When it first debuted in 2012, Telltale’s game adaptation of The Walking Dead felt like something completely new. Sure, there were plenty of zombie games before, but this was different: it focused on human trauma and moral choices, instead of the headshot-fueled action at the heart of other games. Playing as Lee, you became the de facto parent for a young girl named Clementine, and the entire first season of the game was dedicated to keeping her safe.
As The Walking Dead continued, and Clem was thrust into the lead role, some of that sense of freshness wore off.
There’s only so much time you can spend with characters who are going through the worst situations imaginable before it becomes unbearable. When shocking deaths lose their shock value, the game loses much of its power. But for the fourth and final season of the game, Telltale seems to have found a solution to zombie fatigue: put the focus almost entirely on kids.
The season’s first episode, “Done Running,” has Clem once again on the road, driving a beat-up old car in search of a home.
She’s joined by AJ, a young boy who was born during the apocalypse, who she has assumed responsibility for. (If you’ve forgotten the plot or missed a few episodes, there’s a great optional catch-up tool you can check out before playing.) The two are starving and desperate, and so they search a nearby house for food. After a few zombie-related mishaps that I won’t spoil, they find themselves taking refuge at a nearby settlement in an abandoned school.
The Walking Dead series is full of these kinds of places. Whether it’s the comics or show, there are plenty of spots that initially seem like a safe haven from the horrible, zombie-filled world.
Of course, things always go to hell. Tempers flare, resources become scarce, and being around people becomes more dangerous than being around the undead. But the school in “Done Running” is different than any of these past refuges because it’s run entirely by children.
The settlement is surprisingly well-organized.
They have designated safe zones, traps for wildlife, and a well-stocked fishing spot. Everyone seems to have their own role to serve the greater good. And, at least at the outset, this kid-led utopia has much less conflict than other zombie refuges.
The kids mostly get along, and they treat Clem — by now a strong, grizzled survivor — with a respect the adults in this world usually lack. The setup creates an interesting dynamic. Like the rest of the series, “Done Running” is primarily about making choices, often difficult ones with no clear answer.
There’s some light action as well — fighting zombies is much more involved than it was in past seasons — but the real tension comes from those decisions. And the new, younger cast influenced how I approached things.
In the past, I found myself caring less and less for people as the series went on. At a certain point, everyone seemed awful, and it didn’t matter much to me who lived or died.
But that’s changed now. Seeing these hardworking kids struggle to survive while doing a more thoughtful job than most of the adults I’ve encountered, I can’t help but pull for all of them. The same is true of AJ.
These characters aren’t hardened adults, they’re malleable kids, and your choices can have a huge impact. (Early in the episode the game warns that “AJ is always listening.”)
Fundamentally, the new season plays the same as in the past, but this dynamic dramatically influenced the way I experienced it. Even small choices seemed important. As Clem, I made sure that AJ went to bed on time and didn’t swear.
When presented with two potentially dangerous choices, I always went with the one that kept him, or any other kid, out of harm’s way. I feel the same way I did when I played as Lee when the series debuted six years ago: everything could be a threat, and I need to do whatever it takes to protect those under my care.
Of course, this is The Walking Dead, so things never stay peaceful for long, even when kids are involved. And when the big twist of the episode came up, I was genuinely shocked — multiple times.
This sense of surprise is something that’s been missing from the series for a long time.
And while I’m not sure how long the season can hold on to this feeling, the finale for The Walking Dead is off to a great start, and it’s all thanks to the kids.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season “Done Running” is available August 14th on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch.
Later episodes will be released throughout the year.
It’s a dangerous online world for kids, and parental controls can only do so much. According to PCMag’s 2018 Consumer Cybersecurity Trends survey of 2,500 US consumers, 76 percent of parents have some level of concern for their child’s safety online. The survey found that while 24 percent of the respondents had no worries, 51 percent of parents harbored significant or major concern over potential dangers lurking online for their kids.
Tech companies have created child-safe apps and social-media environments such as Facebook Messenger Kids and YouTube Kids, but both of the latter apps have seen their share of controversy and scandal as the companies roll out new features and fixes to mitigate problems.
We also surveyed respondents on how informed they are about cybersecurity, and we found that many have never received a proper education on the subject. Thirty-six percent of respondents said they’ve never been given adequate cybersecurity training. The rest of the respondents said they’ve gained some level of cybersecurity knowledge over time.
Twenty-one percent said they received online safety education when they entered the workforce, and 15 percent said they were educated on cybersecurity after college, 12 percent in college, 10 percent in high school, and 6 percent of respondents received some level of cybersecurity education in grade school.
There was a fascinating story in Politico last month that detailed the threat to Silicon Valley from spies, especially from Russia and China, seeking to steal intellectual property. As the piece notes, “increasing Russian and Chinese aggressiveness, and the local concentration of world-leading science and technology firms [means] there’s a full-on epidemic of espionage on the West Coast right now. And even more worrisome, many of its targets are unprepared to deal with the growing threat.”
I myself have dealt with Russian spies on numerous occasions going back to 1973. That year, I was with a group of young people from 13 countries, who planned to go to Russia to protest their lack of religious freedom. We did not thoroughly vet those who were part of this group, and unbeknownst to us, Russian leaders got wind of the trip and planted a spy in our group.
His goal was to find out what we were up to and at some point, turn us in to Russian authorities before we could reach Moscow to hold our rally. We entered the country under the guise of a tourist group and the night before we were to go into Moscow, we stayed in Kalinin–now Tver–about 100 miles from Moscow. But overnight, this young man, who was British, stole one of our vehicles and went to the authorities.
The next morning, when we went to our cars, this British chap and about 50 KGB officers arrived, arrested us, and escorted us out of the country. The second time I dealt with Russian spies was in 1984, when Intel was about to release its 80386 processor. At that time, Creative Strategies was owned by a global econometric consulting company which did a great deal of work for the US government.
Creative Strategies was their tech arm, and I got a call from a senior US Defense Department official asking me to set up a meeting between US officials and Intel. While the US government had dealt with Intel for years at various levels, DOD wanted a stealthier way to warn the company of two key things: first, that Russian agents were anxious to get their hands on this new chip, and second, to tell Intel it could not sell this chip for use in a computer outside the US. Then, during the Comdex days, while I was on their advisory board, on two occasions I watched some very suspicious activity on the show floor and brought that to the attention of Comdex officials and local authorities.
It turned out that in both cases the individuals were Russian agents who came to the show to try and steal IP from three major semiconductor companies and one PC company. That happened pretty much every year that Comdex ran. In those days, these agents used what I would call old-school techniques to try and steal intellectual property.
But as the Politico article points out, these days their methods are more fine-tuned and in a lot of cases use normal citizens who work with these tech companies to do their spying for them. The article also points out that in a lot of cases the companies with proprietary IP are not prepared to deal with this challenge. The bigger companies do understand this threat but even they are sometimes challenged to ID spies within.
The recent case of a Chinese national who worked on Apple’s car project and was accused of stealing Apple’s intellectual property is a good example of this. These days, Silicon Valley is attracting more Russian and Chinese spies than ever before. It behooves these tech companies to be more on guard and aware that these agents of foreign governments are working hard to get our proprietary IP.
In many cases, they will use any method available to reach their goals.
While I don’t think every company should be paranoid all the time, they must be diligent.