You'd be right to assume that the title of Episode 4 in Telltale's latest The Walking Dead story A New Frontier is a reference to disgraced baseball star Javier Garcia's biggest decision: family or friends? Thicker Than Water explores whether the everyman would be better off siding with his brood or buddies, and it prompts plenty of handwringing as a result. Unfortunately, this penultimate episode is all over the shop pacing-wise, and key cast members behave a little out of character at times.
Flashbacks once again feature prominently, with the now obligatory opening scene turning back time to before the fall of mankind. It's here we learn more about the protagonist's relationship with his brother David, and the idea of sibling rivalry is tackled with the trademark subtlety that we've come to expect from the developer. The episode later delves into the topic of puberty, which is also handled with maturity, and makes for another surprising highlight.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the story can't quite keep up. Joan, the leader of Richmond who's been turned into some kind of pantomime villain over the course of one and a half episodes, remains dreadfully underdeveloped, and seems to exist merely to push the plot forward. Clem, who remains Telltale's strongest character, makes another welcome return, but her presence yet again feels flaky, and it appears the studio's merely fumbling for excuses to shoehorn her in.
Luckily, her blossoming friendship with Javi is genuinely fascinating, but it gets so little screentime that you'll be left wanting more. And, aside from one scene which finally addresses the romantic tension between the hero and fellow survivor Kate, the paternal pair share precious few seconds together either. Instead, a lot of the script is reserved for surrogate son Gabe, whose stroppy teenage attitude is a persistent irritation that's at odds with the situations he finds himself in.
In fact, there are a few moments over the course of the episode where characters act out of character. Prescott leader Tripp has always been a hot-head, but within the span of one minor revelation, he turns from asking Javi for relationship advice right the way through to discarding him entirely. It doesn't really make sense, nor does one key decision mid-way through the episode that we apparently mucked up due to the script not being clear about a key deal that's being discussed.
Fortunately, it stumbles to a strong conclusion that sets up the final episode well. We've seen communities collapse countless times over the course of three seasons of The Walking Dead, but you get the sense that Richmond is about to really implode, and there aren't going to be many faces coming out alive. We're just hopeful that Javi and Clem make it, because if this episode proves anything, it's that there's still plenty of mileage if the two stick together.
The weakest episode in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier thus far, Thicker Than Water is paced awkwardly and doesn't spend enough time exploring the relationships that really matter. A good conclusion sets up the finale well, and there are some standout scenes over the course of the instalment. But an underdeveloped villain and some hard to believe exchanges make this a forgettable episode overall.
I sort of liked this episode. In fact it is the only episode in a Telltale game that I played a second time to see if the endgame can be changed.
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