When we start “A House Divided,” the second episode in Telltale Games’ “The Walking Dead: Season Two,” we find ourselves in control of our heroine Clementine is less-than-ideal circumstances. Not to say that’s all too unusual in a world of murderous zombies and ever-present betrayal, but this situation looks more bleak than normal. Barricaded in a shed with a demoralized man who doesn’t seem to value his own life anymore, Clementine finds herself having to make life-and-death decisions.
What happens next, and what follows in the rest of the latest episode in TellTale’s fantastically gritty zombie apocalypse, is explosive and engrossing, aggravating and cringe-worthy. Yet again, Telltale delivers us a masterful experience in which we discover just how dark Clementine’s path is going to be.
“A House Divided” takes a bit of a different direction that Episode 1 (click here for the review of “All That Remains”), taking the plot points first established then and exploring them in ways creative and disturbing. Which isn’t too surprising, considering just how violent and fractious this story is.
From the start, Clementine’s character is expanded upon, and it doesn’t take long for her to continue down the dark road she’s on. The road becomes more dangerous, however, with the introduction of Carver, one of those soft-spoken psychopaths that instills true fear into you while wearing that polite smile on his face the whole time. It’s obvious Carver will play an out-sized role during the rest of this chapter (and possible future ones). His calm demeanor in conjunction with his outright terrifying actions with impress you while you’re trying to escape his grasp.
Still, the story here is still Clementine’s, and “A House Divided” grants us the double-edged sword-like ability to make some consequential choices regarding our group. No choice seems clear, a Telltale standard, but when we get to the end of the episode, those clearly important choices become opaque and nerve-wracking. The dilemmas we have to work through are devastating. And it doesn’t help matter when it feel as if every decision we make here comes across as end-all, as if what we decide here and now will define us for the rest of the season. It’s a heavy burden to place on such a tiny girl.
As with the first episode, the majority of “A House Divided” comprises conversations with those with whom we interact. What’s brilliant here, though, is how those conversations dramatically alter depending on who’s alive and with us at that moment. Playing the episode again, and choosing to take a different path in how I proceeded, revealed shocking changes to how the bloody conclusion reaches its apex.
Adding to this already fantastic mix is how the episode touches on important themes and values without saying as much. “A House Divided” revels in saying without talking, taking small moments and making them seem larger life. Forgoing diving head-first for a more nuanced approach, “A House Divided” touches on tolerance, religion and homosexuality, and the well-handled matter in which it does so says a great deal more about the importance of realizing that life is filled with a variety of characters, no one the same as the one before.
In the end, “A House Divided” is a stellar, explosive episode for “The Walking Dead: Season 2.” Its grand story and intimate conversations draw you into Clementine’s ever-darkening life, compelling you to try and make the most out of every decision you can. Smart and scary, devastating and memorable, “A House Divided” reminds us sometimes there are worse things to fear than the walking dead.
Five consequential stars out of five, and a critic’s pick.
Editor’s note: This game was reviewed on the PS3. It also is available for the PC, Mac and Xbox 360.