Katana-wielding Michonne’s status as one of The Walking Dead’s most popular characters is pretty unassailable. Even when she was first introduced in AMC’s television adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s well-loved comic series, there was a sense of purpose and significance about her. She was mysterious. Intriguing. Badass. It makes sense, then, that Telltale Games would target her to expand their repertoire of narrative-driven experiences, and while Michonne’s opening episode doesn’t reach the highs of Telltale’s main Walking Dead series, it’s still an interesting look into its titular protagonist’s psyche.
Episode One, titled “In Too Deep,” opens without much context about Michonne or her whereabouts, throwing you right into zombie-killing action. The opening minutes quickly show what’s going on inside Michonne’s head as she makes her way through a pack of zombies, severing heads and crushing skulls, while experiencing vivid flashbacks of loved ones left behind. It’s effective, and quickly establishes the Michonne miniseries’ theme: family.
The Walking Dead: Michonne takes place at the point in The Walking Dead’s comic timeline when Michonne leaves Rick and the group in order to deal with her past. The first episode takes place primarily on the coast of Chesapeake Bay, as Michonne finds herself with a group of survivors looking for lost friends.
As a fervent The Walking Dead viewer, it’s unusual to see Michonne stationed with a different group. With these people, she seems like an entirely different person. Michonne’s more emotionally scarred than we were led to believe, which becomes a staple throughout the 90-minute episode. She's lost an incredible amount during the zombie apocalypse, and entering her mind is deeply moving and affecting. Her former presence, hardened and mature, is substituted for a more frail, emotionally broken Michonne.
This change in personality makes Michonne more relatable, and her choices and decisions deeper and more interesting. As you meet the group, other travelers, and the series’ inevitable set of bad guys, the way you have Michonne act grows in relevance and importance. I expect fans of the series will elect to bring out the inner badass that Michonne is known for, but experimenting with the more humane options brings out a deeper, more interesting side.
Unfortunately, while the depiction of Michonne is insightful and effective, the game’s story doesn’t really have enough grounding and importance to really matter. Meeting new characters and hearing their stories is interesting on the surface, but having previously become attached to Rick and his group, and Clementine and her story, I just couldn’t bring myself to affiliate with yet another group within this universe. The new characters aren't all that interesting, lacking the "hook" that the others provide. The bad guys feel awfully similar to those encountered in Telltale’s second season of The Walking Dead, and the final few moments of “In Too Deep” didn’t really have any weight, unlike many other Telltale episodes. I wasn't hooked by the narrative at all, in the end.
What kept me interested throughout, however, is the way Telltale handles Michonne’s developing mental state. As the episode progresses, she has breakdowns, sees things, and continually talks to herself, much to others' dismay. This is something the series doesn't really investigate, and there’s a heck of a lot of potential to flesh out Michonne as a character. It will be interesting to see Telltale move forward with that in the two remaining episodes.
Writers Meghan Thornton and Nicole Martinez need to give The Walking Dead: Michonne’s other characters importance in the overarching story, though. Because this takes place in a gap in the series' continuity, I know my allegiance will fall only with Michonne, as I know she eventually rejoins Rick and the group. Considering that this miniseries is only three episodes long, I just don’t feel like I’ll get enough time to develop a meaningful connection with the supporting characters. Only (brief) time will tell.
Not much has changed in how Telltale games operate. While the mechanics and graphics are slightly refined - I love the way the game transitions into widescreen during quicktime events now - it’s still a linear, narrative-driven adventure. That’s just Telltale’s schtick. The Walking Dead: Michonne feels more cinematic compared to other Telltale adventures, but underneath it’s still the formulaic point-and-click we’ve come to expect from the San Francisco developers. With an uninteresting cast and a disappointing story, the formula loses a lot of the meaning and fun usually associated with it. I just couldn’t get into the narrative or find the significance in the other characters’ stories.
A lot of improvement will be required before The Walking Dead: Michonne can stand up with Telltale’s other Walking Dead series, and I’m hopeful that the next two episodes can do something special with the subject matter. There’s a great space to explore here with Michonne and her past, but I can’t help but feel let down with Episode One’s narrative direction. From here, the only way is up.