[6 June 2014]
There is a thing in theater known as unity of place. It comes from ancient Greek dramaturgy. Unity needs to exist between the fictional locale that serves as setting for the play and the physical stage on which the actors play. More specifically, unity of place describes the power of a story that comes from the action being confined to a single locale that corresponds to the single physical location where the events are being staged. The latest Walking Dead episode uses this principle and manages to build a close quarters drama of effecting subtlety and tragedy.
Now that Clementine and company have arrived at the compound belonging to the villainous Carver, a place where forced labor is the rule grounded on a philosophy of brutal survivalist collectivism, we remain for the entirety of the episode in the same location. Whereas previous episodes this season have been made up of multiple locations, “In Harms Way” offers this contrast. Clementine has always been traveling, always in a constant state of motion, as she escapes from one danger to another. Now we are locked down in a fenced yard and occasionally occupying the few surrounding buildings that will be visited repeatedly. These places will transform over time, not in the physical sense, but in their narrative weight.
Events mirror one another in these spaces as the drama unfolds. You will walk down a sidewalk with the open intentions to deliver tools to a fellow laborer and later will walk down the same sidewalk with the covert intention to deliver a tool to a co-conspirator. Events change people. One of the compound’s residents, Bonnie, will escort you to the armory in with the intentions of making friends with Clementine and then again escort her to the same place as she expresses the doubts that Clementine has planted in her mind. And events work in rhyming couplets. A meeting presided over by Carver at the beginning will end in violence and a promise of worse if they don’t shape up. Later, that promise is fulfilled.
Clementine spends her time as witness to the group’s entrapment. Season 2 has been playing with her power and its limits as it finds things for a child to reasonably accomplish within the situations she finds herself in. As a girl of 11, she is powerless in the face of adults who by their very nature are stronger. No matter what the situation, she is at a disadvantage. It means that Telltale’s strongest tool has to carry the episode. While she does have some agency, her main activity is to witness events and then to respond to them. Her story is now one of self actualization and realization more than it is of deeds. Carver is the villain of the piece and Clementine’s personal foil. Regardless of how anyone wants her to be brought up, circumstance has the greater say. And because she is not as physically capable as her opponents, words and guile are her weapons. The action sequences have been severely cut down in the episode to a single short quick time event encounter. Puzzles are likewise sparse. There is no point-and-click-adventure-game-style “gating” here with this episode’s greater emphasis on interactive narrative.
We have come to a turning point in the season. If this episode proves anything, it is that this is no one else’s story but Clementine’s. Others may get the spotlight for a time, but all that matters in the end is how those moments aid in building Clementine’s identity. Despite its episodic nature, The Walking Dead is not satisfied with establishing a status quo, nor with simply playing to expectations. It doesn’t care how we think things should go. It isn’t that kind of world anymore.
Carver’s compound has acted as the pressure cooker for all of the ingredients that will make up Clementine’s continued education. The unity of location emphasizes this change. The changes in her expressions and her responses to similar situations show her emotional journey as we play our part in cementing who Clementine is going to be. While things from here on out may not get less horrible, it is all down hill from here. The player’s roleplay has determined who Clementine is. All that’s left is to see that personality play out to in the concluding chapters.
Any zombie apocalypse story will lead to tragedy in the end. You can’t win. You can’t fight against the inevitable or against fate. Oedipus will kill his father and marry his mother. Antigone will choose funeral rites over her king. And everyone will eventually succumb to the undead walkers. Valar Morghulis. The entirety of human civilization is on a journey towards its inevitable, unavoidable decline. The only true choice that we have in the face of the uncaring gods is how we meet that fate, be it with defiance, acceptance, nobility, or cowardice. Does one live and die in ignorance or with clear eyes?