“Amid The Ruins” bears a lot of similarities to “Around Every Corner,” the fourth episode of Season 1. So much so that it was hard not to get some intense feelings of déjà vu. In both of these season penultimate episodes, your respective group has left one emotionally epic set piece and is on their way to another. “Around Every Corner” came off a chaotic train ride that incidentally brought an entire herd of walkers upon our heroes. “Amid The Ruins” begins immediately with Clementine (Melissa Hutchison) working her way through another herd as her group escaped from Carver’s (Michael Madsen) compound. In both cases, the exciting escapes are followed by a transitional lull that is intended to weave us into an exciting finale. Unfortunately for The Walking Dead, periods of transition can be an issue. We’ve seen this on the show and in the comics more than a couple of times, typically when the group is traveling away from something terrible. “Around Every Corner” fell into this hole previously, and ultimately “Amid The Ruins” falters in the similar manner. The episode was good, but not great.
If there’s one thing this season of The Walking Dead has done absolutely right, its putting Clementine into this role as a young survivor. Her development as a human being is put in the spotlight continuously and it is always gripping. This right here is easily the best part about “Amid The Ruins.” The group’s escape from Carver didn’t go well, which means they’re all beaten and battered. To make matters worse, Rebecca’s (Shay Moore) baby is coming, Luke (Scott Porter) is seriously injured, and both Kenny (Gavin Hammon) and Sarah (Louisa Mackintosh) are having extreme mental breakdowns. This means that Clementine needs to step up in a way that she never had before and it’s not easy. At least newcomer Jane (Christine Lakin) is there to help her. Yet even with the assistance, Clementine is forced into multiple situations where other lives are in the balance, something that clearly weighs heavily on the poor girl’s mind. It amazes me how much personal cost comes with Clementine’s decisions, and I love how they can lead to serious questions about her psychological state.
You learn a lot of hard lessons throughout the episode too. A big element that factors into the two hour playthrough is whether or not you want to be a hero. In what is your first big decision of the episode, Clementine must decide to either save a group member or leave them for dead. She’s pressured to move on without but I made it so Clementine left no one behind. It felt good being the hero and I believed it was important to present our heroine as someone who doesn’t just abandon her friends. Yet The Walking Dead revels in gray areas, frequently presenting situations that simply don’t have a right or wrong answer. Even though it felt right to save Clementine’s friend, they became a burden later and it lead to someone suffering the ultimate fate. In that moment, Clementine learned multiple lessons, notably futility. You can risk your life to save someone one day only for it to backfire the next. The same can be said about compassion. You can try to be a good person to strangers, but ultimately nothing can change the inherent truth that simply existing means you’re a threat to others.
“Amid the Ruins” also brought this version of The Walking Dead to now classic milestones. The biggest of all is easily childbirth. In both the comics and the show, Lori Grimes gives birth to a daughter named Judith. Having an infant changes the story dynamic in interesting ways, so it’s great that the game will now explore that side of human nature. How far will someone go to save a screaming baby in a world that requires silence to survive? Can someone really leave an infant for dead? We also got some major change in setting with the winter season. The TV show will never experience this due to the summer filming schedule, but the comics have done some of their most intense moments within the freezing cold. In a period where making a fire can be a death sentence and a stable shelter is hard to come by, winter can be the biggest threat of all. It wasn’t until episode’s end that we actually saw snow on the ground but I’m excited to experience this change first hand in “No Going Back.”
My big complaint however returns back to what I was mentioning about “Amid the Ruins” being like “Around Every Corner.” In fact, most of the comparisons easily stem from the new character named Jane. As Clementine continues her survival, Jane spends most of the episode giving her more tips. Obviously the tips are a great idea but it felt like I was re-experiencing Season 1 all over again with Jane filling the void for Lee (Dave Fennoy). It took away from the Season 2 experience of Clementine being the independent survivor Lee set her up to be. It honestly almost felt like a bit of hand-holding in certain cases. To make matters worse, Jane is basically the Molly (Erin Yvette) of Season 2. Both characters rose to prominence in the fourth episodes, and both left at the ends for stupid reasons. In a sense, Jane was a combination of Lee and Molly and not an entirely original character.
It also didn’t help that the story felt like a wheel spinner. Instead of actually having a legitimate goal in mind, you spend most of the episode just picking up the pieces from “In Harm’s Way.” There’s a lot of sitting around and discussing what your next move is without any clear objective outside of helping Rebecca. With no endpoint to look forward to, I found myself just working through the episode so I can get to the finale. How that happens is actually reminiscent of how Lee entered his final conflict in Savannah. In this case, the group of sickly survivors is replaced with a group of Russians lead by Arvo (Michael Ark) who also has a disability. Like I said before, déjà vu.
At the end of the day though, “Amid the Ruins” fulfills it purpose as a bridge. We have now moved on from Carver and are entering a brand new conflict with another group. Will that result in everyone dying like in Season 1? I hope not, but this is The Walking Dead after all. I’m also glad that the game is now exploring seminal elements of The Walking Dead brand. How will having a baby alter this group? Who will get a greater sense of purpose with someone new to care for? How badly will the winter season ruin the already difficult lives of our protagonists? “No Going Back” will have those answers and I look forward to experiencing them.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.