What We Deserve feels personal, a narrative so steeped in familial heartbreak that it almost plays more like a visual stream-of-consciousness diary than a choose-your-own-adventure zombie apocalypse story. What started as a typical tale about how to survive the zombie apocalypse shifts in its final episode into a fascinating tale that asks the most relevant and important question of all: why bother?
The fallout of the second episode is dealt with, for sure--and how to leverage that outcome in order to please Norma and the remnants of the shantytown Michonne helped ruin. Once it’s figured out, however, Michonne is left as the only true adult in a house of abandoned children. The time with them that follows can be played coldly, but the cruelty of Michonne keeping distance from those in need, given what she has and will envision, doesn't feel right. To take Michonne this far is to accept that the mother she was did not die with her daughters, and more than the machete at her back, this is what will keep her alive. And so much of the first half of the episode goes, with Michonne carefully preparing her unconventional family for the worst. Aching, mournful moments lie within: a mother’s last letter, having to explain to a child what happened to his father, the decision to spend precious time to conduct a burial. And yet, it is all to the benefit of Michonne herself, showing strength far beyond the ability to lop of zombie limbs.
It’s because of this that when the zombies do show up, it’s almost incongruous. The people add depth, tension, and terror all on their own. The Walkers look increasingly boring in the face of the human drama that surrounds them. Sure, the action is kinetic and brutal, as always, and one particular death gets especially gross, but the relevancy of these moments in the face of Michonne's layered story is diminished. It’s a problem exacerbated by graphical hitches, with faces disappearing, and jitters during QTEs at points where precision is crucial--issues that weren't apparent in the first two episodes.
This episode's strengths still lay in its human element. The climax--a prisoner exchange with Norma--would be an anxious affair by itself, with Michonne's actions potentially hinging on a massive bluff. The scene becomes more impactful when you realize Norma's concerns mirror Michonne's, albeit with Norma fighting for the sake of a far more awful person. Telltale pulls off a minor miracle here: keeping the villains just empathetic enough to second-guess every action, which raises the tension in this sequence even higher.
The real action occurs later, as Michonne loses her grip on reality and flashbacks and hallucinations cloud her judgement at the worst possible time, forcing a funhouse mirror redux of the reality-shifting intro in Episode 1. It’s hair-raising in the moment, and an example of excellent direction and planning.
With the miniseries now complete, the game’s biggest flaw is in its structure. At least a half hour shorter than the other two episodes, What We Deserve nails the story Telltale has been tiptoeing around since first minute, and it’s something that only begins to present itself towards the end of Episode 2 before taking off here.
As a complete story, Walking Dead Michonne is, truly, a story about family, in a way few game narratives are. Familial loss and the forced adoption of new members isn’t new for Walking Dead, but in Michonne--barring choosing to be cold during a moment of sorrow--we have someone who finds power in parenthood, instead of living in constant fear of it. Her weakness is in having already failed at it. It’s in finding out whether the weight of that failure should be allowed to break her or not. Of course, that’s the question that drives anyone stricken by loss. It’s an easy question with hard answers, and this is a game that doesn’t flinch from either.