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Walking Dead video games get new life from Michonne spin-off

Telltale’s video game adaptation of The Walking Dead started with a bang. While the series wasn't the studio's first attempt merge a TV-like narrative structure with an interactive game, it was by far the most successful. There was just something about its brutal world and the awful choices it forced you to make that made it incredibly compelling. The second season follow-up started out strong, too, putting you in the role of a young girl trying to survive a dystopic hellscape. But over the course of the season I started drifting away, as the situations and characters felt increasingly familiar. There’s a third season in the works, but I’ve found myself not especially excited.

It turns out all the game needed was a great new character. And a sword.

If you’ve watched the show or read the comic, you don’t need an introduction to Michonne. She’s easily the most badass character in The Walking Dead universe, and this week Telltale kicks off a new three-episode miniseries focused on her story. The first episode, "In Too Deep," starts with a fantastic scene that shows off the two aspects that make her such a refreshing lead for the game. Michonne's adventure begins with what she does best: she’s in a field, surrounded by zombies, slicing through them with her sword. Usually the combat in The Walking Dead feels like a struggle; you have to hit buttons rapidly, while the on-screen character struggles to just barely kill the undead attackers. It’s stressful. But that’s not the case with Michonne. She feels like a video game hero, confidently cutting through her enemies. There are even slow-motion decapitations as if you were playing Mortal Kombat.

The Walking Dead: Michonne

At the same time, while she’s physically capable, Michonne isn’t entirely stable. In her mind, the battle jumps back and forth in time. One moment she’s in the present, surrounded by trees and the undead; the next she’s in a suburban home, watching two young girls play. These moments merge and blend in unsettling ways. At times in the present she'll see glimpses of the girls, diverting her attention from the danger in front of her. This contrast is what makes Michonne feel different from characters like Lee or Clementine. The scary part of the game isn’t the zombies, not when you can wield a sword like Michonne. It’s the demons in her own head, which manifest themselves in increasingly creepy ways.

Of course, this being The Walking Dead, you also have to contend with other people who have become twisted by this new zombie-filled reality. After that opening sequence, the episode has Michonne traveling by boat with a small group of survivors. (If you've read the comic, the game takes place during the period when Michonne leaves Rick and the group to deal with her own personal issues.) After their boat gets stuck — naturally — they spot a seemingly abandoned ferry and attempt to scavenge it for parts and hopefully other supplies.

What they stumble upon instead is a human settlement run by what looks to be a tyrannical group of gun-wielding maniacs. Here you’re presented with the kinds of moral dilemmas that make The Walking Dead so good. One particularly great scene has Michonne being interrogated by the leader of the settlement, and it’s hard to know how to best answer her questions. The fact that you have to make your choices quickly — and that whatever you say will influence how the story plays out — only makes it more stressful.

"In Too Deep" ends with a bit of a thud, an attempt at a cliffhanger that's far too sudden, but it feels like it’s setting up something great. Whether it’s the TV series or comic book, Michonne is arguably the best character in The Walking Dead, and it turns out she makes for a great video game lead as well. The new miniseries takes the best parts of the game — in particular the brutal decision making that has you constantly second-guessing yourself — and adds a refreshing new character who makes you feel powerful and vulnerable at the same time. After falling out with the series, Michonne has pulled me right back into The Walking Dead.

"In Too Deep" is available now on PC, Mac, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One, and will be on both Android and iOS on the 25th. Episode two, "Give No Shelter," is expected to launch in March.