Image: Telltale Games
What is a family, really, when desiccated monsters that want to dine on your flesh account for 99 percent of the world’s population?
In its first two seasons, Telltale Games The Walking Dead focused on makeshift families. The bonds that rapidly form when desperate circumstances bring a group of strangers together.
We simultaneously watched and participated as a young girl named Clementine went from wide-eyed innocent to hardened survivor. Whatever choices you made that shaped her, she emerged from the series’ first 10 episodes as a capable survivor of the zombie apocalypse.
The Walking Dead: Season 3 takes a different approach. It wants you to think about what family means to you and how you define it. Who is more valuable: the stranger that saved your life or the flesh-and-blood relation who’s lying on the ground with a bullet wound?
Clementine is back in Season 3, but this time as a relative stranger. The focus now — at least in the two-part season premiere — is primarily on a new protagonist: Javier García.
Image: TELLTALE GAMES
Javi, as his people call him, was a bit of a screw-up before the dead started walking. The younger of two brothers — and the family’s favored son — Javi was a disgraced professional baseball player and a self-absorbed flake.
We meet him in the opening scenes of Season 3, a flashback to the day the dead rose and the world changed forever. The García brothers’ father had just passed on at home, surrounded by family — except Javi. The perpetual loser had plenty of advance notice, but somehow didn’t get there in time.
We all know what happens next, right? Papa García died in his bedroom on the same day that the world ended. The García family enter that new world with a brutally intimate introduction.
The seeds of family discontent that are sown during these opening scenes play a vital role in the story to come. It’s not always evident as present-day Javi lives one day at a time — just like every other survivor — with his sister-in-law, niece, and nephew at his side.
Once Clementine joins the party, Season 3’s dual identity establishes itself. Javi might not know who Clem is, but returning fans still carry a lot of her baggage — the good and the bad — from the first two seasons.
Even if you roleplay this first-time encounter between two strangers, there’s always the nagging voice in the back of your head reminding you that Clem is a friend.
Image: TELLTALE GAMES
But there’s another audience for The Walking Dead: Season 3. Newcomers that jump in with zero knowledge of the previous seasons don’t meet Beloved Clementine. She’s just a stranger with a shotgun and unclear motivations.
In either case, Javi’s out-of-the-blue savior quickly becomes a part of his post-apocalyptic family. And whether you know and love Clem or view her through doubting eyes, your conception of who she is and what she’s about is going to change before the credits roll on the premiere’s second half.
The two-part episode’s title — "The Ties That Bind" — says so much. Telltale’s stories revolve around relationships: the ones you actively shape and the ones that the story thrusts upon you. That’s as true now as it ever was.
The opening episodes of The Walking Dead: Season 3 force you to think very carefully about the links between Javi and the people around him. All of those choices you make lead up to an explosive revelation that shatters Javi’s perspective and sets the stage for the assuredly grim happenings to come.