Robert Kirkman began writing The Walking Dead for Image Comics in 2003. Seven years later, he adapted the same story for AMC, telling fans he was getting a second chance to write within the same zombie-terrorized universe. The show, complete with a spinoff, Fear the Walking Dead, has become its own entity from Image Comics, intersecting occasionally while throwing in unique plot twists and characters like Daryl Dixon.
Three years after Rick and the gang first appeared in the Walking Dead premiere on AMC, Robert Kirkman collaborated with Telltale Games to write a fourth story set in the same universe. That story, told over three episodes of Telltale’s Walking Dead game is Kirkman’s definitive and highest quality work in the genre. Here’s why the best Walking Dead is Telltale’s Walking Dead.
Spoilers for The Walking Dead TV show and game follow.
Narrative Gaming Is Storytelling of the Future
Conflict arises between creators of geek media and their fans when creators make risky decisions. The primary sticking point in The Walking Dead franchise, for instance, is the militant threat fans have shot at Kirkman over and over again: If Daryl dies, we riot.
Playing around in a franchise like The Walking Dead through Telltale’s choice-based gaming allows fans to kill off characters they don’t like and protect the ones they do for as long as they can. Decades ago, the concept of “fandom” was such a niche concept that showrunners usually didn’t know what their viewers wanted. Now that we can communicate online with actors and writers’ rooms on our favorite shows, the divide between content creator and consumer is even more porous. Narrative digital storytelling, like Telltale’s system, will only get more popular, and The Walking Dead was one of the first franchises to embrace it.
The Characters Actually Act Like They’re From the South
When The Walking Dead began, Rick was a cop from just outside Atlanta. As the show expanded to accommodate its huge viewership, including where it’s most popular (anti-immigration viewers in the Midwest), it lost sight of the fact that its characters are mostly from Georgia. They don’t really talk about their backgrounds much anymore, because it’s been years in the show’s timeline since the world ended.
Because Season 1 of Telltale’s Walking Dead begins very soon after the zombie outbreak, we watch our characters grapple with the reality of the apocalypse, rooted in the towns where they grew up in. Lee mentions his hometown often, and he explores different areas in Georgia with Clementine in tow. The set-up feels hyper-specific to a particular area in Georgia, which is a much stronger storytelling tool than trying to make a group of survivors represent a nebulous group of American every-men.
The Game Never Stays in One Place in the Plot for Long
AMC’s The Walking Dead has an infuriating habit of drawing out the lead-up into each season finale over four or five eventless episodes. Perhaps because Telltale’s game is Kirkman’s fourth crack at the same type of story, and perhaps because video game logic doesn’t allow for much downtime, emotional conversations tend to happen while the team is on the way to somewhere important. Lee and Clementine, for instance, decide to cut her hair while riding a train to look for a boat in Savannah. They’re not simply waiting around a compound for something to happen, as Rick and the gang too often are.
Lee Isn’t a Complete Asshole
Part of Rick’s role in The Walking Dead is remaining as determined and hardheaded as possible in order to keep his group safe from walkers and cruel people, like Negan. Lee isn’t really the leader of his group, though some characters say he is, so when you’re controlling him in the game, you don’t have to make decisions about the survival of many over a few. The story allows Lee to prioritize Clementine in each situation, which means Lee is just a father figure, whereas Rick grows from a father figure into some kind of a benevolent tyrant.
Clementine Is What Fans Want Carl to Be
The fan theory positing that The Walking Dead is simply the story of Carl’s childhood, told from the point of view of an elderly child, has only grown in popularity in recent seasons. Many critics say The Walking Dead will never kill Rick off, allowing Carl to take over, partially because Carl is the fandom’s least favorite character.
Clementine, on the other hand, inherits Telltale’s story when she’s forced to kill her father figure, Lee, in the final moments of Season 1. By making the shocking and heart-wrenching decision to kill off the game’s primary protagonist, Telltale took its place as the most masterful version of The Walking Dead. In only one season, it depicted the narrative hand-off many fatigued AMC fans are still hoping to see on television.
Currently, the game is on Season 3, and the third episode of the third season, “Above the Law,” will be available in stores March 28.