The first episode of season two of the Walking Dead was mainly concerned with setting the stage. It showcased a number of technical improvements over the last season, but was focused on setting things up for greatness in the future. ‘A House Divided’, the second episode of this season, follows through on this deal and builds something great upon the previous episode’s solid foundation. This instalment ticks all the boxes you expect from a great Walking Dead episode; complete with difficult decisions, shocking moments, great characters and strong writing.
Though ultimately excellent, ‘A House Divided’ doesn’t put its best foot forward. The first episode had an excellent impactful opening, which the rest of the game didn’t match up to, but this latest instalment stumbles at the start. The beginning section is by no means bad, but it feels a tad clumsy and unnecessary, bar a single moment towards its end. From this point on though the game flourishes, layering excellent segment upon excellent segment as it meanders its way through several set pieces.
The meandering pace of the episode is a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, it allows a lot to happen in a short space of time, as the game flits from one scenario to the other very easily. There is no clear over arching narrative to the episode, as one event follows another in a rather natural way rather than feeling intricately plotted out. The episode ultimately comes full circle in terms of plot, by capitalising on an earlier moment with an amazing finale, but aside from that it’s more moment heavy than plot heavy. There isn’t an intricate narrative here, but there are several sublime singular moments, and other brilliant moments that build on each other throughout the episode. The one weakness to this pace is that the episode very occasionally feels like it lacks a driving force. It keeps going onwards with no overt aim in sight and the feel of one thing happening after another isn’t always that involving. However the slight sacrifice in pace is worth it due to the quality of the content on offer.
It is the characters that sell episode two, most notably some newcomers. The finest addition is a sinister gravelly voiced gentleman voiced by Reservoir Dogs’ Michael Madsen. He steals the scene every time he appears and is utterly compelling. The writing does a great job of building a mystique around him and a palpable sense of unease; this character first rears his head in an incredibly tense and well handled scene early on, but his shadow looms over the rest of the episode even when off screen. This is mostly due to his connection with the narrative and other characters’ reactions to him.
Another thing this episode does excellently is present interesting choices. This isn’t true throughout, as there are some weak moments where the illusion of choice is almost immediately shattered, but for the most part the player is presented with interesting dilemmas. The game does a great job of creating uncertain situations, where the player won’t know which option to pick and will regret a decision as often as they celebrate one. In many cases there isn’t a right answer, just two uncertainties, either could go right and either could go wrong and this kind of decision is really interesting. It does a good job of making you feel somewhat powerless and very desperate. It may sound frustrating but it works completely in the moment.
All in all ‘A House Divided’ is an incredibly solid entry in what promises to be an excellent season. It takes the story to interesting places and it leaves it somewhere very exciting. It has a number of brilliant character moments and well done gameplay segments, as well as some great sound design (especially a very appropriate – and just plain excellent – end credit song). Once again Telltale show a mastery of the world and the lore, bringing up a number of interesting existential points and raising all the right questions with their dialogue. They make you feel at home in the horrible Walking Dead universe and put you in the state of mind of a resident, making decisions like they would rather than your detached self. It’s incredibly immersive and genuinely impressive.
'A House Divided' is an incredibly solid entry in what promises to be an excellent season.