Reviewed on PlayStation 4
This review does contain spoilers
Telltale is infamous for its fourth episodes in every series, especially The Walking Dead. I’ve never really had a problem with these episodes, save for them being on the shorter side. I’d imagine the issue could be how the fourth episode is used as a connection from the season’s climax to the season finale, therefore choosing to focus more on continuing plot lines, rather than providing new information or tying up loose ends. This may make the episode seem as though it stifles the flow of the season — think of it as a roadblock on the Telltale highway. But even though The Walking Dead: Season Three‘s fourth episode felt a lot shorter than the previous ones, I never felt hindered by its lack of fresh plot details, nor was I even upset with the short amount of playtime. In fact, I found Episode Four: Thicker Than Water to be the most emotional installment yet. It was the perfect, pint-sized package, and I loved every minute of it.
At the end of Episode 3, Javi and his brother, David, were left in quite a sticky situation. The New Frontier’s home base of Richmond was overtaken, and now under new management, the siblings must work together to escape with their group. This episode started off with the most heartfelt opening flashback since the season premiere. Javi and David are at the batting cages talking about Javi’s big-league glory days, before David mentions he’s going back into the military. It’s here that we learn just when the brothers started to grow apart, and how Javi became a bigger part of Kate’s family.
David asks Javi to take care of his wife and children while he’s away, and you’re given the choice to betray his wishes, or promise to follow through. This flashback hit me with a lot of emotion, and once we transitioned back to current day, it weighed heavily on the situation. Season Three has really upped the ante on choice repercussions, as this episode’s twist will prove later on. Every answer you choose could be used against you at any moment, and it’s really kept me on my guard more than any other Telltale game.
As a matter of fact, this was one of the few Walking Dead episodes with a somber, movie-style credits sequence. I found it to be a captivating lead-in to the episode, opting to set the scene with a morose, deliberative tone, rather than jumping straight into the action. Thicker Than Water maintains this feel throughout, delivering the most emotional installment we’ve seen all season. I’d even go as far to say that Episode Four feels a lot more like a television show, instead of a game I actually played and took part in. I found every decision to be quite rewarding, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching it all play out, like a two-hour long choose-your-own-adventure drama.
The highlight of Thicker Than Water was its character development, which may sound odd due to it being the penultimate episode in the season, but it truly delivers in every aspect and provides a lot of vital answers we’ve been craving. Perhaps the biggest question answered in Episode Four was,”What happened to Baby AJ?,” although I opted not to kill Dr. Lingard and gain this information. Whether he was lying or not, I’ll never know, but pivotal decisions like that kept me on my toes throughout this whole episode. Other bits of closure, like the Javi/Kate romance — or in my case, the lack of romance — made for a gripping emotional experience I’d been hoping for from the beginning. I finally felt like all the choices I made in flashbacks and current day led up to this moment, and I really felt like I let Kate down when I chose not to reciprocate her feelings. In regards to deep characters and meaningful relationships, Telltale has really stepped up their game in The New Frontier. Hell, I hardly even remember the characters from Season Two. But during this season as a whole, I found the characters to be a lot more memorable.
Speaking of flashbacks, Thicker Than Water saw the return of Kenny, whom we haven’t seen since his . . . unfortunate demise. He, AJ, and Clementine share a heartfelt moment full of laughter and lasting advice that made me miss the dynamic of Clementine learning how to be a mother alongside Grandpa Kenny. This glimpse into the past displays a collection of characters, old and new, that I want to learn more about, and it makes their backstory more fleshed out with each passing flashback. I’d love to see AJ return in the season finale, perhaps, and deliver an incredible scene of heartache and betrayal, now finding himself on the opposite side of our heroes. I feel like this would be the ultimate showdown, sending Clementine’s emotions into a downward spiral, thereby forcing her to come to grips with reality unlike anything she’s experienced before. This hypothetical situation would really help her grow as a human being, and as I’ve said before, I love to watch the way Telltale portrays her growing up and becoming her own person. I feel as if I’m growing up with her.
Aside from the character development in Thicker Than Water, there is also a large focus on exploration, hearkening back to early Telltale titles. The first scene involves breaking yourself out of prison, with Javi utilizing a stool and a pipe to smash a window and escape. I missed walking around and solving puzzles in The Walking Dead — something we haven’t done this much since Episode One at the junkyard. I felt like my actions once again impacted the story and moved the characters forward. This section was a nice change of pace, reminding me of my favorite parts in previous seasons. You see, Telltale games aren’t just about making crucial decisions. Older series like Sam and Max and Monkey Island relied on point-and-click exploration, and it was nice to see that style implemented into the Walking Dead series once again.
My personal favorite part of Episode Four, if not the whole third season thus far, came during the final battle. The quick-time-events were on point, this time around, and really made the shootouts feel more believable. I felt the pressure and the intensity of the situation, having to protect my “family” from The New Frontier. Every bullet I shot really meant something, and the action drew me in, making each unfortunate death more impactful than the last; I screamed at my television when Kate’s truck crashed. All in all, I haven’t seen a fight scene this well-choreographed amd memorable in all of Season Three.
Touching on Thicker Than Water’s impressive character development one more time, there was one moment in this episode that caught me off guard, and if I’m being completely honest, made me slightly uncomfortable — the scene in which Javi tells Clementine about . . . puberty. Now, while it may seem kind of odd to explain menstruation to a random child, or perhaps it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all, I found this scene to be a testament to Telltale’s incredible storytelling. While my Javi was telling my Clementine about her bodily changes, I couldn’t help but feel like I was actually affecting her life with this information. She felt like this real girl I had shaped over the course of many years. I feel a strong emotional connection with Clementine, and in this moment, I felt the same with Javi.
It was during this uneasy moment that I realized Season Three had finally come into its own. From the first episodes of The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, I was pretty unsure about the series. Javi seemed to be a likable enough character, but the story wasn’t doing much to draw me in. I wasn’t connected to him like I was with Clementine, almost immediately, back in Season One. Yet at this moment, near the end of Season Three, I found myself growing attached to these new characters, and through them, I found a bridge from old to new. It just so happened that this bridge came in the form of . . . puberty advice. Strange, I know, but it was a deep, unique event that brought the plot together in a way only Telltale can.
I honestly believe that Episode Four of The Walking Dead Season Three broke the Telltale curse. There were quite a few flashbacks in Episode Four, and all of them delivered quite the emotional blow, making Thicker Than Water the most emotional episode so far. There was just enough character development, as well as there being just enough closure, to prepare us for a powerful, action-packed season finale. I’m actually interested to see what will happen to Javi going forward, which is really surprising to me. At the beginning of this season, I just couldn’t care less about what happened to this new protagonist, but after Thicker Than Water, I’m more invested than ever before. For once, the fourth episode of a Telltale game acted as a turning point for the season, and it has set up The Walking Dead: A New Frontier for quite the finale.