The Walking Dead - A New Frontier Episode 4 Review

By Mark Delaney, 2 years ago
Sixty percent through the season, The Walking Dead - A New Frontier had proven to be an exceptional and surprisingly refreshing extension to the Telltale multi-season arc. The greatest fear going into "Episode Four - Thicker Than Water" was that the excellence of this season would waver after the bar had been set so high. On that note, this penultimate episode does fall off, but only slightly.

The Walking Dead: A New Frontier

Continuing the season's foremost theme of family, the now expected opening flashback paints a more vibrant picture of David and Javi's pre-zombie relationship. As we've seen alluded to throughout, Javi is the little brother but was the much more successful one as a former professional athlete. It's really not clear what David does well; he seemed to be a short-tempered husband and seemingly abandoned his kids. This flashback between the siblings shows us again that he was a disgruntled guy long before the world gave everyone reason to be. Their relationship feels genuine because even as they bicker, they're able to seamlessly migrate into a serious talk where David is desperate for Javi's opinion and support. Their relationship is complex but not for the sake of drama. It's painted with strokes of the real world.

In the present day the brothers remain close, quite literally. That's what happens when you're imprisoned together. Joan's rise as a villain had so far been understated, but in "Thicker Than Water" we get to see a lot more of her true form. Despite some parallels between her motives and the real world "migrant crisis", she feels a bit simple, but that makes her one of the few underwritten characters in a sea of otherwise exceptionally written ones. Mirroring the ongoing arc of the television series, Telltale's current season has mostly used the undead, or "muertos", as a backdrop to the human conflict — an afterthought. No one still alive this far into the "end" of the world is unfit to be there. The harsh realities have acted as Darwinian agents, removing from the world anyone who couldn't do their part and stay alert. Whether it's Clem, Joan, Javi, Kate, or anyone else, these characters are self-sufficient, if not individually then at least with their tribes.

The game feels like it's moving toward the idea of genetic family relationships versus family-like relationships. We see in this episode that those Javi considers like family aren't always good enough and ultimately he may only be able to rely on those with whom his bond is in blood. What that means for Clem's future in the series is a startling one for anyone invested in her or this story.

Joan's motives seem deliberately topical in our migrant-fearing world.Joan's motives seem deliberately topical in our migrant-fearing world.

All this thematic material is what has made A New Frontier such a joy thus far, but it's worth noting that this episode's dialogue is sometimes just a bit too on-the-nose, heavy-handed. Characters will drive their relationships and development at times that don't seem organic. It's a bit more tell than show sometimes. This inconsistency is seen often in TV, and thus in the works of Telltale that borrows the format so closely, because each episode brings different writers with their varied styles. Despite a thrilling final scene with — you guessed it — a cliffhanger, the moments leading up to that point often felt uneventful, like one long sentence that ends with an exclamation mark. You know the term 'hurry up and wait'? "Thicker Than Water" is sort of the opposite, a casual stroll en route to a leap off a mountain.

These gripes are salvaged by this being episode four and at this point anyone who's playing and reading has got to be along for the full story. Choices in this episode are the most pause-worthy of the season and with just one more episode to go, they don't feel like the types that will be played down just moments later in the next episode. Late forks in the road like those in episode four make the finale an exciting prospect because it could go in many directions.

Surprisingly, this fourth episode didn't suffer from the usual Telltale lag. The whole season has been nearly lag-free, but typically when the studio starts churning out episodes just a few weeks apart, that's when we see these issues reappear. The only visual or technical flaws made apparent this time are some zombies that don't seem to be fully textured right at the end. Like a lot of their engine-driven problems, this could very well be an inconsistent problem so maybe others won't see them, or even see more of them.

Richmond is a highly combustible settlement, and by the end of episode four someone lights a figurative match.Richmond is a highly combustible settlement, and by the end of episode four someone lights a figurative match.

In the spirit of both this site and redundancy, it's maybe worth reminding players that the episode's six achievements will all unlock just by playing through it. Nothing else is needed but making it to the end credits for another 200 gamerscore.

Summary

To say Thicker Than Water is the season's worst episode is both true and deeply misleading. It does take a step back from the extreme highs of the first three episodes, but this is still a story well worth seeing through to the end. Hopefully enough of the Garcia clan survive this season because they're worth another of their own. Some gripes with dialogue aside, the thematic elements remain strong, the characters are some of the best the studio has born, and this episode contributes to the still very high expectations for the season finale.
4 / 5
Episode 4: Thicker Than Water in The Walking Dead: A New Frontier
Positives
  • Javi and the supporting cast continue to grow
  • Great final sequence
  • Toughest choices of the season
Negatives
  • Uneven pacing that saves it all for the end
  • Dialogue is a bit too heavy-handed this time
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 90 minutes playing through episode four, often wishing more minutes could be spent deliberating on decisions. All six achievements were unlocked for 200G. An Xbox One download code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He has written for GameSkinny, Gamesradar and the Official Xbox Magazine. He runs the family-oriented gaming site Game Together.