By Marty Mulrooney
Take Us Back is the fourth and final episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, an episodic adventure originally developed by Telltale Games (Tales from the Borderlands, Guardians of the Galaxy) that has now been completed by Skybound Games. In this final episode, Clementine must protect AJ – and trust him to protect himself – as the walkers close in and time runs out.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
It’s still hard to believe that Telltale Games is no more, following the studio’s sudden closure around six months ago. In 2012, The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series was launched to critical acclaim (AMO’s review of the first season’s finale described it as “a tear-jerking masterclass in interactive storytelling”); seven years, four seasons and a few spinoffs later, Clementine’s journey has finally drawn to a close – albeit a few months later than originally planned – with the help of Skybound Games. It’s a bittersweet moment to say the least.
The opening of Take Us Back picks up right where the previous episode left off, with Clementine reeling from a sudden explosion. After coming to, she must escape a burning ship with AJ while zombies lurch hungrily in the shallow waters below. Following some tense quick time events, Clementine finds Lilly (voiced by the wonderful Nicki Rapp) fleeing on a makeshift raft while her gang of raiders fight for their lives on shore. Or rather, she does if Lilly survived the end of Episode 3 in your version of the story.
It’s a somewhat anticlimactic moment; although the option is available to shoot at Lilly with Clementine’s bow and arrow, she can’t be killed. At first I thought this was to save Lilly for a final confrontation at the end of the episode, but she doesn’t end up reappearing. Once the scene ends, Lilly seemingly floats out of Clementine and AJ’s lives for good…
However, the protagonist-shaped hole left following Lilly’s departure is quickly filled by a somewhat unexpected replacement: Minnie, Tenn’s sister. After being bitten multiple times (one zombie even has the cheek to eat her cheek!) she becomes completely unhinged, chasing Clementine, AJ and Tenn with an axe. Her goal? To kill Tenn so they can join their dead family together…
The main focus of this fourth season has undoubtedly been the relationship between Clementine (Melissa Hutchison) and AJ (Taylor Parks); in many ways, the beautiful relationship between Lee and Clementine in the first season has now come full circle. However, how much impact Clementine’s – and therefore the player’s – actions can actually have on AJ in the final season is debatable. While trapped in a cave, AJ asks Clementine if she trusts him; it’s a rare moment where the dialogue feels forced and unnatural, even for a child in the zombie apocalypse.
Later, there is a sequence where Minnie uses a walker herd to attack Clementine, AJ and Tenn on a partially destroyed bridge. The scene is pretty ludicrous – Minnie isn’t dead yet and she isn’t covered in walker guts, so why aren’t the zombies attacking her? – but it’s so creepy and well-directed that it works. Yet no matter what the player does from this point onwards, Clementine will eventually end up getting bitten by a walker.
It’s astonishing how a fictional character getting bitten by a zombie can evoke such an emotional response; seeing the bite mark, I felt numb. Clementine has grown from a young child into a hardened badass since Lee died, but players around the world still feel incredibly protective of her. The role reversal that follows is excellent, with AJ trying to fortify a barn as walkers close in from all directions and Clementine drifts in and out of consciousness.
Of course, Clementine ends up asking AJ to kill her; it’s Lee’s death all over again. It’s hard not to shed a tear as AJ raises the axe above his head, swinging it down as the screen cuts to black. It’s a harrowing moment that’s also fittingly poetic. The end? Not quite… Telltale/Skybound could certainly have ended it there and it would have been a perfectly fine (if not predictable) ending. Instead, they chose to go the extra mile.
The final scene opens with AJ alone, fending for himself. He goes fishing. He promises to teach Tenn everything Clementine taught him. He makes sure the other children are safe. Back at the school, he turns… and Clementine is there to greet him, missing a leg but otherwise still very much alive. Some gamers may consider this plot twist to be a cop out, but this reviewer and fan breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series has always dealt in misery and despair; happy endings have been few and far between. Clementine dying would have totally made sense in this world narratively, but I’m glad the developers bent the rules just this once. Clementine has survived losing her parents, losing Lee and losing her leg. She’s a survivor, and survivors survive. Melissa Hutchison is Clementine by this point and her final performance is sheer perfection.
It was a more subdued ending than I expected. The final battle with Lilly didn’t happen and AJ didn’t turn into a monster. However, by ignoring the temptation to go out with an almighty bang just for the sake of it, Take Us Back manages to end Clementine’s journey on a happier note. Often, things don’t work out the way we thought they would. It’s a fitting end to a series created by a studio that is no longer with us, a realisation that hits home even harder as AJ walks down the school’s main corridor during the end credits, the development team’s signatures lining the walls.
It’s hard to say goodbye to Clementine and Telltale Games. I was 24 years old and still living at home with my parents when I first played A New Day in 2012; I’m now 31, a homeowner, and getting married in a few weeks. Over the years I’ve reviewed every single episode of The Walking Dead: A Telltale Games Series, and been lucky enough to interview many of the voice actors too. The last time we see Clementine she’s smiling and that’s exactly how I want to remember her. She deserved a happy ending, even if Telltale Games couldn’t have one. Truly, thank you for the memories guys. Marty will remember that.
8 OUT OF 10