing the payoff. In this reviewer’s playthrough at least, it’s obvious that Javier and Kate have developed feelings for each other. Meanwhile, Gabe has reached an age where most teenagers start to brood and make bad decisions – and most teenagers don’t have to deal with zombies and the prospect of their father being killed.
It’s easy to imagine players finding Gabe annoying, but when taken in context his actions make sense. He’s frustrated that he can’t do more to help. He wants to save his father and prove himself. There is a section in the middle of the game where it’s just Javier and Gabe, the perfect opportunity for an uncle to offer advice to his nephew. It makes the moments where Gabe causes problems all the more difficult and reminds us that family relationships aren’t always the easiest, especially when dealing with volatile teenagers.
Clementine shows up later on and its no surprise that her scenes with Javier are yet again the highlight of the episode. There is a very creepy meeting with Richmond’s doctor and an extremely well written scene where Clementine asks Javier for advice about her first period. This moment could have been a disaster, but the way it further builds the relationship between these two characters pays off – it feels like a scene that has been earned. It’s shocking to realise just how quickly Clementine has grown up, in more ways than one. She has gone from being a little girl hiding in a treehouse, to a young woman who needs to learn about tampons, seemingly in the blink of an eye. Clementine gets her own flashback and it’s incredible how the mere mention of Lee in a conversation can still cause watery eyes.
All these moments build to a crescendo and an inevitable face off with Joan and the New Frontier. It’s extremely satisfying to be impacted by the decisions made not only in this episode, but in previous ones too. There is a final decision-making moment that you’ll agonise over more than most… and then the situation will go a completely different way than you anticipated. I personally loved this moment. In real life, we often make decisions that don’t pan out the way we wanted. Nobody has complete control over their own life or the lives of others. The final moments are fraught with anxiety and uncertainty, setting the scene for an action packed final episode.
Thicker Than Water is a solid penultimate episode. There are very few new locations, but there are so many rich character driven moments that it doesn’t really matter. Joan is the one element of this episode that is lacking. She’s certainly an evil and dangerous adversary that deserves what’s coming to her, but she hasn’t been shown much in previous episodes and only appears at the beginning and end of this one. Season 2’s Carver – voiced by Michael Madsen – was a much more satisfying bad guy to go up against and triumph over. Still, the main characters of Season 3 have panned out beautifully. They’re the real reason you’ll be back for the final episode… let’s just hope they can survive the aftermath of this one.
8.5 OUT OF 10