In Harms Way is the third episode of season two, and as the title suggests, there are going to be many scenarios that will push Clementine to see just how far she is willing to go to help others. This isn’t a theme which is new to the series, but taken from the perspective of a young girl, opposed to Lee and the other adults, it does make you reconsider your willingness to throw her character into harms way for the protection of others. Clementine has seen too much for a girl her age, and her growing indifference to the cruelty of others and the atrocities committed in front of her is both admirable and very, very worrisome. She is not the helpless child we once knew.
The previous episode ended in a bloody shootout, leaving several people dead, and the survivors being taken into captivity by Bill Carver. If you had played the standalone DLC, 400 Days, you likely would have gathered that Carver’s camp is the same camp those character’s were recruited to at the end of that episode; with Bonnie, the girl who setup the ambush, also being one of the main characters from the DLC episode. It was great to see the DLC finally become relevant, even if it’s still in a fairly indirect way. The camp, however, is nothing like the stories we heard. It is a functional place, filled with food and security, sure. It’s also a place of cruelty, as Bill only cares about what he considers to be the greater good, regardless of the means he must take to ensure that outcome.
Carver is an intriguing villain in the sense that he doesn’t want to hurt people, exactly. It’s more a case of “messiah syndrome” as he won’t ever allow people to leave the complex. Every survivor must live within his camp and be governed under his wisdom. Anyone too weak to abide by his rules deserves be terminated, to put it bluntly. However, as you would imagine, Clementine and the other survivors are not comfortable being forced into this sick society, and immediately begin planning a way to escape. Basically, life within the complex will be the focus of the narrative, with Clementine having to look out for some while constantly being extorted for her size by others.
As with every installment, there are again lots of consequences for your decisions. In this episode in particular, however, it’s interesting in a different way as you’re oppressed within a locked down society, and being made to feel guilty for rejecting its security. While this rarely had an impact on my decision making process, some of the consequences were especially shocking as Carver doesn’t mess around. He’s aggressive, and he won’t hesitate to become brutally violent. What was even more apparent, though, was how everyone, apart from Kenny, seemed overtly comfortable relying on Clem to do almost every dangerous task possible; even Clementine herself. It made sense, given the morale of the group, but it still sometimes felt like a way to simply add more gameplay scenarios.
With that being said, the core narrative comes together surprisingly well by the end; all things considered. The two new additions to the main cast both have a unique and complimenting personality, and the others within the camp offer a different perspective on life after the outbreak while also providing the opportunity to explore their almost cult-like mentality. It’s also great that for the first time in season two, as Clem, you are allowed to pursue a vengeful path, albeit indirectly. The only problem I really had was how poorly disguised the illusion of choice was this time. I found myself quitting and restarting when I thought something had gone wrong, something I never do, only to have the same outcome repeat itself no matter what I did differently. It kind of felt a little cheap at times.
It is also worth noting that this episode does take a step back in terms of exploration, but given the group’s confinement, I think this is somewhat understandable. I didn’t feel like I was doing as much, but I guess that’s just the nature of things when you’re under the rule of a dictator. The character relationships were still very interesting to explore, and it was great seeing Clem taking on a protective role with her friend Sarah; almost surrogate, in a way, of Lee’s relationship with her. I still don’t think the feeling of dread, or being held as an emotional hostage is nearly as apparent as in the first season, but in terms of shock, you can brace yourself to step into new territory before the episode is through. Could you take pleasure in the pain of others? Perhaps so.
In Harms Way does a fantastic job in avoiding a mid-season lull. Carver is a compelling villain, and it’s interesting learning more about life within the camp; which we first learned about in the 400 Days DLC. The focus of this installment is as the title suggests, with all the major consequences being based around on whether you’ll put yourself on the line for others, with no guarantee that the best outcome will necessarily arrive from trying to help someone. It does feel as if the group is way too comfortable relying on Clementine for everything, making some gameplay scenarios feel a little forced at times. There is also the problem of the illusion of choice being far too obvious, which in turn had me feeling like my actions were a lot less relevant this episode. The triumph, however, is in the final moments, with one scene in particular that you won’t ever forget. The problem is that Clementine won’t either, which is something we’ve grown less concerned with this season. I suspect this negligence from both the group, as well as the player, will play a greater role in the main story very soon, and I fear it could end badly.