Telltale’s second installment in their Michonne-centric mini series may be one of the shortest episodes they’ve ever produced. Having not played every single release it’s hard to be sure, but The Walking Dead: Michonne Episode Two runs, at best, for 75 minutes. And that time also includes introductory and closing credits.
Brevity is not automatically a problem, of course, but the main reason this second (of three) parts rushes past is due to a heavy focus on quick-time action. The quieter story beats are largely dialogue-based, with just one (fairly short) sequence in which the player has direct control over Michonne walking around and looking at things. Somewhat poetically, given Telltale’s gradual flight from actual point-and-click puzzles, this lone sequence is a flashback.
When we last left Michonne and Pete, they were held hostage in a thoroughly Walking Dead manner by a community cowed into submission by a half-psychotic, half-manipulative, brother-sister duo. The almost painful over-familiarity of this scenario rather undermined the better work done in Episode One regarding Michonne’s character and state of mind.
Episode Two shuttles our main characters (now accompanied by Sam) out of immediate trouble through a rapid escape sequence, and has them on the run by the time the late title card appears. Nobody from the community of Monroe seems to have been all that bothered by the gun-shot that ended Episode One, but they’re certainly paying attention by the time Michonne and crew have departed in a flurry of chaos.
Without getting into too much specific, spoiler-potential detail, this initiates a pursuit and gives Michonne a chance to pull out some of her zombie-pacifying tricks. There’s a brisk pace to the proceedings, and a reasonable amount of tension; plus (as long as you’re accepting of the limits to Telltale’s quick-time button systems) some decent fight choreography.
Such is the condensed nature of Episode Two, the above paragraphs pretty much cover the opening acts. The denouement takes place in a shelter of (relative) safety, which, if you know your Walking Dead, means it’s going to become unsafe almost immediately after the arrival of our main cast.
This sudden introduction of a brand new family (Sam’s, in this case) is handled about as well as could be expected in the limited time allotted, but exhibits a similar narrative weakness to Telltale’s Walking Dead Season Two in roping in too many fresh characters over too brief a period. Remember the doctor from Monroe? No you don’t, he was only on screen for about 50 seconds. And if you did, it’s because you just read the words “the doctor from Monroe” and went “oooh, right, that guy.”
Even the best short story writer is going to struggle to convey meaningful character in such a reduced period of time, and the natural result is that I’m not especially attached to any of the new individuals, or moved by their plight. With the exception of Pete, who actually has been given more than five minutes of time to develop.
Now, this may be a clever meta-narrative extension of Michonne never wanting to get too close to anybody, but even if that’s the case it negates most of the impact of characters being placed in peril, or outright killed off. Outside of some admirably gruesome (but also mechanically straightforward) action set-pieces, investment in character is what Telltale now hangs its entire episodic structure on. When this starts to feel less urgent, the series is in trouble.
Fortunately, The Walking Dead: Michonne still has its titular heroine at the heart of everything. This episode offers plenty of opportunities for her to slip towards darker, more violent actions, and even makes a (slightly too literal) nod towards crazypants Randall being a reflection of her own instances of abdicated morality. An uncharitable observer could argue with reasonable validity that anyone in her vicinity tends to get drawn into a web of chaos and death.
Randall himself is still an antagonist in search of motivation for his atrocities however, and the vague shrug of “well, he’s just a total nihilist” offered in this episode doesn’t quite cut it as a full explanation.
Michonne’s complexity is a lot more compelling. While the choices in Episode Two allow you to play her as an agent of ruthless rage, there are also chances to empathise, protect, and share the story of your attempted suicide from the first installment. The previously mentioned flashback sequence, meanwhile, adds further context to what effectively seems to be an extended videogame representation of post-traumatic stress.
A note on a few technical issues in this episode: even on PC, transitions between scenes could cause odd stutters and pauses. My hardware is definitely up to the task of running these titles, so the aging engine is probably to blame here. It’s no surprise Telltale have said they will be updating it for their upcoming Batman title.
Two-thirds of the way through The Walking Dead: Michonne, I’m primarily sticking with it to see how her own plotlines are resolved (and because I’m quite keen for my namesake Pete to stay alive). The narrative around the peripheries feels a lot less engaging, suffering from an all-too-rapid revolving cast and (so far) an over-reliance on the less subtle of the two antagonists. There’s just about enough here to make it worthwhile (particularly if you enjoy the sight of a machete entering fleshy masses), but unless the final episode is an absolute must-play this mini-series won’t end up anywhere close to Telltale’s best work in this universe.