The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale review: can't go home again

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform 360, PS3, Win, Mac, PS Vita, iOS
Publisher Telltale Games
Developer Telltale Games
Release Date

The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale has all of the ingredients necessary to pull together an explosive ending.

After a second season of dramatic highs and crushing lows, I still felt a strong connection to protagonist Clementine. I've been with her through so much, and I was invested in seeing where she ends her journey (for now, at least).

Yet at the end, I was left feeling more empty than anything else. The Walking Dead's Season 2 finale is about as inconsistent as the season as a whole has been. It never stops striving for the depth and emotional impact of the first season, but it also never quite lives up to its own legacy.

(Editor's Note: If you haven't played any of The Walking Dead Season 2 and are concerned about spoilers about the direction of this season, it may be best to avoid this review for now. No major surprises or plot elements from this latest episode are revealed.)

Some beautiful quiet moments stand out as the high points of the episode

In the final episode of The Walking Dead Season 2, titled "No Going Back," Clementine and the mostly new group of survivors introduced over the last four episodes are in their most dire situation yet. Blood has been spilled, supplies are running low, and they have to somehow keep a newborn baby alive in the zombie-infested post-apocalypse.

As dire as it sounds, "No Going Back" contains some beautiful quiet moments that stand out as the high points of the episode. The series has always been at its best in dialogue as opposed to action, but that's especially true here. The fresh cast members get a brief time to shine after last episode's shaky writing.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Episode 5 review a 975

Any peace in The Walking Dead universe is bound to be short-lived. Eventually things got worse, and I was forced to make some tough decisions for Clem. The choices were difficult and their repercussions painful in precisely the way I love from the series; it's the situations themselves that didn't make sense. As in the last episode, people I thought I understood continued to jump out of character and put themselves and others in danger in the process.

The bad events in "No Going Back" feel contrived. They're scenarios that exist in order to add drama and bloodshed to the game rather than story beats growing organically from the plot. I understand that The Walking Dead needs conflict to function, to move forward. But I found it jarring that all of the conflict in this episode stemmed from adults acting like petulant children (and ignoring when the one actual child in the group called them on it). The game wanted me to believe characters were losing their minds from the stress, but that slow collapse didn't feel natural.

Multiple choice

More than any point in the nine Walking Dead episodes Telltale has released so far, your choices have a very direct, sweeping impact on the ending of The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale. Using the game's handy rewind feature, I was able to find three wildly different variations on the conclusion, and I suspect there are a handful of other, smaller changes as well.

Finally giving players more recognizable choice is great — especially in a season that has received some criticism from fans for all options leading to near-identical outcomes — but there's one problem: One of those three endings is terrible. Like, just miserably bad — poorly written and anti-climactic enough that it left a sour taste in my mouth after the credits had rolled. And that just happens to be the ending I got in my initial playthrough.

I won't spoil the choices that lead to the worst of "No Going Back's" endings, but if you find yourself really let down, be sure to jump back and try out some different decisions. The other conclusions don't fully make up for the episode's weaknesses, but they offer less frustrating notes to end on.

These poorly conceived climactic moments hurt the characterization as a whole and damn near ruined the emotional payoff of the season's end. The second season has been all about seeing how Clementine grows and what kind of person she will turn into. All of that leads to a final split-second choice that can splinter the ending into a few different directions. My choices felt like they had more of an impact on where the story winds up compared to the first season's conclusion, but I got stuck with a clumsy, inconclusive ending.

In my ending, a major character died. That shouldn't come as a shock in this game. What surprised me was when the gut-wrenching loss was interrupted by a pre-death monologue from the character assuring Clem that it wasn't her fault. The whole point of this season has been to develop Clementine's personality to a point where she shouldn't need to be told that. The game threw away its own gravitas and commitment to stark, sad reality for a few seconds of generic dialogue with a dying friend.

Near the finale of "No Going Back" — just before the wasted opportunities mentioned above — Telltale provides a lengthy, brilliant callback to The Walking Dead Season 1. It is both the best moment in this episode and its biggest mistake. Playing this sequence, I couldn't help but compare the powerful ending of that season to the just-above-average drama unfolding before me.

Wrap Up:

The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale is never quite as meaningful or powerful as the first season

The differences are staggering in retrospect. Telltale's first season of The Walking Dead felt like a desperately needed breath of fresh air. The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale treads tepid, zombie-infested water. Even in its most meaningful moments, it's a mere approximation of what Telltale has proven itself capable of.

The Walking Dead Season 2 Finale was reviewed using an early Steam code provided by Telltale Games. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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