Episode 4: Thicker Than Water
When we last left off on A New Frontier, Javy and David were in the midst of a confrontation with Joan, who, more or less, was established as the main antagonist going forward. Episode 3 ended on something of a cliffhanger, attempting to push for something bigger than what it had actually established. Unfortunately, A New Frontier’s momentum continues to sag throughout Episode 4, Thicker Than Water, with underdeveloped character motivations, predictable plot threads, and a growing feeling that Telltale might want to let The Walking Dead rest for a while (if not permanently) once Season 3 is complete.
Here’s what you need to know about Episode 4: Thicker Than Water. Warning: spoilers follow.
A familiar pattern becomes increasingly tired.
Once again, we start off in the past as Episode 4 opens with Javy and David taking some batting practice before the zombie apocalypse. The scene’s objective seems to be to establish Javy and David's hot and cold relationship further, though, at this point, it feels like it's common knowledge. There is one dialogue reveal that is supposed to tie into the events of the present, but it ends up feeling convenient for the sake of Javy and his standing with Kate more than a true shocker.
Also, remember that previously mentioned cliffhanger ending from Episode 3? Forget about it. Episode 4 skips right over it, pushing forward to the aftermath when a somehow unharmed Javy and David are being escorted to a holding cell by Joan who is also unscathed. After glossing over those events with a few lines of dialogue, Javy and David find themselves in jail (again). David is eventually taken away, and Javy finagles his way out with some help, and the episode continues with the “safe place no longer being safe” storyline that the TV show has beaten to death. It’s got both walkers at the gate and dangerous humans, so if you’re familiar with the brand, you know what to expect here.
Some character flip flops in motivations just don’t make sense.
Tripp and Eleanor fall (and fail) the hardest in this episode on the motivation front. After regrouping in an apartment building, it feels like Telltale gets a little desperate to up the ante on the drama factor. After details about Conrad’s “disappearance” come to light, Tripp and Eleanor instantly think that joining the antagonist, Joan is somehow a good idea. While Tripp’s anger is extreme, the scene ends up rendering Eleanor little more than obnoxiously self-righteous considering the circumstances.
The purpose of the exchange seems to be to create a sense of unease as the protagonists set out on their big plan to rescue David, stop Joan, and escape Richmond, but all it ends up doing is make the tension feel artificial and forced.
The big character-altering decisions are here; they just feel par for the course.
The end of Episode 4: Thicker Than Water manages to raise the stakes through both physical drama and character choices. However, it’s all starting to feel too routine from what you’d come to expect from a Telltale game. There’s a moment when you’re forced to choose between the lives of two characters and another choice that feels like no matter what you pick; you’ll get relatively the same outcome either way.
It’s hard to feel all that attached about Javy and Co.’s status in Richmond since this season spent almost half of the time not being there. If anything I have no stakes in whatever decisions are offered to me outside of the lives of the characters I’ve known since Episode 1, that it feels pointless to even present them to me. If anything, Javy should be a witness to the goings of the city’s politics, as simply being the brother of a higher-up in the society shouldn’t count for too much influence.
The verdict so far.
After straddling in between opinions following Episode 3, there’s no doubt in my mind that The Walking Dead: A New Frontier is losing its grip. It’s a shame because Episode 1 began so promisingly with a strong sense of character in a way that felt more intimate. It seems like Telltale wanted to strike a balance between intimate and epic, but so often it's hard to use one without sacrificing the other.
I know Telltale wants Season 3 to go out with a bang, and by all accounts, it certainly looks that way on the outside. The problem is that the player’s attachment to Richmond hasn’t been given enough time to develop, that it feels like the story is heading into a city-wide war because city-wide wars are cool to look at.
Perhaps if the entire season had taken place in Richmond, engrossing me entirely in how things work in the city, I might feel differently. But for now, I’m preparing myself for tons of QTE’s, blood, and dramatic character deaths that I’ll probably just shrug off as Telltale making sure they do their Telltale things.