The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 5: No Going Back
First posted on 23 October 2014. Last updated on 26 October 2014.
The Walking Dead: Season 2
The season is comprised of 5 episodes:
- Episode 1: All That Remains
- Episode 2: A House Divided
- Episode 3: In Harm's Way
- Episode 4: Amid the Ruins
- Episode 5: No Going Back
At the end of the penultimate episode, Clementine and the rest of the survivors are seen caught in a Mexican standoff against a rival group. Facing the beginning of a harsh winter, Clementine and company are split on how to proceed, causing tensions within the group to rise higher than ever. All they can do is to push forward—to arrive in safety at a nearby village in search of more supplies and medicine.
Episode 5: No Going Back contains some of the best moments that this second season of The Walking Dead has to offer. Indeed, the final quarter of the episode includes perhaps the tensest moments delivered all season, though there are also some excellent quieter moments prior to the grand ending. An example of these quieter moments is the scene when all the survivors huddle around a campfire and share a drink together, during which Clementine is given an opportunity to speak to each of them in depth about their past. Through these conversations, Clementine—and by extension, the player—learns more about the personal history of the group surrounding her. However, I feel these are conversations needed to be had in earlier episodes of the season, earlier in Clementine's alliance process with the other survivors. Instead, the scene seems like a heavy-handed attempt to make the player quickly choose sides in order to influence the game's ultimate ending. Further, some of the tense moments in this episode actually make little sense when considering the characters involved—whether it is the unfixable schism within the group (and how it ultimately plays out) or certain characters' actions and attitudes involving Rebecca's baby. In this vein, parts of the episode seem to be present mainly for dramatic effect and polarizing characters in the eyes of the player rather than as a natural progression of the story and characters involved.
The game has 3 different endings, albeit each ending is a slight variation of the others. Which ending the player will reach depends mostly on the player's actions in this episode, though some weights are also given to decisions from previous episodes. While I applaud the consideration—attempting to break free of the ultimately linear story paths that Telltale Games generally walks—the execution in this episode results in uneven endings that fail to take Clementine's character into consideration. This is because much of the emphasis of the second season has been in shaping young Clementine's character—whether to keep her childlike innocence as much as possible or to mold her into a hardened world-weary survivor. Ultimately, however, the choice of endings relies entirely on only a few key player decisions during the final stretch of the game, completely relegating any previous player decisions to little more than superficial window dressings. It is incredibly disheartening to have multiple distinct endings yet failing to assign them by some meaningful character progression made throughout all previous episodes of the season. It also discounts any continuity issues that the player will encounter upon realizing that only 1 ending will be considered series canon in the next season. In other words, the hard decisions and sacrifices made by the player throughout this season will ultimately mean very little if there is any continuance of Clementine's story beyond this point—given that episodic games are linear by nature, Telltale Games is forced to start the next season anew at the same narrative point for all players going forward. If Clementine's story is to be continued, her character will be only where the writers at Telltale Games want her to be, with little more than a few passing lines of dialog to explain why she is not living the consequences of the decisions that the player has made so far on her behalf.
In sum, The Walking Dead: Season 2 Episode 5: No Going Back is somewhat of a letdown as an end to the second season. Moreover, the whole season feels in hindsight more like an extended bridge to the next season rather than a standalone installment. Only when each episode in this season is considered as a standalone vignette—as a page in Clementine's journey of life—does the season feel more palatable as a whole, even if there are few individual faults with each page. Regardless, it is a far cry from the promises delivered by the first season. That is not to say that this episode—and by extension, this entire second season—is not worth playing. The storytelling is still solid, and the ethical dilemmas are as brutal as ever. It is simply not as nuanced and realized as its predecessor and fails to deliver on the same level.