There is a moment towards the end of this episode this is completely excellent. The pieces start to slot into place for a climax and what follows is really satisfying – and peppered with difficult on the spot decisions. For a little while, everything comes together so well; the emotion is there, the characters are compelling and the atmosphere is tense. Outside of this though, No Going Back isn’t that impressive. For example, the actual ending – the final moment of the entire season – is completely underwhelming. Things just peter out, making the ending feel more like the close of a single episode than a whole season. On top of this, No Going Back is hampered by an issue of the previous instalment, as a lack of direction carries over.
It seems that season two peaked too soon. Things got off to a decent start and the following two episodes were excellent (with episode 3 being a real highlight). One thing which made these earlier episodes work, was a sense that they were building to something. There was a clear overarching narrative that was compelling, they introduced a villain very well and his dynamic with your group of survivors became the driving force for the story. However, this was all dealt with rather quickly and then episode four tied up another narrative loose end – a pregnancy within the group. After this point, the direction the finale would go in was rather unclear. It was obvious how things would start off, due to the cliff hanger stand off between the group and armed Russians that ended the previous episode, but once this was dealt with there was no real overarching story. There was: ‘we need to keep this baby (and the rest of the group) alive’, but that motivation doesn’t tie into any continuing season narrative.
At this point, things just seem like they are extending out for no real reason, bar that people have survived. This all comes to a head when the group debate where to go next and I, as the player, found myself as stumped as them. Rather than tying up the season, No Going Back just serves as an extension. It capitalises on some of the tensions that were permeating the group, but there’s a sense of pointlessness to everything. There is nothing really to aim for, there’s a very minor thrust about finding a specific place, but that motivation always comes across a half baked as that plot strand was never truly explored. The episode just falls into keeping on keeping on territory, which isn’t as interesting as things should be. There is some inherent interest in seeing how people continue to survive in a zombie infested world, but in regard to that theme this episode doesn’t touch much new ground. The worries stay the same and the cycle of keep going until you find some place with food, then move on when you realise there isn’t enough food, continues. This formula is peppered with some suitably dramatic moments, but a lot of those just feel inevitable. Sometimes it just seems like the game is finding any way it can to thin out the herd, as characters exit or exeunt. Some of these moments are more satisfying than others; some have impact and some just feel unearned.
The added complication of a baby does spice things up a bit, though it is not as important as you might thing. The dynamic isn’t drastically altered and if the baby is making things a lot more difficult, that just isn’t focused on. Most of the time its just there, looking perfectly healthy and occasionally crying, while people act concerned around it. However, he does act as the catalyst for the episodes climactic scene, a tense conflict between two of the better characters. This conflict puts the player in an interesting position, it’s really well orchestrated and has some great consequences. It puts you in a difficult decision that forces you to make a meaningful choice that is open to interpretation. Unfortunately, your reason for deciding as you do isn’t always reflected in the writing. You may decide to do something for a very specific reason, but Clementine has other ideas. I made a late game choice because I thought I had to, not because I wanted to, I strove for co-operation because I always go for the live together die apart reasoning. I didn’t do it because I trusted the other person. That’s not what Clementine said though, which caused a disconnect between my feelings and the expressed feelings of who I was playing as.
Choices are mostly a positive in No Going Back though; the game even quite elegantly works in previous decisions. It’s handled in perhaps the simplest way, having characters comment on past actions now that no diverging paths need to be created after this episode, but this technique is still effective. You feel like people have been paying attention to what you are doing and that your past interactions with them made a difference. It’s one time where there seems to be an arc to the season, where things hang together and you feel like you are at the end of a journey. This is undercut though by the ending itself.
The final moments aren’t terrible, it’s just very familiar and not particularly final. After some really impactful and shocking scenes, the true end seems somewhat neutered. The scenario you are put in is a very familiar one, a trope the series uses time and time again, and its also very separated from the rest of the season. It feels like one of many small decisions, something that would be quickly capitalised on in a following episode – it doesn’t feel final. The problem here is that season two doesn’t feel like a cohesive hole. Its ending lacks a sense of finality and the overall narrative structure is just lacking. Rather than sprinting across the finish line, it wears itself out just before – in an impressive fashion -before sidling off somewhere. You know the race is over, but you don’t feel like it was adequately finished.
Unfortunately, this is how No Going Back leaves you. The high points of this episode are incredibly high though, with a hugely memorable showdown that produces a number of wonderful character moments. This one interaction has a boat load of implications and puts Clementine in a really interesting position, unfortunately, that segment alone isn’t enough. Overall, the episode is hampered by the weak pacing of the latter part of this season and a real lack of narrative direction. Things keep going, and it’s good enough for you to keep playing, but you are never as engrossed as you should be until things really ramp up. It’s good, but the Walking Dead has been so much better.