The most difficult part about playing a video game is the ending. When starting a game for the very first time, we’re still figuring out what kind of experience we’re going to get. What is the story about? Will I like these characters I’m about to spend my time with? Does this game play smoothly enough for me to exert the effort to continue? All these questions and more might be running through your head, and the furthest thing from your mind is getting to the end. But when the end finally arrives, especially when you spend a considerable amount of time sticking with an ongoing series for a number of years, you struggle with saying goodbye.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season concludes the story of beloved character Clementine, watching her grow from the sweet and innocent little girl who needed protecting in Telltale Games The Walking Dead: Season One to the tough young teen who knows how to survive and be a protector in her own right in subsequent seasons that followed. Although The Final Season is truly the end of Clementine’s story and is the last remnant of a series that once elevated Telltale Games as a leader in narrative and choice based games, it’s a fitting end to an unforgettable video game series and the characters we’ve grown to care about. Warning: Some spoilers ahead for all four of the main Walking Dead seasons.
The Walking Dead: Season One introduces us to the emotional heart of the whole game, and becomes the force that steers the rest of the seasons going forward, which is Lee and Clementine. I talked about their relationship in a post I’ve written a few years ago when I finished the game. One of the main reasons the first Walking Dead became a critically acclaimed success for Telltale Games was its characters. By focusing on developing the father/daughter relationship between Lee and Clementine over the course of the first game, it adds emotional gravity and raises the stakes for the kind of decisions you as Lee will have to make that go way beyond just surviving a hoard of walkers. Your player choices also affect what kind of example you’re setting for little Clementine and how capable she will be at defending herself when Lee is no longer there to guide and protect her. Though Lee doesn’t make it out alive by the end of the first game, the affect he had on Clementine is no less important in how her story continues.
In The Walking Dead: Season Two, Clementine is a little bit older but still naive in the ways of the world. This game has Clementine trying to take what she learns from Lee and applying them in how she approaches certain situations and people, while also learning some difficult lessons on trust and how to keep your humanity intact along the way. Being able to play as Clementine, it’s here that you really begin to mold her into who she becomes and what her personal beliefs will be. Will Clementine remain soft but savvy in how she protects herself, or will you harden her to the point where all her actions will be driven by the instinctual need to survive no matter who or what gets in her way? Season Two foreshadows how the remainder of Clementine’s story will unfold when it places her in the exact same spot Lee found himself in Season One—being in charge of a helpless and defenseless child born into a world far harsher and nothing like what it used to be before it went to hell.
The introduction of baby AJ towards the end of Season Two shows Clementine will be walking a similar path as Lee, but with an entirely different set of circumstances. After AJ’s mother dies and things fall apart with the group Clementine spends most of her time with, Clementine, still only a child herself, resumes the responsibility of being the sole protector and provider of this new life. This eventually leads into Season 3 of the series, The Walking Dead: A New Frontier.
Though Clementine, now a teenager, returns as a supporting character, and New Frontier is largely the story about the Garcia brothers Javier and David, significant plot details pertaining to Clementine and AJ are revealed in later episodes of the season. Players who have been playing The Walking Dead series will have a difficult time ignoring the fact that when Javier encounters Clementine, she’s seen alone without AJ. New Frontier drags out the fate of AJ until you finally learn what happens to him in the episode entitled, “Above The Law”.
Through flashback, you find out that Clementine and AJ join a community of survivors known as the New Frontier, led by Javier’s older brother David, for shelter and safety. When AJ, also known as Alvin Junior, falls sick she seeks out the community’s medical doctor for medicine to help AJ. After the doctor refuses to give Clementine the medicine, insisting that it would not work on AJ and they would only be wasting resources, Clementine takes matters into her own hands and steals the medical supplies in the hopes it’ll cure AJ’s ailments. Whether or not you decide to inject AJ with the medicine, David becomes furious with Clementine for breaking the rules and disobeying them. This leads to Clementine being exiled from the New Frontier and is forcibly separated from AJ for the duration of New Frontier. Back in the present day, Clementine is determined to find out where AJ is and if he’s all right.
At the end of New Frontier, and depending on your actions, Clementine leaves the community in search of AJ. The final scene shows Clementine swearing she will find AJ, killing walkers along the way and with the text, “Clementine’s story will continue…” wrapping up the entire season.
This brings us to The Walking Dead: The Final Season to end a four year journey with Clementine that started in The Walking Dead: Season One. At this point in The Final Season, Clementine is on the road with a slightly grown AJ and eventually meets a group of kids running an abandoned school that has served as a mostly safe and fortified place from walkers and outsiders. Throughout the four episode season, you see Clementine doing her best to impart some of the wisdom instilled in her by Lee and other adults she had traveled with and learned from in prior seasons of the series. A lot of what happens in The Final Season mirrors and pays homage to the relationship between Lee and Clementine from Season One that made them so endearing to players, while also providing a whole new take on the guardian of a child dynamic.
What’s unique about the relationship between Clementine and AJ is seeing how one kid deals with raising another kid in a post-apocalyptic world. Everything Clementine has experienced and everything she has been through forces her to grow up a lot quicker to adapt to an ever changing situation. She takes it upon herself to step into the roles of both mother and sister, protector and provider ever since AJ was born and his original parents died in Season Two. Clementine wouldn’t really know the first thing about raising a child, but nevertheless, has to learn it all on the fly. The only knowledge she has to go on is what she has been taught or observed from other grownups she has met during her travels. But the one who left the greatest impact on how to raise a child during a zombie apocalypse, and the person Clementine tries to emulate the most, is Lee.
There’s a wonderful little scene in Episode 3 of The Final Season entitled, “Broken Toys” where Clementine dreams she’s a little girl again and is traveling on a train with Lee. The setting for this dream sequence is significant because it hearkens back to a scene from Season One where Lee decides to teach Clementine how to shoot a gun and to always keep her hair short, as he cuts it for her on the train. The train scene is really the moment Clementine learned everything she needed from Lee to survive on her own. The fact that Clementine chooses to return to this memory in her dream shows that she values Lee’s counsel and approval, much in the same way AJ now seeks them from her.
During Clementine’s talk with dream Lee, you find out that she always chooses the train whenever she’s feeling uncertain about a big decision she has to make. And just like the Lee we got to know from Season One, dream Lee proves to still be the comforting presence he has always been for Clementine. Though Lee’s story finished in Season One, he is still an important influence that remains with Clementine for all four seasons. It’s ultimately what drives her actions and choices, especially in her approach to raising AJ. The Final Season comes full circle for Clementine when in the last and final episode, “Take Us Back”, has her getting bit on the leg by a walker during a particularly hairy situation.
The setup here seems to lead the player into thinking Clementine’s fate will be the same as Lee’s ill fate in Season One, and AJ will have to either leave her to turn into a walker or kill her before it ever happens. Instead, in the last act of the episode, you discover AJ defies whatever order you have Clementine tell him and he cuts off the affected leg with an axe you acquired earlier in the episode. Unlike Lee, Clementine lives before the walker bite can spread, and were presumably near the school for the remaining surviving kids to help and treat Clementine from bleeding out. Because of AJ’s quick thinking, he saves Clementine. The Final Season concludes on a quieter and peaceful note. Whatever threats that disrupted their peaceful lives have been eradicated, for now at least. Life has gone on, the dead have been mourned, and the kids have created a true home and become a family.
I can’t think of a more perfect ending for the series and for Clementine as this. The Walking Dead isn’t a series full of happy endings or situations tied up in a neat and tidy bow. It’s brutal, heartbreaking, and messy. Yet, to have Telltale Games/Skybound Games give players something we haven’t seen since Telltale Games created the interactive episodic series back in 2012—peace for Clementine and a home with a group of kids that are now her family—it’s the kind of sendoff that feels right.
I still rank Lee and Clementine high on my list of the best video game characters to ever exist. Clementine’s ending could have gone either way. She could have died and I would have been okay with that. In fact, I was fully prepared and half expecting that this was how her story was going to go. I’m actually glad and relieved she doesn’t follow the same grim fate as Lee. She’ll get to (hopefully) grow up into an adult woman and watch AJ continue to grow into a young man she’s proud of.
Clementine defied the odds against her and lived. I’m sure Lee would be most proud of his “sweet pea”. Thank you Telltale Games for gifting players with an incredible series and characters that will not be forgotten. Thank you Skybound Games for stepping in to ensure Clementine’s story would have a proper ending after Telltale Games was no longer able to continue.
Have you played The Walking Dead series? Were you satisfied with how it ended?