There were moments of brilliance in season two’s first episode of The Walking Dead, but much of it was spent laying the foundation for a largely new cast of characters. With that done, the second instalment, A House Divided, ramps up the pace a little and hits home with some potent choices that have dire consequences.
Continuing on from where the last episode left off, Clementine and Nick initially find themselves brooding over their recent loss. Starting slowly, the game first has you deal with Nick’s grief, followed by a slew of monotonous zombie evasion QTEs. Thankfully, it’s not long until the story picks up significantly and events turn interesting, as you find yourself left behind to protect your new home and babysit Sarah, the group leader’s daughter.
A new addition to the cast makes a dramatic appearance, by the name of William Carver, a suspicious and fearful figure who skulks into your home and questions Clementine on the whereabouts of individuals that closely resemble your new companions. Voiced by Michael Madsen, Carver instils an unnerving tension in the air – he’s a charismatic man that you expect can (and probably will) become as violent as he is intelligent.
Carver plays a vital role throughout the episode, and will likely become a cornerstone of the series if his introduction to the series is anything to go by. Then again, if this series has taught us anything, it’s always to expect the unexpected, and never to get too attached to anyone. At this point, he embodies the terror caused by the mysterious stranger in the first season, only this time around that fear is given a face, a persona and a motive for his intrusions that is far more unnerving.
My fondness for much of the cast – along with my disdain for Sarah – grew significantly as their personalities began to flourish and their backstories were further developed. You can’t help but feel sympathy for the blundering fool Nick, or a strong desire to prove yourself worthy to the arrogant doctor Carlos. There is also the welcome return of a familiar face from last season, who makes a surprise entrance and opens a wealth of potential plot twists, or at the very least some pleasing nostalgic references. My initial fear that I wouldn’t take to the new cast like I did with the original has almost completely been set aside now, and even those characters who initially seemed shallow, like the pregnant, hormonally-driven Rebecca, have gained significance and depth in their roles.
This can be credited in part to a heavy emphasis on dialogue in this episode, which has very little in the way of either QTEs or environmental- and puzzle-based interactions (though such elements have always been on the light side in this series). It’s a shame that there’s not much in terms of gameplay depth, and I’d certainly appreciate more to interact with in the environment, but at least Telltale remains effective in focusing on the series’ strongest aspect: its tense, player-directed decision-making.
The weight of decisions thrust upon you in A House Divided is a heavy burden, with split-second choices completely determining the fates of certain characters. As usual, no one is ever truly safe, but here there is far more shock value than we’ve become accustomed to in episodes past. Situations that can ultimately result in someone’s death are no longer quite so clearly signposted, which fosters both surprise in the moment and a sense of ‘what if’ as you reconsider your choices after the fact. The decisions you make are tough, and the outcome can often be hard to swallow, but it’s this fine blend of making the best of bad choices where The Walking Dead excels and shines its brightest.
Beyond just determining which secondary character will meet an early demise, the choices here felt genuinely impactful to the actual story, raising hopes that they will have a long-term effect. Replaying through particular events revealed a multitude of potential paths, but there’s simply no way of knowing yet if these are simply more of Telltale’s brilliantly concealed illusions of choice that ultimately reach the same conclusion. Either way, one new, very welcome feature in this episode allows you to replay your choices at 12 key moments, then save the new outcome in a different save file.
Everything once again looks as fantastic as we’ve come to expect of this series, with the stylish cartoon cel-shaded graphics feeling as fresh and fitting as ever. The voice acting continues to be stellar, with particular praise saved for Madsen’s performance, and as always the ongoing contributions of Melissa Hutchison as the ever-lovable Clementine. Technically speaking, my prior complaints of engine instability and general gameplay performance seem to now be a thing of the past as the game delivered everything without a slowdown or stutter to be seen.
As the episode progresses, you’ll naturally have to leave your temporary safe haven in order to brave the many dangers outside once again. When you do, you’ll have to confront your new group’s daunting history even as you’re pulled into a great unknowing danger that you will be unable to avoid.
This episode ends on a cliffhanger high that is guaranteed to leave you feeling totally invested in the story and caring deeply about your new companions, and of course Clementine herself. The next episode, In Harm’s Way, is left wide open to take the series in a multitude of directions, but the high expectations set by A House Divided will be a challenge to surpass. I’ll be counting down the days.