All good stories need a strong and compelling main character––someone who makes you think, act, and feel exactly how anyone would in any given situation they’re thrown into. Telltale Games has succeeded in crafting playable characters who we actually care about as we, the player, gets to decide what choices and course of action they should take.
The Walking Dead Season 1 had us play as Lee, a man coming to terms with his dark past while taking care of a little girl named Clementine, as if she were his own daughter from the Walkers. Every decision Lee makes is usually for the good of everyone involved and Clementine. As an adult, you make tough choices in life and hope what you’re doing is right. But what happens when you have to make adult choices when you’re only a child? That’s a question The Walking Dead Season 2 poses when you play as Clementine.
With three episodes of Season 2 currently out now, playing as Clementine has been an interesting and dynamic experience so far. Making Clementine the main character you play as in this game has not only been difficult, but downright brutal at times. Adding the element of having to make decisions as a little girl and navigating the complicated and messy world of adults, stirs up emotions of protectiveness for Clementine and forcing yourself to imagine how you would personally handle the situations she finds herself in.
Playing as Lee is a little different because many players are mostly grown adults making decisions in the game based off of their own personal beliefs and moral conduct. There’s no need to sugarcoat reality and things are presented as they are without any need to shield yourself from the harsh realities of life. Clementine, on the other hand, is just a child who shouldn’t have to be put into the position she’s placed in under normal circumstances, if dealing with Walkers were considered normal.
Thanks to Lee and a number of other adults in her life, Clementine has been given the basic skills needed to survive. However, to think Clementine will be able to retain an ounce of childlike innocence during her journey in Season 2 is wishful thinking at best. Maybe a foolish one if you want to be more realistic. The decisions you have to make as Clementine aren’t any easier as when you played as Lee, and seeing how the adults she encounters in Season 2 act towards her, they can be harsh and unforgiving sometimes.
For instance, the main villain of Season 2, a man named Carver who controls a survivor compound, doesn’t treat Clementine like a child. He talks to her like an adult and isn’t opposed to hitting her if she gets out of line. It’s people like Carver who would make a player react in outrage toward him for treating Clementine so savagely. But is it really avoidable in her situation? Considering the world they live in, it would make you think there’s no room to really be a kid. Naivete would get you killed and survival is important in the world of The Walking Dead. Sarah, a girl about Clementine’s age, represents the pitfalls of shielding a child too much from the realities of their dystopian world.
Sarah’s father Carlos takes painstaking measures to ensure his daughter has as normal a life as possible, despite dealing with Walkers and trying to outrun Carver. Carlos’ intentions may come from a good place, but this only ends up hurting Sarah in the end. It makes his daughter vulnerable and ill-prepared to survive on her own when the time comes. There are times when even Clementine recognizes this and tries to warn Carlos against it in the game.
Is there really a right or wrong way for a child to behave in the world of The Walking Dead? It’s hard to say. Season 1 of The Walking Dead had Clementine acting in a similar way as Sarah once, but because Lee wanted to ensure Clementine was capable of surviving without him, he had to take her child blinders off out of necessity. Lee treaded a fine line between allowing Clementine to still be a kid, but not allowing her to be completely unaware of what she’s up against in their world.
Experiencing and seeing things through Clementine’s perspective in Season 2 has made me think about how I’d handle the people and situations that come up for her in the game if I were her age. When I play the game, I’m approaching everything from an adult’s way of reasoning and not a child’s. It’s really difficult to put yourself in her shoes because I didn’t grow up with the experience of having to make tough decisions at such a young age. I had a normal childhood and I was allowed to be a kid. Clementine doesn’t really have that luxury. She’s forced to grow up because it’s the only way she can keep herself alive and to handle the grownups who may or may not always have her best interests at heart––to be a little discerning of who she really should be placing her trust in.
Being Clementine in The Walking Dead Season 2 brings something different to the game by seeing things through a child’s eyes. Would we have the courage to do what’s necessary, even if it’s not always right? Can we standup against the adults who think they know better than you do because of your age? Would you be able to not come out of these experiences cynical and feeling like the world is a lost cause? These are questions to think about and certainly something I’ll be deliberating over once the game has concluded.