NOTE: This review is spoiler free of plot details.
In my review of the fourth episode of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, I stated that I wouldn’t mind if they had actually closed out the season with the fourth episode given how much events had escalated and I stand by that. In playing it, it felt like a cliffhanger to one of your favorite TV shows that had you counting down the days until its hiatus was over and you could find out what happened, your mind replaying things over and over in your head thinking about what’s going to come next. Episode five, “From the Gallows”, had a lot to live up for me given how fond I was of the penultimate episode, and having finally played it (its PS4 release was delayed for unspecified reasons) I feel it has a strong conclusion, much more so than the weak ending of the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead. While A New Frontier ends strong though, it doesn’t ever reach the emotional highs of the first season but that’s not for a lack of trying.
“From the Gallows” is a terrifically paced episode for the series, picking up right after the aftermath of the previous episode and never really letting up until the very end. There’s a sense of urgency throughout and you’re constantly on edge waiting for the really bad things to start happening, not only because of the walkers but also because of how good a job Telltale has done developing the Garcia’s. Clementine was a great character who was the best part of an otherwise mediocre second season, and I for one was looking forward to seeing a more grown up, hardened version of the character. It was a gamble for Telltale to remove the spotlight from Clem and reduce her to a supporting character role, but I feel it paid off. Having one central character somewhat removes the tension from the series as even though bad things will most certainly happen and people will die, your character will more than likely come out alive. Throughout this episode anyone, including Clem and Javi, could have easily not made it.
Despite the entire cast, save Clem, being new, it’s amazing how for you feel by the end of this you’ve come with the core cast which is great to say after not really feeling invested with anyone in season two. Through the smart use of flashbacks, you really see Javi in particular drag himself up from nothing after being disgraced and thrown out of major league baseball to a capable leader who now believably can take charge of extreme situations. Given his failures in life pre-apocalypse, Javi was clearly doubting himself as to whether he was fit to take on the father figure role of the Garcia family but because of the choices I made in my playthrough, there was a willingness from him to change things and turn things around, no matter how hard it would be. Similar things could be said of Kate who certainly had her ability to be able to protect her family questioned due to allowing herself to stay in an abusive relationship. It’s difficult to really talk about the character’s ultimate fate in “From the Gallows” as I believe depending on how things played it, she may or may not be around, but at the very least in my game she was and had a satisfying conclusion to her character arch where she really takes charge of things and most certainly did not play the role of quiet victim.
One character who often at times ventured at times in to what I’ll call “Kenny territory” was David. I use that term because the way the character of Kenny was developed over the course of the first two main seasons made him seem very one-dimensional and often hard to side with. The universe of The Walking Dead is not a pleasant place of course and tough choices have to be made, but at the same time a compelling conflict exists when as a player you can see both sides of the argument which it never seemed with Kenny. A good example of this something like this done right is in the first episode of Guardians of the Galaxy: The Telltale Series where I struggled very much with a decision that I know would affect the entire series over which member of my team I would side with. While you could tell that some of the old David still existed underneath, you could also see a change in home from the time before and after where he was a little more gray and far less black-and-white. There’s some great moments between Javi and David, as well as David and the rest of the cast, but then they’re undermined by David doing questionable things that you don’t feel like he would do based on how he had developed.
Something very dramatic happens at the end of episode four of this series and I was interested to see the ramifications of my choice in episode five. It’s a hard things to dance around without spoiling both episode four and five, but the way things played out in my game were a little too clean. There was one conversation between Javi and the character in question where I thought “okay, I guess this makes sense” but still didn’t quite buy how much something so insane was almost brushed aside. Something else happened with that character later on, and I’m curious to see how it played out by making different choices, that should have been more emotional impactful but wasn’t. I know the top headline says “spoiler free of plot details” but given this is a The Walking Dead finale you probably know that not everyone is going to make it out okay. The choices I made led to another character death that should also have resonated with me more, but instead I just thought “yeah, I can live with this”. I don’t even want to get into past feelings about the character in question for fear of letting on who exactly it is.
An issue I had with episode three in A New Frontier is that it at times fell back on tropes that made it seem like the series was didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Thankfully episode four was more than that, and so to is “From the Gallows”, however there is something that happens here that made me say “this again?”. My consumption of things The Walking Dead comes solely from Telltale having given up on both the comic and TV show, and even someone like me who isn’t that invested in this universe knows that when the thing in question happens, it’s been done to death. I was at the very least hoping for a twist on this trope but sadly one never came. I also made it to the end of this episode without a single crash or glitch, which is always a plus.
Upon the conclusion of season two of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I wasn’t that ecstatic about coming back to it in the same way I was going into the second season. The conclusion of A New Frontier despite not reaching the emotional peaks it was trying for is a worthy conclusion that both feels like it could be a series finale but also leaves things open to come back if Telltale wishes to. Telltale will have to really go back to the drawing board to recreate the magic of the Lee and Clem relationship from season one, but overall A New Frontier is probably the strongest season of The Walking Dead so far because you’re invested in a lot more people for a change, making the world feel far bigger than it ever was in either the main seasons before it or the Michonne mini-series. With all Telltale has in the works it might be a while before they get back to The Walking Dead, but whenever that is, I’m far more excited to come back to it because of A New Frontier.