A not-so-bitter end for The Walking Dead’s third season.
A good season finale needs to satisfy everything the season preceding it has set up while laying groundwork of its own for the road ahead. “From the Gallows,” the fifth episode in The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series — A New Frontier, succeeds in doing both, keeping the spotlight on Javi, Clementine, and the characters around them that matter for the vast majority of an emotionally resonant, stirring ending.
A New Frontier’s strengths lie in how it approaches the idea of family through the dual lenses of Javi and Clem. Ultimately, the choices I make as Javi, and to a lesser extent as Clem, have defined not just the family I’ve assembled by episode 5, but ultimately how much I have grown to care about them. A New Frontier impressed me in the premiere episode by introducing Javi and making him empathetic to the point that I deeply cared about the choices I made as him to protect Kate, Gabe, and the others I met along the way. Sure, I’m coloring within the lines of Telltale’s story, but “From the Gallows” does an excellent job of capitalizing on the choices made all season long, even as episodes 3 and 4 strayed from that stellar start.
From the Gallows allowed me to double down on my choices from the last four episodes.
In fact, “Gallows” in many ways exemplifies the shift in the great work in the season’s first half and the struggles in the second. That success comes in feeling some authorship over Javi’s journey. I set out to create a man who, in the face of the apocalypse, refused to give up on the good in the people around him. The series oftentimes gave me chances to let Javi succumb to his weakness, to play his role as a brother, father, and friend more selfishly. But I resisted those temptations and ultimately found he could continue being the guiding light who defended and supported those he cared for. “From the Gallows” allowed me to double down on that character building, leading to affecting moments with Kate, Clem, and even Gabe, who has, for much of the season felt like the annoying teenager trope pushed to its limits.
Javi’s struggle to remain strong in a world ravaged by the undead is far less engaging when the spotlight shifts away from his family and onto his relationships with the characters of Richmond. Episodes 3 and 4 never really found interesting ground there, and certainly when any of them are the focus of “Gallows,” the episode suffers for the same reasons. Citizens of this safe haven occasionally dip in and out of “Gallows” as little more than plot devices.
And that plot — Richmond has succumb to a walker infestation, and Javi has to decide what role to play in saving both it and the people he cares for — feels secondary to the strong emotional resolutions with the supporting cast. The episode’s biggest, or best, moments have little to do with bringing the struggles of the last few episodes to a head, largely in part because the episode hasn’t found a cohesive story focus. I was actually surprised at how little action came into play throughout “Gallows.” But there are plenty of climatic personal moments with Javi’s family that bring the series’ most important ongoing threads to powerful conclusions that I’ve continued to think about in the days since playing.
“From the Gallows” has one of the most moving scenes in a Telltale series.
Thankfully, the focus rarely shifts away from Javi’s core family. A confrontation between Javi and David, surrounded by a few other key characters, encapsulates what I’ve enjoyed most about this season’s exploration of family, both by blood and choice. Without spoiling how it plays out or what my choices were, the scene allowed me to ensure Javi stayed true to the caring personality I had established for him in the premiere. It’s one of the most moving scenes I’ve experienced in a Telltale series, and it carried such weight because, for the most part, A New Frontier has continually done right by honoring my character choices.
The episode’s plot also largely served the characters I care about most well — and finally, we are spared another pointless Clementine flashback. Instead, several great scenes showcase just how much she’s matured since season 1 as a fighter and person. A New Frontier has certainly been Javi’s story more so than Clem’s — evidenced by yet another strong opening flashback for Javi to kick off “Gallows.” But my decisions as Javi have affected her in ways that evoke the character I started caring for years ago, making me excited to continue watching both of their journeys progress.
Much of that excitement comes from the quieter moments between Javi and the other members of my season finale group. Like the David scene mentioned before, Javi shares touching conversations with every main player that mattered to me. Secondary characters cameo now and then, but just as the villains first introduced in episode 3 came off as caricatures, the citizens of Richmond who come into “Gallows” story feel thinly written. “Gallows” is consistently more engaging when the episode focuses on the interpersonal connections of Javi’s family and Clem, both in the more active and quieter moments.
I never felt the need to reclaim Richmond for its forgettable faces
Richmond only remained of interest to me in how saving it or abandoning it could alter the relationships in Javi’s makeshift family. I never felt the need to reclaim the town for the sake of its nameless or named-but-forgettable faces, which makes much of the plot leading into this final episode relatively inessential to what has otherwise succeeded in A New Frontier.
Luckily, Javi’s makeshift family, the family I’ve formed, and the way those bonds play out, offers a series of satisfying, affecting character notes that make the sporadic plot pacing of the last couple of episodes, and the brief examples of them in this episode, worth pushing through.