Adventures in The Walking Dead – Episode 1: A New Day

I’ve always been fairly confident that I’d survive a zombie apocalypse.

In fact, a friend of mine and I have discussed it in shameful depth on more than one occasion. We’ve played enough video games and seen enough movies, we said. We have enough combined intelligence, we said. We’d just climb a ladder or something, we said.

If Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead has taught me anything, it’s that we were wrong. We’d be dead in minutes. I, certainly, would be of no use to anyone.

Mainstream zombie media has conditioned us to believe that, when the dead claw their way out of their graves and take to the streets in shambling packs, our fate will be determined by our ability to kill them again. I could live with that. Destroy their brains. Stay away from malls. Climb ladders. We could make it through, I’m sure of it.

We’re wrong. The zombies don’t matter. The roaming undead are nothing but a rotting construct, fencing off the remnants of humanity from everything we know and understand; gnawing away at the bones of comfort and familiarity, and leaving us with nothing but the will to survive in the shade of the carcass. Only the strong will survive, but the strong don’t measure their strength in headshots and decapitations. The strong adapt. The strong have the power to make the tough decisions, and more importantly to live with the consequences. The strong look into the face of disaster and find a way to embrace it. And they climb ladders.

Apparently I’m not very strong at all, because everybody in “A New Day” fucking hates me. The only character who has any time for me at all is Clementine, and I’m convinced that’s only because I gave her all the energy bars.

I’m going to spoil episode one of The Walking Dead. You have been warned.

Lee Everett is a staple of zombie fiction. He’s mysterious and guarded, and he may or may not be a stone-cold killer. We’ve seen him many times before, in various different guises, but this is the first time I know of that he has ever been front and centre. Lee Everett is our protagonist, a “hero” we’re not even sure we can trust.

When we first meet Lee, he’s handcuffed in the back of a police cruiser on his way to the state penitentiary. We have no idea of his crime, or if he’s even guilty of it, but available evidence seems to suggest he probably is.

There’s a man driving the car, a uniformed officer of the law who is presumably content spending his last few years on the force ferrying convicts to the prison so he doesn’t get shot to death before picking up his pension. He’s a little presumptuous and obviously set in his ways, but he’s talking, so we listen.

As Lee gazes out of the window and watches his freedom speed along down the highway, we can answer his questions, or ask our own. If we’re feeling a little bitter about the whole incarceration thing, we can tell him to fuck himself and keep his big nose out of our business. If we’re feeling mysterious, we don’t have to say anything at all. Telltale understands that sometimes it isn’t the things you say, but the things you don’t.

Pretty soon, the cop car has ploughed into a shambling body, smashed through a barricade and taken a tumble down an embankment. Lee wakes up to find himself stuck in the back seat, still cuffed and now sporting a nasty leg wound. Through the fractured windscreen, he can see the corpse of the driver laying face-down a few feet away.

Getting Lee out of the car, out of the handcuffs and out of harm’s way is a tutorial wrapped up in a frightfully tense sequence of interactions. The Walking Dead is an adventure game only in the sense that you point at things and click on things. Sometimes you rub two things together, but that’s about as far as it goes. Getting Lee out of the car is as simple as clicking on the rear window to kick it free; there are no circuitous, esoteric solutions to these basic problems, and everything feels better for it. The Walking Dead isn’t about puzzles. It’s about staying alive.

Keeping Lee alive quickly results in him hooking up with his first ragtag group of survivors, among them a married couple from Florida, Kenny and Katjaa, their son Duck, and a young girl named Clementine.

Lee’s relationship with Clem is essentially boy-meets-girl, but in this case the “boy” becomes an adoptive father figure rather than a love interest. Clementine represents a glimmer of hope and innocence in a world that is falling apart, and her preservation is inextricably linked to that of humanity as a whole. Whatever happens, I say to myself, I must protect this little girl.

It’s nice to see Telltale embrace the fact that a grown man hanging around with a young girl who isn’t his daughter is a little bit weird. It gets referenced frequently by other survivors, and the surrogate father/daughter dynamic is a little bit more interesting when the people around can’t completely trust the father figure. I opted to tell everyone the truth from the very beginning: that she isn’t my daughter, and that I found her in a house while I was rooting through her kitchen cupboards. That seemed to be the better option.

The survivors are taking refuge on the Greene family farm, a major location in both the comic books and the piss-poor second season of the TV series. The patriarch, Hershel, is letting us sleep in his barn. You may remember Hershel as the miserable old fuck in the show who continues to grossly underestimate the severity of the situation no matter how many zombies play Hungry Hungry Hippos with his relatives. You’ll be pleased to know he’s just as much of a nuisance in the game Thankfully our interactions with him are limited because the following morning his son, Shaun, gets mauled to death and Lee, Kenny, Katjaa, Duck and Clementine are expelled from the farm on the basis that nobody bothered to try and save him.

The Walking Dead presents the player with choices that aren’t bound by morality or a binary good/evil dichotomy. Often, in fact, the choices you have to make are equally horrible, and which ghastly option you select is really just down to personal preference. While Shaun is under threat from the zombies – or “walkers”, to use the proper Walking Dead nomenclature – so is Kenny’s son, Duck. Of the two, I opted to save Duck and leave Shaun to die. This was the easiest decision I had to make in the first four episodes. Saving a child rather than a grown man seemed like a no-brainer to me.

Kenny offers Lee and Clem a ride to Macon, a nearby city and Lee’s hometown. While there, the gang are rescued by another group of survivors led by queen-bitch Lilly and her aggressive, overbearing bully of a father, Larry. There’s a little dispute early on because Larry believes Duck has been bitten, and my attempts at calming the situation down resulted in both Larry and Kenny thinking I was a bit of a prick for not siding either way. If there’s one thing that suffers rapidly in a zombie apocalypse, it’s diplomacy.

Carley, a regional news reporter and for some reason a military-grade markswoman, is also part of the pharmacy group and the only character to know Lee’s history as a convicted criminal. She agrees to keep it to herself, but I already decided if anyone else asked I was going to be honest. Nobody bothered to mention it so far, but there are worse things for these people to deal with than a past that no longer matters.

As for the present, Kenny isn’t too fond of me for not immediately jumping to his defence when Larry wanted to kill Duck. Larry feels the same way for exactly the opposite reason. Lilly hates everyone. Carley is a little bit indifferent towards me because, during our escape from the pharmacy, I saved her life by letting her love-interest get dragged through a window and presumably chewed to death. Clementine is still more or less on my side, but I think, as I mentioned before, this is only because I overfed her energy bars while I was rooting around the pharmacy for supplies.

Hope is all but lost among these people. It’s only when we kneel down next to Clementine and talk to her about school, and sports, and the walkie-talkie she carries around with her, that we truly understand. The past is lost, and the future is a prayer most will never have answered. It’s only the ones like this little girl, those who will grow up in the wreckage, who will truly be able to survive. In a way, Clementine is stronger than us all.

Clem’s innocence is the last remaining scrap of a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and it will fade. She will see and likely do things that most children could never even contemplate. Her childhood, her family, her life, everything she has ever known will be lost, or destroyed, or corrupted.

Still, I tell her everything will be okay.

  • http://mediocritycodex.blogspot.com/ Timothy Hsu

    I’m really frustrated by the constant commentary about how what makes The Walking Dead so good is that it’s a “different” perspective on the zombie apocalypse. But everything I’ve seen, from the show itself to the articles (and now the game and the articles, like this one, based on it) has only shown me that The Walking Dead is nothing more than all the boring, stereotypical parts of normal life dramaticized by the unrelenting presence of zombies.

    A choice between saving a child or an adult? This is still an everyday decision for most. Having to put on a strong face for your 4 year-old daughter, telling her things will be alright when you know that you’ve no money left and that the canned foods left in the pantry have all expired? I know people in these situations.

    The only thing that The Walking Dead does is make me realize that the zombie apocalypse will equalize everyone, and by doing so bring to light the neuroticisms, prejudices, and selfish inclinations that we all have. And it will finally show that the truly strong are those who didn’t need a zombie apocalypse to prove all of these things to them.

    As interesting as this article is, it still doesn’t convince me that The Walking Dead deserves any kind of acclamation for bringing anything new to the zombie apocalypse genre.