The Walking Dead franchise is known for its incredible and complex characters, especially women, and the 2012 video game by Telltale Games as well as its 2013 sequel are no exception. The game series has many examples of strong and empowered women. While the franchise is usually classified as a horror game, the setting of the series, post zombie apocalypse, lends itself to classification as science fiction as well. As Ritch Calvin explains, “The very foundation of science fiction narrative renders itself amenable to examining and imagining other worlds, other societies, other beings, in which the inequalities and prejudices of our own histories are gone (or altered) – or, at the very least, differently structured” (4). The setting of The Walking Dead does just that. It creates a world where the previous society and structures of that society have been destroyed. In a world where zombies are the largest threat and millions have already been killed, the previous societal rules no longer matter: life is simply about a fight for survival. Those who have power now are those who have shelter, weapons, and food. Class, gender, and race no longer determine who is in power (although they may have determined who was unable to survive in the beginning). While people may still be influenced by personal prejudices, there is no longer a nation wide system to oppress minority groups.
In the first game you play as a man named Lee who you later find out was convicted of murder. The beginning of the game opens with Lee in the backseat of a police car, being asked by the driver whether or not he committed the crime. The officer is distracted, nearly hitting a pedestrian and swerves of the road and wrecks the car. Lee wakes up in the wreckage and sees the dead officer and quickly discovers the zombies. Although you play as Lee, and the game opens up with his storyline, the game focuses largely on Clementine, a little girl whom Lee finds alone and hiding in a tree house. Together Lee and Clementine set off in search of safety, meeting other characters along the way.
Despite only being 8 years old, Clementine is an empowered young girl who is forced to mature quickly than she should have. Her development as a character is what empowers her the most. Clementine is a young black girl with shoulder length, thick, curly hair and throughout the game, she wears a dress. At the beginning of the game, Clementine often needs protection from Lee, but this is not because of her gender. Early in the game Lee and Clementine meet a family with a son named Duck who is around the same age as Clementine. Both Duck and Clementine are unable to protect and defend themselves because of their young age. But as the game continues, Clementine begins to mature and grow while Duck remains a static character until his death. Although they are the same age, it is Clementine who survives and Duck who dies not too long after the apocalypse begins. However, Clementine eventually learns to protect herself. While on a train to Savannah, Georgia, Lee realizes that he will not always be around protect her and decided to teach her how to use a gun and decides to cut her hair, making it harder for people or zombies to grab it. For Clementine, this seems to be an empowering moment. Although she doesn’t want anything to happen to Lee, she understands the importance of being able to protect herself and him if needed, despite her strong moral compass and unwillingness to kill.
Eventually, Clementine is forced to use these survival skill. While in Savannah, Clementine receives a message on her walkie-talkie from a man claiming to know her parents. Clementine goes in search of the man and her parents, leaving behind the group she was with, including Lee. Because the player plays the game from Lee’s perspective, we don’t know how Clementine got to the man and what happened once she got to him. Lee sets out to find Clementine and the man and eventually does. It is revealed that the man is not who he claimed. You find out that he had owned a car full of supplies that your group had stolen. He claims that this led to death of his family and that this was a plot for revenge and Clementine had been used as bait. Lee fights the man and with Clementine’s help, is able to subdue him. The two make it out, but Lee had been bitten and passes out. This point shows a huge change in Clementine. Despite her small size, Clementine drags Lee to safety. With Lee’s guidance Clementine is able to escape to the rooftop to find the other survivors. Clementine is now the one having to save Lee. Although she cannot save him from death, she can save him from a painful death and prevent him from turning into a zombie. The game ends with Clementine alone in a field, watching two figures approach her.
When the next game begins, a few months have past. Clementine has met up with two others from the group- Christa and Omid. This time, the player plays as Clementine. Clementine looks much different now. Instead of a dress, she wears jeans and a t-shirt. She also wears a baseball cap that covers her short hair. While the baseball cap was significant to her in the first game because it was her father’s, she didn’t wear it all the time, but does now. The wardrobe change is significant for Clementine because she is no longer an innocent little girl and her clothes are now more practical for survival. After being surrounded by death and destruction, she is now a survivor. She is no longer defined as a “little girl.” Clementine consistently proves her ability to survive. After Omid is killed, the game jumps forward 16 months and only Christa and Clementine remain. As they are attacked by a another group of humans, the two are separated. Clementine is forced to scavenge for food and run from zombies. When she finds a dog and tries to share her little food with it, it attacks her, forcing her to hurt the dog in self defense. Eventually she is found by another group of survivors who lock her in a shed believing she was bitten by a zombie. She sneaks out of the shed and into the house where she finds all the supplies she needs to sew up her injury. She then gives herself stitches in the shed, a painful and difficult procedure but one she understands in necessary to her survival.
Despite being hardened by the post-apocalyptic world, Clementine retains her compassionate and caring personality, and she not only has to survive herself, but because of her nature, she feels a need to protect those she is with as well. When she and the new group she is with is caught by a man named Carver, the group often turns to Clementine for help because of her small size. She is also forced to kill Sarita, a woman she is with, to prevent her from turning into a zombie. And after a pregnant woman named Rebecca gives birth to a son, Clementine must save the baby when Rebecca dies with him in her arms and starts to turn. When she catches others in the group stealing a truck and supplies from the rest of the group, Clementine is shot while trying to stop them. At the end of the game, when a fight between two characters breaks out, Clementine must decided whether to kill one of them or walk away.
The game also includes other strong women such Lily, Carly, Christa, Sarita, and Rebecca, all of whom are attempting to survive in a harsh world with Christa and Rebecca, both pregnant, also attempting to create a future for their children. None of these women are sexualized either. While some of them may be flirty and interested in relationships with male characters, they are never sexualized. They wear clothing appropriate for a zombie apocalypse and are not portrayed as objects of male desire. Instead, each one is portrayed as individuals with their own personalities and narratives that are not always dependent on the males in the game. Because of this, the game would easily pass the Mako Mori Test. It would also pass the Bechdel test because the women interact with each other often, usually about survival. The game series would also pass Elsa Bartley’s test for video games because you interact with many women who don’t need to be save and there are no prostitutes in the game at all.
Both games center almost entirely around Clementine who must face unbelievable challenges for a child her age, but she survives and tries to protect whoever she can and she isn’t hindered by her gender.Although in the first game Clementine often needed protection, as she grew up she became both a survivor and a protector. Clementine is an empowered young girl who is retains her caring and compassionate nature despite the horrors she has seen and experienced.