The Walking Dead: Season Two: A House Divided

Lincoln was cribbing from the Gospel of Mark when he said “a house divided against itself cannot stand” in his unsuccessful campaign for an Illinois Senate seat, but it portended the events which the United States was already heading for, inscribing a lesson on the American psyche: Two fundamentally conflicting forces in a single construct will inevitably lead to destruction if they cannot be reconciled. This is a fatalistic appraisal of what happened to Clementine’s group in The Walking Dead: Season One, and are echoed in the schisms of her new Season Two group. But the events of “A House Divided” introduce more wrinkles as Season One characters return, forcing Clementine to choose between old and new friends.

The divisions in Clementine’s Season Two group are apparent. The trigger-happy Nick is considered a risk; if they follow the right path, the player is given the opportunity to compare him to Season One’s Ben, whose actions led to the deaths of half of the Season One group. Rebecca is pregnant and knows the father is not her husband, Alvin, but she keeps this a secret from the rest of the group (though it’s implied they know anyway). In the highest extreme, Carlos is sheltering his daughter Sarah from the reality of the Walkers; he is divided against the world itself.

Episode 2 Screen Shot 3:20:17, 10.37 PM

Clementine and her new group.

Clementine herself serves as a division as well, with the group ranging from embracing to being outright hostile to her presence. The player can choose to exacerbate or mend these divisions; they can antagonize Nick for his failures, taunt Rebecca for her baby’s parentage, undermine Carlos’ sheltering of Sarah, and generally be passive-aggressive about being locked in a shed. Or they can be supportive of the group, ingratiating themselves with each member in private moments. At the least, they trust Clementine enough to watch their house—and babysit Sarah, a girl three years older than here—while they go out to rescue Nick from walkers. This is when a stranger appears at the group’s fishing cabin asking leading questions, and Carlos decides to lead the group north. A week of uneventful travel goes by, and just when Clementine has begun to assimilate into her new group, a character from Season One returns.

If there was a source of division in Season One’s group of survivors, it was Kenny. I want to write about him in greater detail in a future update, but for now suffice it to say that Kenny is a forceful personality who assumes he is in charge in most situations and becomes vindictive when he feels his authority is being undermined. “A House Divided” establishes that his near-death experience in the climax of Season One has done nothing to cool this attitude. So it could not be more appropriate for him to be the character who returns for Season Two alongside Clementine.

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Clementine and Kenny reunited after two years (hugging optional).

Their reunion is a joyous one; Clementine thought Kenny had died in Savannah, and Kenny never found out if Lee saved her from The Stranger in the finale of Season One. But this serendipity comes with complications: Clementine must now choose between continuing on with her new group, or joining with Kenny’s group. Kenny’s presumption that Clementine will join him is not unreasonable; they have a much older and more friendly relationship (for all of Kenny’s flaws, he never directed his anger at Clementine—or locked her in a shed). But consider it from Clementine’s point of view: She has seen the dark places Kenny can go, and he does not treat her with the respect which her new group does. It’s played subtly, as there is no going back for Clementine, but her choices is not only between her old friend and her new ones, but between her former dependence and newfound independence.

This division is emphasized when both groups meet to share a meal, but they each split off to their own tables. Walter, a former teacher, compares it to cliques receding into their bubbles in a school lunchroom. Kenny ushers Clementine to join his group, but the player can choose to ignore him; it’s made apparent that feelings are hurt no matter where she sits. As the meal goes on, Kenny, Luke, and Nick will end up sitting together, and their conversation becomes heated with Clementine caught in the middle—not unlike the situation Lee often found himself in around Kenny. The friction between the two groups is apparent, and events conspire that they are forced together, dividing houses forced together into a tenement threatening to blow over.

But there is another division which must be addressed. Nick feels responsible for his mother dying to a walker attack, and this causes him to be protective of his fellow group members. So when Clementine and Luke encounter an armed, but apparently friendly stranger while scouting a bridge, Nick misunderstands the situation and kills the man. Clementine can back Nick up if the player chooses to, but upon meeting Kenny’s group it is revealed that Nick’s victim was Walter’s boyfriend, Michael. As the night drags on, Michael’s absence becomes more and more conspicuous until Walter deduces the truth. In a quiet scene, the player can choose to lie about or defend Nick’s actions, leading to Walter either saving or not saving Nick from a walker attack later on.

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Clementine confronts Walter.

This incident speaks to the larger issue at the center of The Walking Dead franchise as a whole. The world itself has become a house divided: The dead versus the living, and the living versus the living, dividing themselves into tribal groups who clash over resources and fear to often-fatal ends, feeding the first division. Lee, Clementine’s surrogate father in Season One, often found himself placed in the middle of two arguments and forced to mediate between sides. In Season Two, Clementine finds herself taking up this role, which is as much a result of narrative development as the function of the player character in a Telltale videogame. When Clementine is successful, the divisions are mended. But some divisions cannot be mended.

In my last essay on Season Two, I wrote that the season is typified by nihilism. This shows again here: Even if Clementine is able to mend the division between Walter and Nick, it’s a short-lived victory. Walter is killed minutes later in a raid by a rival group, and Nick will inevitably meet his demise as well, if not in “A House Divided” then in a later episode. Even when divisions are mended, even if the player does everything “right,” they can still lose because the narrative demands it. The entire world of Telltale’s The Walking Dead is a house divided, and Season Two is of the opinion that no one person, even one as remarkable as Clementine, will ever change that.

Episode 1 Screen Shot 3:21:17, 11.24 PM

Clementine faces the nihilism of Season Two with determination.

The first episode of The Walking Dead: Season Two reestablishes and reinforces Clementine’s emotional growth following the events of Season One, but it’s all her story. The rest of the cast, who must form an ensemble to carry the rest of the season, are borderline-antagonists. It thus falls on the second episode, “A House Divided,” to introduce us to the supporting characters, showing who they are and how they will relate to player character Clementine. She is pulled into their conflicts and plays a pivotal role in resolving them, and the groundwork for all of their stories and her own are really laid out here. The themes of Season Two begin in “All That Remains,” but the plot begins here.

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