"I'm worried, Lee." These are the confiding words a very young Clementine says in a dream sequence in The Walking Dead: The Final Season. This dream manifests when everything is so uncertain, as Clementine is about to face a dangerous situation with so much responsibility resting on her shoulders. It's understandable, then, that her subconscious mind would retreat back to where it all began, and seek out the reassurances and comfort of her late protector and adopted guardian, Lee. Having recently decided to replay through the series in its entirety for yet another time, this scene serves as a reminder of just how effectively Telltale's The Walking Dead makes us care deeply about Clementine and the relationships she forms.
As you can probably gather, expect us to get into series spoilers of Telltale's The Walking Dead from here on out.
As the setting of this imaginary conversation harkens back to a key moment in the opening season of the series, it pushes me to reflect on everything I've been through with Clementine so far. It's not often that you get to follow a character's journey across four games, and see first-hand how each experience changes and shapes the person they become. I've seen Clementine grow up in an incredibly harsh world, face unimaginable tragedy and horror, and go through many, many difficult situations. Through it all, she continues to push on and survive – she always preserves and, through unfortunate circumstances, shows a strength well beyond her years. As I replay her story from start to finish in quick succession, I'm once again emotionally invested, and all the more convinced that Clementine will firmly remain one of my favorite characters of all-time.
No matter how many times I play through each and every episode of The Walking Dead, the same moments continue to make me cry my heart out, feel a sense of trepidation and foreboding, or wince when there's a particularly gory or painful situation. When I do eventually reach the conclusion to Clementine's story again in the The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series collection, it also still takes me at least a week to get over the bittersweet sting that the end of something can bring. Afterwards, I found myself thinking about why I, and so many others, find it so affecting.
Since The Walking Dead is a story-driven experience that hinges on the choices you make, you're directly involved in how each circumstance and scenario unfolds. With every dialogue choice and action you choose, it becomes increasingly easy to immerse yourself in the story and feel like you have a big part to play in its direction. The zombie-infested reality of Clementine's world is full of difficult situations with some morally ambiguous choices to make. After all, when societal rules seemingly no longer apply, people can sometimes act in selfish, and even cruel, ways in the name of survival – it's this quality that makes it challenging to discern what choice or reaction will lead to the best outcome. These difficult choices also make you all the more invested in seeing how your decision will affect those around you.
Clementine and the cast of characters you meet, though, are of course at the heart of what makes this series so memorable and moving. In such a dangerous world, where you're just trying to survive from one day to the next, it's even more important to have people at your side that you can trust. There's a lot of interesting dynamics between the groups you encounter throughout each season, particularly when you're playing as Clementine, who is often underestimated by those older than her. Everyone you meet along the way is shaped by the unimaginable circumstances of this unrelenting environment, and they can often act in ways that will catch you off guard or upset you, but it makes them really feel like flawed, multifaceted individuals. While there is a lot of uncertainty, betrayal, and sadness, what really shines through are the heartfelt moments and calmer times where the characters can just appreciate each other's company, and remember what it's like to live.
"Keep your hair short"
I've come to greatly appreciate just how your role and relationship with Clementine changes throughout each season of The Walking Dead, and how it allows you to see different sides of her. In the first season, you take on the role of Lee, who becomes Clem's caretaker. Throughout the episodes, Clementine learns by your example and takes on board any advice you give her, which weaves into the seasons that follow. As Lee, you become a real father figure, and it makes you really care about her wellbeing.
In season two, you then play as Clementine, who's trying to survive in a harsh world without her protector. This is where Lee's teachings first come into practise, and then it's left up to you to decide how she handles any situation she faces. Since I've already formed an attachment to Clementine in my role as Lee, I'm already greatly invested in seeing her overcome any challenges and make it through. What I find most interesting is the position A New Frontier puts you in. In the third season, you play as ex-baseball player Javier and follow him and his family as they get caught up in the zombie outbreak. You soon meet an older Clementine, who's tougher and not so quick to take you at your word because of her past experiences. Even though in this context, she's a stranger in relation to the main character, as the player I readily trust her judgment and help her in any way I can. After all, this is Clementine we're talking about. Javier might not know her yet, but I do.
Everything comes full circle in the final season. Instead of being the one who's being guided and looked after, Clementine is now the one taking on Lee's role as a caretaker and protector of AJ. Young and impressionable, AJ is always watching what you're doing – not unlike the first season, this adds additional weight to not only how you respond in conversation but how you choose to act. Everything you do influences how he sees the world and those around him, which is a great responsibility to take on at such a young age.
Through all of Clementine's changing circumstances and roles, she continues to show great resilience and strength, and you just can't help but continue to root for her. I often think about the first time I played Telltale's The Walking Dead, and how I changed over the course of six years as each subsequent season was released. I returned to Clementine's journey at different points in my life, and in a lot of ways, I grew as a person right alongside her. Clem's character development and growth, and my part in shaping her story, really connected me to her journey in a way that not many games have achieved so effectively since.
From the moment she first encounters Lee in her treehouse in season one, to that heartfelt dream conversation with him aboard a train in season four, I'll never forget the time I've spent with this series and how much the characters in it have come to mean to me. "I know you're a survivor," Lee reassures her after she shares her worries in the final season. "The Clementine I know is gonna fix it. I really believe that." I couldn't have put it better myself, Lee.