Character Profile is a new blog series I’m starting, where I closely examine select video game characters and their development throughout their narratives. First up, and just in time for The Walking Dead: The Final Season being released next week, Clementine from Telltale’s The Walking Dead series!
This post will contain spoilers throughout for Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Seasons 1-3.
Clementine is one of the most interesting video game characters I have ever encountered.
She is a character that has aged, grown, and been shaped by both video game protagonists and by us, personally. When I first discussed The Walking Dead, Season 1, I talked about how Lee Everett’s decisions could be affected by Clementine’s presence in the narrative, as a guardian who knows his actions would impact the types of lessons his child would learn. What I didn’t expect is how Clementine would be shaped in each subsequent season, with the Season 3 finale telling you point blank what Clementine’s frame of mind is.
At the start of the first season, Clementine is already introduced as scared but resourceful, hiding from zombies and looters in her treehouse and keeping her walkie-talkie close for communication. Lee immediately takes responsibility for Clementine, knowing that it was very likely her parents would be dead. Throughout the season, Clementine asks Lee all types of questions, particularly on why people have reacted the way they have, mostly with violence and cruelty. Lee does his best to explain the situations, in whatever way he (you, as the player) sees fit. The story includes another child character in Kenny’s son, Duck, and at the beginning, you still see Clementine being a child while also being conscious that this situation is not normal by any means. Lee is constantly criticized for taking care of Clementine and showing her how to survive, and Clementine’s knowledge of survival is something that continues to be brought up in Seasons 2 and 3. Many of the adults want to keep their children as children, with usually disastrous results, and Clementine continues to survive as a bleak reminder that her innocence had to be destroyed in order to survive this zombie apocalypse.
In the second season, Clementine is a little bit more battle-worn. She’s lost people close to her and she is finally on her own, well, with your guidance, of course. So far, this has been the only season where we have been able to take full control of Clementine’s actions. It’s an important step for her before Season 3’s New Frontier: she has to learn how to survive on her own in order to take care of AJ and herself in the future. For the first time, Clementine has to decide for herself who she wants to keep company with and who she wants to trust. She is constantly reminded of Lee and uses his memory as a way to decide what he would have done in her situation. She applies this logic in everything she does, particularly in her friendship with Carlos’ daughter, Sarah. Sarah has been raised completely the opposite of Clementine: her father has kept her mostly oblivious to the severity of the situation and will scold Clementine at any point where she tries to teach Sarah what Lee taught her. This is also the season where Clementine adopts AJ. While not unique to this series, just like Clementine, AJ loses his parents at a very young age, and perhaps recognizing that, she is now more determined than ever to create an environment where he can be safe. In the most critical moment of her development, Clementine must deal with a conflict that has been building up to a violent conclusion: Kenny and Jane’s fighting was going to result in the death of one or the other and you are forced to decide which. Afterwards, you are given the choice on whether to stay with the surviving character or not. While not strictly spelled out, this was essentially a decision between loyalty and survivability, with AJ’s wellbeing the factor that might have swayed the player one way or the other.
Season 3’s New Frontier is where things truly begin to come together. We meet Clementine by circumstance, now more hardened than ever as someone who the world has deeply wronged. As Javier, we have the opportunity to change Clementine once again, demonstrating our protagonist’s commitment to family and the benefits of other people. Alternatively, Clementine could go the other way and become colder and more withdrawn from other people. Clementine dances between making emotional choices and making survival choices: doing things for AJ’s sake (i.e. joining New Frontier) and understanding when it’s time to get out of a situation (i.e. leaving New Frontier for good in search of a better situation for AJ). Once again, Clementine is also contrasted to a teenager around her age: Gabe has been with his family the entire time and has been struggling to prove his usefulness. Clementine does not hesitate to show him skills that he might need, and Javier tries to show Clementine the importance of bonds with other people. I later found out that how Clementine says goodbye to Gabe at the end is also affected by her past decisions. As she eventually passes the lessons she has learned onto AJ, as demonstrated by the teaser trailers for Season 4, we know it will be a relationship that very much mirrors the first season, except Lee didn’t grow up in the apocalypse and Clementine did.
New Frontier’s final epilogue card compiles the decision at the end of Season 2 with the decisions you made in Season 3 and tells you who your Clementine became. My final card was “Strong through Solidarity” and I have seen others ranging from “Free Spirit” to “Reformed Loner” to “Uncompromising, Unstoppable, and Unbitten.” To help put everything together for the final season, Telltale has also released a Story Builder where you can input your decisions to be imported to the new season. My final card for that was “Righteous: Though the world’s engulfed in chaos, you refuse to surrender your humanity, striving instead to maintain some semblance of order.” (In the comments below, tell me about your Clementine!)
Telltale Games has been doing something very interesting with their games recently. It is no longer false alarms of decisions affecting gameplay and decisions that ultimately lead to exactly the same result, but their episode epilogue cards will now give you a more holistic view of a character’s impression of your protagonist. Characters are less defined by “yes” and “no” and now give more complicated and conflicted emotions in regards to you. I predict that this will play a large role in the final season, with new NPCs deciding whether to trust you, whether they are hostile, compassionate, cautious, or many other possibilities. I also predict that AJ will be the key character for these epilogue cards, as a mirror to Clementine’s first season, when she is learning how to survive from Lee.
Clementine’s story has been wrought with tragedy and strife, and while the characters in her life have come and gone, she is always left with new impressions and new lessons to take with her on her next journey. It was important to demonstrate that she has been shaped and affected by protagonists Lee and Javier as well as learning lessons from herself and her own growth when she has been on her own. It was only fitting to close Clementine’s story with her teaching AJ about how to live and survive, and I hope the final season properly reflects everything that she has gone through.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Season 4 premieres this Tuesday, August 14th!
P.S. I will be streaming each episode of The Walking Dead, Season 4 as it’s released, so be sure to tune into my Twitch Channel this Tuesday at 7pm PST!