Javi remains engaging, but this mid-season point can’t quite live up to the premiere.
Telltale Games’ third season of The Walking Dead continues the trend of the two-part season premiere, exploring its themes of family through the strong lens of its new protagonist, Javi. And though A New Frontier continues to do right by its lead, the narrative problems of the two-part premiere persist in this good but not quite great mid-season episode.
After making such a sympathetic protagonist in Clementine for two seasons, A New Frontier continues to find unique ways of making Javi equally likeable. “Above the Law” kicks off with yet another look at Javi’s life in the early days of the outbreak. Watching Javi take charge of his brother David’s family feels as vital to his story as anything in the present-day storyline. These flashbacks are some of the series’ quieter moments, sure, but they can offer greater impact than any of the franchise’s most bombastic scenes.
The full picture Telltale continues to paint of Javi throughout the season is A New Frontier’s greatest triumph. His plight remains one I’ve genuinely cared about since the season began, never once making me doubt Telltale’s decision to switch protagonists for this entry. “Above the Law’s” flashback in particular, while not quite as cinematic as those in the two-part premiere, serve as a strong launching pad for the Javi I am creating through my dialogue and action choices.
I felt like I was testing Javi’s limits while staying true to the character.
And A New Frontier consistently makes me feel like I can shape Javi’s personality within the lines of the story. The first two episodes allowed me to make Javi a man who saw light even in the darkest of times and people, and the choices presented in “Above the Law” allowed me to deepen those character traits. But “Above the Law” also let me bring moments of weakness to Javi’s life. I felt like I was testing the limits of the choices my Javi would make — whether in his alliances to family of blood or bond or in just how far he’d go to avenge those he loved — while still remaining true to the character I helped to fashion.
Without spoiling too much, he’s faced with decisions and conversations that rewardingly unveil new facets of the character. And it doesn’t hurt that this third episode includes a couple of great opportunities to have Javi pick up his baseball bat for a whole new purpose.
Though Telltale finds intriguing ways to flesh out Javi’s story, the flashbacks for Clementine’s story often fail. Melissa Hutchinson’s performance continues to sell the hard road she’s traveled, but I find Clementine’s actions and conversations in the present to be much more engrossing than in her flashbacks. “Above the Law’s” flashback was the most engaging of the three. I’m all for showing over telling, but the way Telltale shows Clementine’s past isn’t interesting enough yet to merit actually playing through it.
Both the past in present, episode 3 finally offers a deeper look at the titular New Frontier. It’s relatively par for the course when it comes to The Walking Dead civilizations structurally — fortified buildings co-opted to be whatever this community needs. What’s meant to set this Richmond hideout apart is the batch of new characters “Above the Law” introduces. Most of them, unfortunately, come across more as caricatures than as fully drawn personalities.
That would be fine if the series decides to spend more time with them in the future, but the lack of any real connection to them makes the episode-ending plot points far less impactful. I found myself still caring about Javi and the people he holds dear in the episode’s final moments, but the twists and turns they find themselves in aren’t all that shocking.