NOTE: There are some The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 1 “All that Remains” spoilers in the following paragraphs. If you haven’t played through this episode or the ones leading up to season two, and don’t want anything spoiled, go ahead and exit this page.
Clementine has become one of the most gripping video game characters in recent years. Her presence throughout season one of The Walking Dead was acute, but not in a manner that affected gameplay, interestingly enough.
Instead, TellTale Games made sure that Clementine was always at the forefront of the game’s crescendos to spur your emotional attachment to not only her, but the rest of the game’s characters as well.
It didn’t take long before you blatantly realized that you cared about Clementine. She was a little girl. She portrayed life, love, and innocence in a way that only a child could. Somewhere deep down, you wanted to protect that innocence — protect it from the world and the new rash realities of death and hopelessness.
Lee was always at the center of this attachment. Some called him a protagonist, and while he most certainly was, he was also an instrument, one used to protect Clementine vicariously through you. However, with Lee’s death in episode five of season one, and the announcement of Clementine as the main playable character in season two, many wondered where these emotions would go.
Would they cease? Would someone else become the new Lee? Would Clementine be so different that it wouldn’t matter? All of these were valid questions.
TellTale Games took a route that was surprising, but made perfect sense. Clementine didn’t need anymore handholding. You taught her to cut her hair so that walkers couldn’t grab it. You taught her how to use a pistol. You even taught her to trust nobody, perhaps the greatest lesson of all.
The culmination of these lessons from season one is a more mature Clementine for season two. However, it’s clear that your desire to protect her isn’t something that’s about to be neglected or even forgotten. So, by playing as Clementine, TellTale Games has actually used your desire to keep her safe as a tool to mature her.
Without someone else to look out for Clementine you had to choose dialogue as her that you wouldn’t normally expect or even want to come out of her mouth, all in the name of keeping her safe.
One moment in “All That Remains” that captures this clearly is the conversation between Clementine and Rebecca late in the episode, taken place at the kitchen table. Rebecca wasn’t shy to voice her displeasure with having Clementine around. To Rebecca, she was a threat, bite mark or no bite mark.
It was at the kitchen table, though, where Rebecca’s feelings climaxed, turning into a series of threats against Clementine. If it were season one, the game would likely have used Lee to challenge Rebecca, or at least deflect the attention away from Clementine.
But with you at the helm of Clementine, you were given the option to protect her through blackmail.
“You should be nicer to me,” Clementine says, insisting that she would reveal information learned about Rebecca.
In season one, blackmail wouldn’t have been an option, or at least something you’d expect to see from Clementine. But your thirst for Clementine’s safety, now playing as her, results in a much different Clementine…
…a more mature Clementine.
As you cross these dialogue paths with the idea of keeping her safe, you actually participate in the maturity of Clementine. She’s no longer a little girl. She’s not sheltered. In fact, she’s quite cold to the world; I’ll even go as far as to say she’s acclimated to its new functions.
So without Lee, you approach both Clementine and the game differently. What arises is a conflict between Clementine’s wellbeing and the longing to see her turn back into the girl that we met in the tree house in the first episode of season one, even if we know that the latter is just a forgone dream.
If this is the approach that TellTale Games is taking to Clementine in season two, I cannot wait for episodes two through five. With a million different ways to approach Clementine as the main character in The Walking Dead, it’s remarkable to see how TellTale Games has left her character development to the players. Really that’s what the game as always been about: your choices, your feelings, and the people that rise up because of them.
Tate Steinlage is a regular freelancer for GameZone. You can follow him on Twitter @SteinlageT.