Warning: Spoilers everywhere for both Season 1 and 2 of The Walking Dead.
The blend of action and conversation continues in Amid the Ruins, more so than in the previous episode, In Harm’s Way. Clementine’s journey is as gripping and tense as ever, but the drama can feel forced from time to time and choices don’t always have the impact they could.
The story starts immediately after episode three, with the group escaping from the hardware store by concealing their scent with walker guts. Grim character deaths and tragic moments begin instantly. This makes characters feel expendable, Sarita certainly feels like a time bomb waiting to explode just for the sake of Kenny’s mental health, and this is one of the most disappointing aspects of the episode.
One character, Nick, who is able to die in episode two, is pushed aside if your choices have led to his temporary survival. He is hardly seen or heard in episode three and come episode four he is shown only for a moment, getting shot in the shoulder before we find his reanimated corpse stuck on a fence. This feels like a departure from season one, where characters that die due to the player’s actions, like Carley, Doug and Ben, each have their moments before their untimely demise. There could have been some salvation in episode four for Nick. It needn’t have been a moment of heroism, just something. This doesn’t make his death in Amid in Ruins any less powerful, the gruesome way Clementine has to hack at him with her hatchet is particularly unpleasant. It feels that characters are cut out when it’s clear that there is no place for them in the finale, making the trauma of their deaths feel forced.
Amid the Ruins shares many parallels with Around Every Corner, the fourth episode from season one, in that most of the events feel like a precursor to a considerable finale. Both episodes set up their respective conclusions in a similar format. There is an abundance of strife, struggle and trauma before a destination is established, (The Marsh House in Around Every Corner, Wellington in Amid the Ruins), but a horrible occurrence leaves us knowing that everything is not going to be okay. Lee’s bite in season one and a cliff-hanger that leaves us unaware of which characters are even alive in season two.
There are even some similarities in characterisation. Jane is like Molly in almost every way, a lone survivor who seems cold and brutal but has a genuine care for Clementine, as well as having a tragic sibling story. And Mike and Bonnie are starting to establish themselves better as individuals in the same way that Christa and Omid were at this point. These parallels seem to be pointing us back to season one to show just how far Clementine has come and how much she is channelling Lee. It highlights her character development and gives us a sense of familiarity mixed with the new.
Amid the Ruins has its ups and downs. Plot points and characters can feel a little samey. Choices don’t have the impact that they should, especially after a second play through. And characters seem to be removed in order to focus on the principle cast. However, Amid the Ruins is unflinching in its depiction of hopelessness in a world torn by the zombie apocalypse. Clementine’s stability has taken a beating after experiencing such trauma – and even her position is the finale is not certain.
Amid the Ruins is not perfect but it builds up enough hope for an epic conclusion by leaving the player stunned and yearning for more when the credits start to roll.
Choices are a big part of the series but this particular episode makes them feel somewhat obsolete. Certain choices tend to go nowhere, or only change a scenario briefly. A particular choice at the end has no difference to the outcome. It does not feel like your actions carry much weight, even though you expect them to. Perhaps this is the point. Clementine can make any decision but at the end of the day, bad things are still going to happen.
Whether you choose to be honest or to lie, to steal or be generous, to be brutal or caring, people will still die. It is a lesson that Clementine has to learn in order to survive in this world; maybe it is one that we as the player must learn too. That said, decisions will come back to bite you in terms of what your fellow survivors think of you. If you support Luke’s decisions instead of Kenny’s, Kenny will make sure you know that he feels your loyalty is wavering and vice versa. There are still plenty of paths to take in Amid the Ruins, but having so many decisions lead to the same conclusion lessens the impact and makes the idea of moral choices seem a little pointless.