With the recent release of Episode Three of The Walking Dead: The Final Season, there’s just one more episode to go before Clementine’s story comes to an end. Many fans probably have their own ideas about how the story will end when the finale releases in March, but the ending we get might not be the one many are expecting.
Back when it was first announced in the summer of 2017 that the fourth season of The Walking Dead would be the last season, everyone immediately assumed that Clementine would be dying. It’s a pretty logical conclusion to come to; the death of the main character is the easiest way to end a narrative that, by design, shouldn’t really have an end, such as a zombie apocalypse. In fact, as readers of The Walking Dead comics know, Robert Kirkman’s original premise for the franchise was to be one that would explore every facet of a post-apocalyptic world, one in which the audience wouldn’t be left wondering “What happens now?” at the end of it, because by the end everything that could have happened will have happened. So how do you end a story designed to be endless? Kill off the main character.
However, I personally am not as convinced as many others that Clem is going to be killed in the series finale. Before I go any further, let me just get a few things out of the way. For one thing, this article is just a theory that I think is a possibility. I’m not saying it definitely will happen, as I’m not entirely convinced of it myself, but I thought I’d bring it up because it’s interesting to think about (and so that we might be a bit more emotionally prepared if it does go down the way I describe). That said, if what I lay out here does end up coming to pass, then be prepared for some potentially MAJOR FUTURE SPOILERS for the series. Also, this article will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for all seasons of Telltale’s/Skybound’s The Walking Dead, from the first episode of the first season through the newly released third episode of the fourth season.
So first thing’s first: I’m not entirely convinced that Clem is going to die in the final episode. The reason for this is pretty simple – it’s too easy. As explained earlier, killing off the main character in a scenario such as The Walking Dead is the most obvious way to end the story and everyone is expecting it, especially since it already happened with Lee dying at the end of the first season. Ideally, good writing will keep audiences on the edge of their seats, always able to flip what everyone’s expecting on its head. We’ve seen this time and time again in The Walking Dead games. No one was expecting the playable character to get bitten in what was not even the final episode in the first season. No one was expecting the main antagonist to die in the middle of the season in Season Two. No one was expecting Marlon, an important character who got quite a bit of hyping up in the pre-release marketing, to get killed off in the first episode of The Final Season. One of the things The Walking Dead is great at is surprising its audience, so, in an ironic twist for the franchise, probably the most surprising thing they can do in the finale is to let Clementine live. Of course, it’s obviously a possibility that Clem will in fact be killed off and the writers will just find a creative and unexpected way to do it, but considering that pretty much the entire fanbase is expecting Clem’s death (dreading it, but expecting it), it would seem to me that it would be a much bigger surprise and risk to write an ending where Clem actually doesn’t die.
So let’s assume for the moment that Clem won’t die. However, this is The Walking Dead; it’s very likely that someone important is going to die in the final episode, so here are some possible heartbreaking alternatives: Maybe whoever you chose to romance will end up dying. Or maybe the opposite; maybe if you romanced Violet then Louis will die, or if you romanced Louis then Violet will die (I’ll expand on this more later). Only a few members of Clem’s group have died so far in this season; maybe the final episode will see a massacre of Season One Episode Three levels. Personally, I’ve grown quite attached to most of the characters this season, especially Violet and Louis (and Clem herself, obviously), so if any of them die, it would be devastating. However, while I think that the deaths of most of the characters in Clem’s group this season would be heart-wrenching, I don’t know that it would constitute a series-ending surprise. So to that end, I offer this:
While it’s certainly possible that other characters will die along the way, I think the most likely ending is for something drastic to happen to AJ, whether that means death or something else. There’s a number of things I think have been potentially leading up to this hypothetical scenario. Firstly, he’s a character who the audience has been slowly growing attached to throughout the course of the season, with him appearing probably the most likable in the latest episode. The Walking Dead as a franchise usually won’t waste its time killing off characters the audience doesn’t care about unless they’re meant to be walker fodder from the beginning. Instead, they’ll take a character like Ben, who you might not care much about when you first meet him, but over the course of the next several episodes you might start to sympathize with him, feel bad for him, maybe even start caring about him, and it’s then that they’ll hit you with his death. So AJ likely fits the bill in terms of being a character you’ve slowly come to care about throughout the season, but there are lots of characters this season who the audience has probably grown more attached to as the season progressed. However, others haven’t necessarily been as narratively important as AJ, who’s technically been around since Season Two and has provided Clem with her primary motivation for the last two seasons of The Walking Dead.
But aside from the emotional impact that AJ’s death would have, it also makes sense from a narrative perspective. One of the main themes throughout The Walking Dead: The Final Season has been how the player’s choices impact AJ’s personality and how he thinks about the world. However, in a zombie-infested, post-apocalyptic world, there’s only so much someone can do to raise a child who is constantly surrounded by misery and death. In particular, AJ seems more comfortable with the concept of murder than anyone should, let alone a kid his age. At the end of the first episode of this season, he kills Marlon in cold blood, even after Marlon had dropped his gun and the other kids all took Clem’s side, alleviating any kind of threat Marlon posed. When everyone looked over at AJ, shocked at what he had done, he didn’t seem to understand that he had done anything wrong. In his mind, as a child growing up in a zombie apocalypse, he didn’t see anything wrong with the line of reasoning that states when someone appears bad, you kill them. The player can try to explain to AJ why what he did was wrong in the next episode, even potentially going as far as to call AJ a murderer, but in the third episode, James points out that AJ seems to be just regurgitating words like “atone,” rather than actually feeling remorse for his actions. After killing Marlon, AJ continues looking for opportunities and excuses to hurt or kill others, like the raider Abel, or the raider leader Lilly, or even another Ericson kid, Willy, when he starts saying things AJ doesn’t like. Clearly, violence is something that is ingrained in him at this point.
At the end of the third episode, players have a huge choice to make: let AJ kill Lilly or stop him from doing so. We’ll have to wait until The Walking Dead‘s finale to fully see what they are, but both options potentially have serious repercussions. If you let AJ kill Lilly, he doesn’t just kill her; he unloads the clip on her. AJ’s been looking for a reason to perform violence again, and you just gave him one. James seems to think that this will be the action that pushes him over the edge, that defines his taste for murder, and now that he’s done it in a setting where he feels totally justified (more so than when he killed Marlon, which was met with disdain from the community), he likes it and will continue to see murder as the answer to all of life’s problems. If anyone does anything he doesn’t like, what’s to stop him from just killing them and taking what he wants? He knows how to do it, he’s good at it, and he likes it. And all at the age of five or six. On the other hand, if you stop him from killing Lilly, then Lilly turns around and kills the pacifist James. The lesson that AJ could potentially learn from this experience is that he should always take the shot when given the opportunity. He let his guard down with Lilly and it resulted in the death of a friend. AJ might end up deciding that he should never miss an opportunity to kill a potential wrongdoer again, regardless of the circumstances. Lilly begged for her life and promised to leave AJ and his friends alone just before she ended up killing James, after all. AJ might come to the conclusion that the safest thing to do in any scenario is to kill anyone who gives him doubts.
AJ isn’t a total psychopath, however. After the scene in which Abel dies, AJ admits to feeling bad for him, despite hating him and previously wishing that he would die. But just because he’s not a full-on psychopath doesn’t mean that he won’t increase his violent tendencies to the point where he becomes a danger to everyone around him. Some potential examples include him possibly killing Violet or Louis. If you chose to save Louis at the end of the second episode, then Violet ends up hating Clem’s guts in the third episode, even going so far as to side with Lilly and Minerva. If AJ views Violet as a threat to himself or Clem and thinks of murder as a viable solution to all of his problems, who’s to say he won’t end up killing Violet in the next episode? Meanwhile, if you save Violet and Louis got captured, then Louis ends up getting his tongue cut out by the raiders. This robs Louis of his ability to speak, joke, socialize, sing, basically everything that makes him Louis. If you taught AJ about the concept of mercy killing earlier in the season, and we’re at a point where, again, AJ thinks murder can always be the answer, maybe he ends up killing Louis. Maybe AJ kills Willy the next time he says something bad about Tenn. Maybe he threatens to kill Tenn if Tenn doesn’t let AJ play with one of his toys again. If AJ continues to threaten, or even murder, other members of his own community, then when will it get to the point where the kids at Ericson’s decide he can’t be around anymore? When do they decide to kick him out of the group, this time for good for being a repeat offender? If they can’t just kick him out, because they’re scared he’ll come back and kill them if they do, would they turn to killing him their selves to ensure their own safety?
Now let’s think about where Clem stands in all of this. You might think that this whole scenario I laid out in the last paragraph is a bit far-fetched, but let’s consider the history of The Walking Dead games. There’s a penchant for Clem causing, either directly or indirectly, the death of a loved one through her action or inaction at the end of seasons. At the end of Season One, she can either kill Lee herself or leave, letting him turn. At the end of Season Two, her decision to intervene or not results in the death of Kenny and/or Jane. Nothing like this really happens for her at the end of A New Frontier, but that season is kind of the oddball of the series for a number of reasons anyway (a discussion for another day). So what if Clem is put into a position at the end of The Final Season where, on one hand, she has a community that she loves, that accepts her, and, after the raider situation is dealt with, is safe, and she maybe even has a romantic partner, and on the other hand, she has AJ, who she has been with for years and cares deeply about, but it gets to a point where AJ is simply too dangerous to live in a community? Clem would have to give up something here. Maybe she gives up on Ericson’s and she and AJ leave to try to survive on their own again. Or maybe she gives up on AJ, who has become too dependent on violence for his own good. This could be like a Season Two Kenny situation all over again. Clem might have to choose between siding with AJ, despite him being potentially dangerous for other people she cares about, or siding with the Ericson kids, who have decided that AJ is too dangerous to keep around anymore. If Clem sides with AJ, she runs the risk of him killing Ericson kids he decides he doesn’t like or are getting in his way. If she sides with the Ericson kids, she might have to abandon AJ, joining Ericson’s in kicking him out, which would likely be a death sentence, even for a kid as capable as him, if not a literal death sentence they decide to impose if they feel he’ll continue being a threat if they decide to banish him.
Obviously, this is a very specific scenario and it would be pretty amazing if the final episode actually does play out exactly as I describe here. But this is just one possible alternative to the series ending with Clem’s death, so regardless of how accurate this prediction may or may not be, we’re likely all in for some heartbreak in the upcoming final episode. I do think that Clem’s death is a far too obvious path to go down, but regardless of whether it’s Clem’s death, AJ’s death, the death of any number of other characters, or some impossible choice the player will have to make, this is The Walking Dead, so we best be prepared for some emotional devastation.