SPOILERS AHEAD. You’ve been warned.
We’re back again for the second episode of The Walking Dead Season Two, and in many ways a pattern is beginning to emerge in the story structure of this series and the concurrently running The Wolf Among Us. If you read my recap of the most recent episode of that series, you’ll remember that I called it a bridging episode, and that same description applies very well to “A House Divided.”
If we look at the arc of these current seasons so far (which is admittedly dubious seeing as we’re less than halfway through), the first episode of each season establishes thestatus quo, introduces us to most of our primary characters, and sets up a general idea of where the season is going to go. The second episode, then, is spent largely in service of moving pieces around the board – reinforcing things brought up in episode one, solidifying character relationships, and getting things in position before the rug gets pulled out at the end of the episode and everything changes. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out over the course of the season in both games, but it’s interesting to note the way this approach differs from the first season of The Walking Dead. Where the first season was much more episodic, with each episode largely acting as its own self-contained story in the context of a larger narrative, this feels much more like a variation of Shakespeare’s five act structure broken up over five episodes. It’s way too early to say whether one approach is definitively better than the other, but it’s an interesting thing to note none-the-less.
With all of that said, so far this approach feels like it’s working better in The Wolf Among Us than it is here. Both episodes are relatively devoid of major set piece moments until the very end, but in a mystery procedural like Wolf there are more interesting things to do while the pieces move into place. Uncovering clues, interrogating suspects, smashing up strip clubs with a cricket bat; these are all things that fit within the context of the genre AND reveal details about plot and character. In a horror story like The Walking Dead, this calm before the storm feels much more like the game spinning its wheels. This episode is very heavy with expository dialogue which is all very low stakes until the very end of the episode. The series has become known for forcing you into gut-wrenching decisions with little time to weigh the options, but here it’s all much more mellow. There’s danger lying under the surface of many of these encounters, but it’s apparent that it’s not ready to emerge just yet.
That’s not to say the story is uninteresting; far from it. There are a lot of important character moments that happen here. Nick spends most of this episode grieving over the loss of Pete, which leads him to make less than rational decisions on a few occasions, Rebecca admits that the child she’s pregnant with is not Alvin’s, we get our first encounter with the dangerous William Carver, and we are reunited with the miraculously not dead Kenny. I’m curious to see what Kenny’s arc is going to be like in this season; in some ways he seems more well-adjusted than he did in the first season, but he’s clearly suffering tremendous pain from the loss of his wife and son, and the temper of Season One Kenny seems to be barely suppressed just beneath the surface. I also really enjoyed the character of Walter, who is easily the most optimistic and most kind hearted character in the game so far, so of course he doesn’t survive to the end of the episode. I understand that the death of society is a major theme in this stories, but even for the sake of metaphor, the death of optimism is really depressing. Again, though, while this is all compelling on a story level, it all feels fairly inert on a gameplay level. The game tries to give you things to do from time to time, but climbing ladders and decorating a Christmas tree are hardly gripping moments of play.
When things finally get exciting, though, they do so in a big way. In the final stretch of this episode, walkers attack the ski lodge, followed up by Carver and his gang – including Bonnie, one of our friends from “400 Days.” The fact that Bonnie’s allied with Carver seems to indicate that the safe haven offered at the end of “400 Days” may not have been a good place to go after all, which is sort of a punch in the gut since I tried really hard to get everyone on board with going. Carver’s arrival is the turning point for this season, and having the gang captured and forced into Carver’s “protection” is definitely an interesting angle to see played out over the next few episodes.
I suspect that by the time this is finished, the break in the action here in episode two will be made worth it, but in isolation this is a somewhat boring and uneventful episode. Looking back at Season One, the second episode was full of action, terrifying subplots, and important decisions that would affect the course of the season. It was that episode that really sold me on the series in the first place, but here, everything feels much more muted. I keep coming back to the fact that it’s so hard to deride this episode since it’s one moment in the middle of a five part series, but it’s just not all that compelling on its own. It’s still worth playing by all means, but just realize this is likely going to be the least exciting episode of the season.
- Took the blame for Sarah’s photo (along with 44% of players)
- Sat with Kenny at dinner (along with 64.5% of players)
- Told Walter the truth about Matthew (along with 72.8% of players)
- Convinced Walter to forgive Nick (along with 86.4% of players)
- Stayed to help Carlos (along with 42.5% of players)
- Also, I wanted to follow up on the watch thing. Turns out it wasn’t that important after all, in fact it becomes a GOOD thing that you took the watch as you can offer it to Nick to console his grief over Pete’s death. This is a small thing, but it rings a bit false to me, since you were effectively stealing it in the first episode. It feels like the game is letting you off the hook after doing something dishonest.