While The Walking Dead: The Final Season has faced a tumultuous development and release cycle, complete with the shut down and dissolution of the studio in the middle of the game’s release schedule, it feels good to say that the final episode of Telltale’s last hurrah has seen the light of day at last.
“Take Us Back” is the 4th and final piece of what we knew would be Telltale’s final The Walking Dead game, and now suspect will be their final game in general. As a send-off for the series, and its main-stay protagonist, Clementine, it had a lot of weight to shoulder in terms of pressure. Now, as not only the final game in a series, but the final game from a dead studio, it has even more weight to bear.
It may be a heavy burden to release a finale under such a mountain of anticipation and emotion, but I’m happy to report that The Walking Dead: The Final Season, Ep. 4: “Take Us Back” is a wonderfully realized and powerfully endearing send-off for both this franchise and the studio that birthed it.
Heavy of heart from the very outset, “Take Us Back” begins with an ominous voice over from AJ suggesting that Clementine is in very dire straits. This cryptic opening fills the player with anxiety and fear about Clem, and makes every dangerous situation she finds herself in throughout the episode feel even more daunting and perilous than usual.
While The Walking Dead, in all of its iterations, is a series filled with despair and longing, the concluding chapter of The Final Season is especially heavy of heart. Clementine’s role of parent to AJ, and leader to the kids of Ericson’s Boarding School, is evaluated thoroughly and unflinchingly. Meanwhile, as this tale reaches its most desperate and dangerous station yet, it’s hard not to lose hope altogether.
The relationships you’ve built with each character will come to a head under this cloud of darkness, and not all of them will offer glowing recommendations and unflinching support. You’ll have to decide how much you can trust your surrogate son to do the right thing, and question whether you can believe in others above yourself. If you’re able to do either, there might still be hope, but as with any risk, there’s always the chance of your choices simply making things even worse.
This ever present cloud of anxiety and hopelessness is The Walking Dead: The Final Season‘s greatest strength, and it reaches its absolute zenith in “Take Us Back”. The fact that small glimmers of hope and cheer do occasionally emerge from this shadow is a small comfort, but a comfort all the same.
There isn’t much that can be said about the gameplay of “Take Us Back” that hasn’t been stated in reviews of previous episodes, but as the final, and finest, episode of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, this finale milks every new addition, as well as the fantastic new engine, to their absolute limit. Fights are tense, quick time events offer small windows of success, and this desolate world always finds time to show us a hint of beauty amidst all of the blood and chaos of a zombie apocalypse.
With all of that said, it is still the heart of this story that carries it through, and “Take Us Back” has heart to spare. Parents in particular will find an ache in their chests as they try to guide AJ to grow into a good and loving, yet resourceful, young man. As The Road showed us, parenthood is at its most awful when the world is a reflecting mirror of human atrocity. “Take Us Back” explores a similar landscape.
While I can’t offer specifics for fear of even vague spoilers, rest assured that the legacy of Telltale, The Walking Dead, and most importantly, Clementine, all get an awe-inspiring and emotional send-off here. Long time fans will be both surprised and satisfied as the credits begin to roll, and a few surprises only sweeten the deal all the more.
All in all, The Walking Dead: The Final Season stands proudly among Telltale’s finest efforts, and if it all had to come to an end, both in this fictional world and in the real world, fans could ask for little more than this inspiring, evocative swan song.