The Walking Dead Season 3 - A New Frontier: Episode 4 - Thicker Than Water Review
Reviewed on PCAlso available on Sony PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Xbox One
Spoilers for previous episodes of Walking Dead Season 3 may be found ahead!
And so season three of The Walking Dead trundles into its penultimate fourth episode, one that has been historically weak in almost every franchise Telltale have released to date. If you were looking for a break from tradition, it won’t be found in Thicker Than Water, despite a last ten minutes which manages to pull the chapter away from complete obscurity.
Javier and his brother David are locked up after the events of the last episode's cliffhanger ending, and Joan has established herself as the Big Bad with Governor-like intentions - like a psychopathic Martha Stewart. But while David is dragged off for more “personal” interrogation, it’s up to you to get Javier free - which is far easier than you’d expect. Of course, you first need to get some insight into David’s character courtesy of a flashback session at a batting cage; without it, you won’t appreciate the story hammering home how much of a dick the two brothers are to each other. And that is crucial to later events because subtlety has never been high on the narrative agenda since the first season.
There are a number of dubious plot points here, not least the fact that Javier’s friends are allowed to stroll around unguarded despite their buddy being considered an enemy. Combined with a surprisingly empty town that doesn’t mind people breaking others out of prison, smashing into armouries and generally making a massive racket, there are simply too many holes to paper over. The decisions you make for Javier mostly revolve around the usefulness of David’s son Gabe, and regardless of your choices he’ll end up flip-flopping between a pain in the ass and a life-saver. The first hour is therefore little more than an extended family drama, which dulls any sort of tension that may have been generated from the scenario.
Clementine has been relegated to the role of a brat on the sidelines constantly whining about toddler AJ, who is allegedly alive and well somewhere. Her fixation on the kid doesn’t really ring true, since she has already been established as a lone survivor who works better alone. Given the child has already been determined safe, it seems odd that she’d risk her neck to drag him back into the same dangerous world in which he previously became ill. A rare, memorable scene with the settlement’s drug-addled doctor highlights her frustration, but it does little to balance her moral scale.
Gameplay-wise, it’s business as usual. Telltale have abandoned any pretense of The Walking Dead being a point-and-click adventure, and items you pick up are used as soon as you reach the right spot on the screen; you don’t even need to choose them any more. A “puzzle” around the hot-wiring of a car might have actually led to some interesting conclusions if you failed it, but it’s not possible to do so - Javier knows exactly what he needs to do, but he just has to wait patiently for you to pick the wires in the correct order. This isn’t a game as much as an enforced lull in the dialogue. Even the QTEs are by-the-numbers now, signposted way ahead of their execution and lacking in style or impact.
It also feels like a far shorter episode than the previous three, possibly because so little happens within it. Plots and plans abound, but there are far more chats about what people want to do than time is spent actually doing them. The exception to this barrage of torpidity lies in the finale, which marries a trademark Agonising Choice alongside some frenetic action sequences, leaving a number of loose ends which will hopefully be tied up neatly in the concluding chapter. It isn’t enough to prevent the episode as a whole from being a dud, filled with eye-rolling conversations and far too many bizarre changes in character from people who have barely been sketched out beyond two dimensions in the first place.
When one character is revealed in the conclusion to be someone entirely different to their original portrayal, the end result wasn’t shock, but confusion. There was no justification for them to make the choice they did, and therefore what should have been a jaw-dropping plot twist ultimately rang hollow. That moment was also brushed over with some speed, perfectly highlighting the poor characterisation that Season 3 as a whole has suffered from. If the writers are struggling as much as it appears, perhaps it’s time for this series to finally be laid to rest, as without a coherent storyline there is little else left to recommend it.