The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Episode 5 – From the Gallows Review (PC)
With the third proper season of Telltale Games' The Walking Dead, the developer had created a clean start with new characters to explore. Rather than focusing on fan-favorite survivor Clementine, A New Frontier introduced us to a whole new family trying to exist in the apocalyptic world. For the opening few episodes, A New Frontier was as captivating as Telltale's The Walking Dead had ever been. Down the home stretch however, A New Frontier faltered, with the impact and resonance of the finale, "From the Gallows," suffering most of all.
Javier's quest to keep his family safe had taken some dramatic turns at the conclusion of the previous episode,"Thicker Than Water," when his brother David kickstarted bedlam in Richmond's town square. With the escape plan shot to all hell, Kate crashed into the outer wall, bringing about an explosion that allowed the hordes waiting beyond the safety of Richmond's borders to come pouring in. All in all, that's not a bad way to lead off a final chapter. With their backs against the wall more than ever, Javier and tight group of survivors must not only contend with all the undead, but the living they put directly at risk when David went rogue.
As dramatically as "From the Gallows" begins, you'd expect the rest of the episode to not only live up to the tension created in those few moments, but deliver on some of the emotional subplots that have been running since the start of A New Frontier. While that's true of some relationships, like that of Javier and Gabe or Javier and Kate (depending on your ultimate choices this chapter), many of the remaining outcomes not only feel rushed, but unearned as well. This is particularly true of Javier's relationships with the Prescott survivors, who in spite of everything Javier has done to endanger them, are more than willing to let bygones be bygones. It doesn't just seem out of character, it seems grossly out of thematic element for The Walking Dead as a whole.
Telltale has typically done rather well sticking within the worldview it created within its branch of The Walking Dead universe. There have been a modicum of missteps along the way, but nothing that ever truly dragged down an entire season. A New Frontier has some of the most egregious examples of characters seemingly acting opposite of not just their best interests, but how they've been acting prior to this final episode. These moments not only reflect poorly on the writing in those instances, but take away a lot of the impressive work done in earlier chapters. For all the efforts put into making us care about Javier, Kate, Gabe, and David, and the whole family's messed up relationship, "From the Gallows" makes too many leaps for reconciliation than can be logically believed.
The worst part is that those moments of resolution themselves are not bad. In fact, each of them would ordinarily be quite moving had the characters earned any semblance of redemption or closure. Beyond that, the coda for everything leaves far too much on Javier's shoulders. Way more than could honestly be expected of someone that had done so much to devastate Richmond in the way he did. Aside from the need to leave things open for an eventual fourth season, it's a curious matter how exactly Telltale's story team wound up with the world simply accepting Javier as the potential leader for an entire city. So much of "From the Gallows" expects the player to just accept what is happening rather than the game itself having show the player that it is an acceptable outcome.
The Walking Dead: A New Frontier didn't just have an ambitious title, it also had a great deal of promise. The start of the third season was as memorable as anything Telltale had done before, but the story took turns in some strange directions that didn't have the payoff hinted at early on. Given Telltale's track record, we're not writing off the future of The Walking Dead, but A New Frontier's finish certainly raised questions as to whether or not Telltale has anything exciting left to say about this world.
This review was completed using a download code for The Walking Dead: A New Frontier, Episode 5 - "From the Gallows" provided by the publisher for PC.