Review: The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series - A New Frontier Episode 5 effectively concludes an uneven season
Plus a final score for the whole season.
Episode 5: From the Gallows
So here we are at the end of Telltale’s third official season of The Walking Dead, and the results as a whole have been largely uneven. Coming off of what was easily the season’s (and probably the franchise’s) weakest episode, expectations going into A New Frontier’s final episode were understandably tempered, to say the least. Fortunately, Telltale has managed to pull themselves together at least well enough to come up with a cohesive and (mostly) satisfying ending that admittedly skips over the importance of the fates of a few notable characters for the sake of having something to go on for the inevitable Season 4.
If you’d like to check out the impressions on the previous episodes, you can do so by clicking on the following links.
WARNING: Major spoilers for Telltale’s The Walking Dead - A New Frontier follow.
From the Gallows turns to the past to pull out what might be the season's best scene.
Unsurprisingly, Telltale keeps to the formula it has used since the season’s first episode by using a scene from the past to set up a moment in the present. Its payoff comes off a tad contrived and conflicts with the nature of David and Javy’s contentious relationship (or at least the one I’ve built up), but the opening moments of Episode 5 are arguably the strongest setup any of the episodes have seen to date.
The scene shows Javy, David, and their father gathered around the kitchen table playing dominoes. It’s really the first time we get an extended look at what the pair’s relationship with their aging father is like. After losing a game and a bet to David, Javy’s dad bails him out by offering to pay his part. Javy and David happen upon a medical letter saying that their father has cancer, and has been concealing it from the family.
Javy and David contend that the family has a right to know and that he should fight the cancer, while they’re father has accepted his fate and doesn’t want to financially or emotionally burden his family while quietly enjoying his last days in peace.
The scene, rather than stooping into self-righteousness, is very raw and pure as it explores the two perspectives of the same argument. This is a theme that From the Gallows proves especially good at conveying on more than one occasion. The end objective of the scene is a request from your father to repair your relationship with your brother and stick by him in the worst of times, a decision that comes into play at one of Gallows’ many emotional choke points.
There’s not as much action in From the Gallows as it would seem, and that’s a good thing.
At the conclusion of Episode 4: Thicker Than Water, I was convinced that the Season finale was going to a city-wide war, considering the main antagonist, Joan tried to hang David alongside a major gun battle breaking out with explosions and a zombie invasion galore. Fortunately, Telltale steers away from this direction and chooses a more intimate path to resolve its many character threads, even though it leaves a few loose. Just a side note, not that I was terribly disappointed, but the supposed big bad, Joan was nowhere to be seen in From the Gallows.
No, the main plot points come from the things that have been building since the very beginning, mainly involving the tension between Javy, Kate, and David. When it all comes to a head, you are faced with a moment where you can choose to fight David head on, or tell him you love him. This is the previously mentioned payoff that comes from the scene with your father and the thing that decides whether you keep your promise to him.
The ultimate payoff between Javy and David is a bit of a mixed bag.
I’m not sure if it’s just my play experience, but I found the whole notion of making Javy tell David he loves him, even though he’s seconds away from being pummeled to be a bit hard to buy. The hot and cold nature of the relationship between the brothers is something that has endured since the beginning, and just now Javy is supposed to magically achieve some level of enlightenment for the sake of injecting empathy into a scene it doesn’t belong in?
Javy and David have had any number of moments when the tension could boil over, so it feels like the two of them fighting it out is the more natural of the two courses. David has always functioned as the bully, getting his rocks off by telling others what to do and putting Javy down to cover up his own insecurities. Since it was clear that David wasn’t going to change, I found it more prudent for Javy to stand his ground and show David he wasn’t going to get to him.
I knew Javy would get his ass kicked (and does), but on a deeper level, allowing the fight to happen both sends a message to the rest of the party about Javy and further undermines David’s psychological well-being in their eyes. So in a sense, the option that looks crass on the outside, ends up being the one that could have deeper story ties into the future. There is some real potential for some clever narrative subtext with this choice, so hopefully Telltale doesn't pass on the opportunity.
So after the gradual downhill swing that A New Frontier experienced between episode’s 3 and 4, I’m happy to say that The Walking Dead Season 3 came out alright in the end, if a bit uneven. As far as the main seasons go, A New Frontier is easily the weakest of the three, but that’s because of the incredibly high bar its predecessors set (particularly Season 1).
Regarding Telltale’s work as a whole, A New Frontier’s improvements are mainly technical, as the series has never looked better. From the ending, it’s clear that the studio has no plans of stopping Clementine’s story anytime soon, so if you’re hoping for more, don’t worry there.
That said, I think The Walking Dead’s days of being an elite franchise are over, as it feels like it's transitioning from front-runner to secondary project. But so long as the series continues to sell, you can expect Telltale to keep making them.