Note: I wrote this after I had finished Telltale’s The Walking Dead. While it has been a while since then, this piece of writing is important to me, important enough to warrant sharing after all this time. Enjoy.
So I just finished Telltale’s The Walking Dead…
I’m pissed off.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great game. One of the best I’ve ever played. I’m just really…really pissed off.
I started the game in a police car, handcuffed, under arrest. No introduction, no disembodied movie announcer voice saying, “In a world…” no inspiring quote that fades to black, none of that. Fantastic. “Can’t get worse from here…” I thought. Suddenly, while crossing the freeway, my police officer driver hit a pedestrian. If this game didn’t explicitly warn me about zombies with its title, I would have questioned the appearance of a pedestrian crossing a freeway. I live in LA. Sane people don’t cross freeways. But because of the game’s title, I let it slide.
So because it’s a zombie game, after we hit this zombie our car miraculously swerved off the road, fell off a hill, flipped at least 3 times, and landed on its hood. Apparently zombies have a lot more mass than I thought.
After crawling out of the wreckage, I, Lee Everett, just arrested for undisclosed reasons, tried to collect myself. This involved quickly realizing my leg had a rather severe gash, remembering my hands were still cuffed, finding my driver dead a few feet away, trying to retrieve the keys from his dead body only to discover he had become a zombie too, frantically killing him, grabbing his keys, and un-cuffing myself. Looking up from the carnage, my eyes met those of a 9 year old girl.
Yes, in my completely helpless and frantic state, the first person I saw was a little girl. Her name is Clementine. Slowly it dawns upon me that I have been unwillingly tasked with taking care of her, mid-zombie apocalypse. Now, in reality, I’m 18 years old. I am the youngest of three. I have no experience parenting. When I’m forced into an enclosed area with a crying baby I want nothing more than to start heaving things at it to make it shut up somehow. Kids around 9 years old infuriate me. So having to not only keep this little girl safe but also be a makeshift parent for her seemed impossibly difficult.
I accepted my fate reluctantly, and Clementine and I continued onward. We eventually met a decent amount of fellow survivors. Our zombie apocalypse survivor group consisted of a hotheaded fisherman from Florida named Kenny, whose favorite thing to say to me was “I thought you had my back, Lee”, his veterinarian wife Katjaa, who assured me Kenny had “our best interests at heart”, their 10 year old son Duck, an excitable boy, oblivious to life’s post-apocalyptic perils, a reporter named Carley who, to her credit, knew how to use a handgun, a nervous and cowardly high schooler named Ben, a beefy, middle aged man with heart problems named Larry, who made it clear that he hated my guts with every conversation, and his daughter Lilly, who honestly believed her father was not a dick. Very helpful, Telltale Games, very helpful group of people.
After a few months of traveling with this group, we created a barricaded and relatively safe “home base” at a motel complex. But, due to the lack of food, everyone in the group grew tense, angry, and uneasy. One day, after a heated argument with Lilly, I earned the privilege of giving out the daily rations, four pieces of food, to our ten person group.
At this point I stopped playing The Walking Dead for about a day. For an entire day, I agonized over who I should feed. Should I feed Larry so he will stop resenting me all the time? Should I even bother giving food to the kids Clementine and Duck since they can’t actually help us do…well, anything? Should I give food to the new guy, Mark, who joined with us between chapters 1 and 2? After an excruciating day deep in contemplation, I made my decision.
I gave food to Clementine first, without questioning my decision at all. She had been with me from the start. Although she did not have a list of useful skills like some of the others, she was my responsibility, and thus most important to me. Next, I gave food to Carley because I trusted her the most. I gave food to the new guy Mark, since, unlike the rest, he treated me nicely. Finally, I gave food to Duck, to score points with Kenny and Katjaa, Duck’s parents.
After the plight that was rationing out the days food, I thought it couldn’t get any worse. Then, it got worse. A lot worse. That chapter ended with my group trapped on a farm with a bunch of cannibals. And you know how I stumbled upon this revelation, that the people we met at the farm, the people who treated us so nicely, actually hungered for human flesh? I found Mark, recipient of one of my precious rations of food, upstairs in their farmhouse with his legs chopped off. He crawled towards me and whispered, “Don’t…eat…dinner…” Yes, they planned on feeding us Marks legs.
After almost accidentally eating Mark’s legs, I lowered my expectations for myself. I stopped thinking that I could actually save anyone, find any sustainable amount of food, get a good shelter going, or meet anyone alive who wasn’t trying to murder me. Instead, I gave myself one goal, one thing I thought I could do because I had done it up to this point. I told myself, “Take care of Clementine”. Be supportive, give her advice on how not to get brutally eaten by the living dead, draw pictures with her, show her how to shoot a gun just in case a zombie tries to rip her head off. You know, father-daughter stuff.
Towards the end of the game, it dawned on me that, despite my best attempts at survival, nearly my entire group had died. Mark, Larry, Lilly, Carley, Katjaa, and Duck, six people, had died brutally, one way or another. But through all that, I took solace in Clementine. I still had her. I had taught her a good amount on how to be safe in our insane world. I had protected her. That was good enough for me.
One day, I (Lee Everett) took a nap in our makeshift shelter in an abandoned home on the outskirts of the city Savannah. When I woke up, I couldn’t find Clementine. My group, consisting of Kenny, Ben, and newcomers Omid and Christa, had no idea where she went. I rushed outside and found her walkie-talkie abandoned next to a pile of trash. As I bent down to pick it up, a zombie lying in the trash pile attacked me. I killed him only to find that he had bitten me a tad. Having gotten this far in the game, (Lee Everett and) I knew what came next. I was done. Dead. That’s it. Game over.
My one scratch, one little tooth against my wrist, meant that I had a ticking clock above my head. All that work I had put in to surviving, all the people I had seen die, all the insanely stressful decisions I had made added up to zilch because one zombie in a trash pile managed to get the jump on me and land a little scuffle on my wrist.
But, strangely enough, it didn’t matter much to me. I accepted my fate rather easily. All that had driven me as I roamed these post-apocalyptic lands had been saving Clementine.
And, eventually, I did save her. Even through my deteriorating physical and internal state, I managed to get her back by my side. After I found her and she saw my wound and imminent reanimation into a zombie, Clementine began to cry. “Please don’t be one of them. Please don’t become a walker,” she wept. And then it hit me. I didn’t care that about my impending death. I cared about leaving Clementine. I gave her some final advice on how to escape the zombie-ridden city and, strangely at-peace, I finally told her what I myself hadn’t thought about since our first meeting when my fate had been sealed. “I’ll miss you”, I told her, before dying. She then escaped the city, alone; Omid and Christa, the other two survivors, nowhere to be found.
At this point, suddenly, I found myself on the verge of tears. Anger soon came rushing behind those tears.
You’ve gotta be kidding me.
All I wanted was one thing. I just wanted to take care of Clementine. And I did. But now I was dead. And I can’t take care of Clementine when I’m dead. I wouldn’t know if she was going to be okay. I couldn’t save her from those inevitable zombies, bandits, cannibals, and other assorted meatheads.
In the days following my completion of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, I wrapped myself in grief. I believed I had failed Clementine. I believed I had failed in the one thing I had set out to do. I felt like I lost my happiness when I died and left Clementine. It was after a few days of grief that I decided to call my father and essentially ask him, “Is this what parenting is like?”
Even though I already knew the answer, I felt reassured to hear him say “no”. My experience parenting in The Walking Dead taught me that taking “care” of your child verges on impossible, and that “parenting” means making sure that your daughter doesn’t die a horrible, gruesome death. Not only that, but my only experience parenting, my experience in this game, ended in failure; heart-wrenching, tear-filled failure. With my failure still fresh in my mind, I really needed to hear my father say “Parenting isn’t like that” to start recovering.
Regaining my sanity over the next few weeks, I reflected more and more on my time with Clementine. Maybe I was just trying to make myself feel better, but instead of remembering my tearful departure, I remembered the good times I had with her. I remember finding her originally in her tree-house in her parent’s backyard. I remember her pulling pranks on Duck. I remember cutting her hair in the train we had gotten up and running. I remember her sleeping on my shoulder as that train took us to Savannah. I remember how smart she was, how she knew who to trust, how she knew not to take unnecessary risk, and how she took all of my advice seriously. It was then that I thought, maybe I didn’t fail as a parent. Yes, I wish I had more time with Clementine. She was only 9 years old when I (Lee Everett) died. But, if what I taught her can make her life a happy one, than I think I can say I didn’t fail as a parent.
But that doesn’t mean I’m okay with Lee’s death. Clementine is 9. There are zombies. I need to protect her. Let me back in the game. Seriously.