Like Some Kind of Zombie Breadcrumbs Trail.
[NOTE: Spoilers ahead.]
The second installment of the standalone adventure starring everyone’s favorite samurai sword-wielding walker killer begins with a bang. As Michonne and Sam escape the boat baddies led by Norma, quite a few of battle ships are sunk. And boom. Later on land, the chase continues with Norma’s brother and local sociopath, Randall, hot on their trail. When he finally catches up with them, it's rather obvious how he did so: All he had to do was follow the “fairytale-like” trail of zombies left in Michonne’s wake. It’s a move that makes total sense to anyone that knows her, but yeah, probably not a good one. Still, this a great observation on the world of The Walking Dead.
If only this episode had more of that.
Before Randall and the rest of the de facto crazy marauders reach that destination, Michonne reaches the homestead of Sam. Previously, Sam was shot and her brother Greg was killed, so naturally her father can’t trust Michonne. The heart of “Give No Shelter” are the conversations between a worried father, Michonne, and another family member, Sophie. We learn a little about this group that lives deep in the woods, and we also flashback to more scenes that highlight Michonne’s guilt over the disappearance of her two daughters back when the virus hit. I’m still not sure such a backstory was needed, but Telltale goes with it 100%. A tense moment involved with answering a phone ends up being one of the genuinely sad moments in this mini-series so far.
Elsewhere there’s a solid amount of killing, zombie or otherwise. All of this is somewhat expected by now in a Telltale game, but it works well enough for the sixty-minute runtime. The QTE moments haven’t really changed since the first season of The Walking Dead, but each beat lands. Thankfully, there were no poorly placed checkpoints that forced me to replay an action scene over and over simply because aiming a machete is imprecise. (Because it really is.) There's even an Operation-like scene that replaces electricity with a hot poker for a fireplace. The truth is no one really plays these titles for the action which means this solid gameplay is typically taken for granted.
Still, the problem with the Michonne series so far isn’t the gameplay, or the still stellar art style, or excellent voice-acting that comes with every Telltale adventure. The issue is that, by focusing too much on “how will Michonne get out of this one,” the suspense never quite rises. (Well, okay, it does at the very end.) That’s because these three episodes take place previous to recent events in the comic and the hit AMC television series. This means that, in essence, Michonne is never really in danger. She’ll survive for sure. So the stakes are low despite the zombies, exploding boats, and psycho humans.
A smarter move—or perhaps one that will happen in the final installment—would be to stress Michonne’s concern to help Sam and her family. To get to know them more. That way, we’re not worried about Michonne as much as we are engaged by how she’ll be able to get these less-experienced walker killers to safety. The problem might be that Michonne is cautious and holds back her vulnerable side to newcomers . (Heck, it took like two seasons on the show for her to warm up to Rick and Carl.) From a character perspective, it might be entirely believable, but I think some softening could have worked regardless.
Michonne remains compelling. One of the highlights so far has been how well she handles the non-killing moments. There are plenty of options on how to reveal information, like how to tell a man that his son is dead. Do you also disclose that he turned into a zombie? Decisions, decisions… On the flipside, I wish that Sam would have made more of an impression by now. She’s certainly sympathetic as a young thief over her head, but that’s about it. The rest of her family are even less memorable.
Only one episode remains. The last few minutes of episode two work terrifically, putting all the pieces in place. Without giving too much away, a showdown is on the horizon. Here’s hoping Michonne’s short time with Sam and her family delivers a memorable finale.