The final episode of Telltale’s The Walking Dead series was a released a week ago today, on March 26, and despite some protests from fans who are still in denial over the series ending, it looks like Clementine’s story is truly over for good. It’s bittersweet, but personally, I think the note the series ended on is perfect.
However, a lot of people disagree. It might just be denial or post-series depression or legitimate concerns over the logistics of how the ending played out, but some fans are not as happy with how the series ended as I am. So, I’ve decided to take a look at the scene that a lot of people are saying they simply can’t believe and attempt to explain why I think it actually works and makes sense.
Obviously, this article will contain MAJOR SPOILERS for the entire The Walking Dead games series, and particularly The Final Season. I would very highly recommend playing through the full series on your own first so you can experience it all firsthand before getting it all spoiled here, which could lessen the emotional impact the story has (and it is quite an emotional impact that is very worth experiencing, so do yourself a favor and go play the games yourself if you haven’t already).
Okay, so the scene in question, as many of you could probably guess, is the entire bite sequence, from the time Clementine first gets bitten just after the bridge, up to the point near the end where you learn she managed to survive. A good amount of people were not buying this, so let’s break it down.
First of all, there are people who are skeptical over the fact that Clementine had been bitten and then seemed to wait quite a while before having her leg amputated. In Season One of The Walking Dead game, Lee gets bitten on his arm and the player is later given the choice to have his arm amputated or not. However, Lee ends up dying regardless of this choice, with the implication being that he waited too long after being bitten, so the amputation didn’t work. A general rule in the universe of The Walking Dead, across its various mediums, is that if an appendage gets bitten, you want to remove it as fast as possible to avoid full-blown infection. Lee simply waited too long.
Now, before we go any further, let’s talk about Lee’s situation, because it might not necessarily be what it seems. Those who’ve played through the different routes of Season One know that there are some differences in how Episode 5 plays out depending on if you chose to amputate Lee’s arm or not, even if the ending result is the same. In particular, there are two separate occasions in the episode where Lee will pass out if you didn’t amputate his arm, whereas the only time he passes out if you did amputate his arm is before the amputation. Basically, the theory is that, if you amputated Lee’s arm, he actually was successful in stopping the infection, but ended up dying from blood loss or exhaustion, due to how much he exerted himself immediately following the amputation. The rules of how infection actually works in The Walking Dead can be inconsistent, after all, so it seems relatively plausible that how fast infection from a bite spreads throughout the body could be determinant on a number of factors, such as where on the body the bite is, how young or healthy the victim is, how strong their immune system is, how much they exert themselves after being bitten, etc. So, basically, it’s possible that infection from a bite doesn’t actually occur as quickly as people living in the world of The Walking Dead may think it does, or it could vary on a case-by-case basis, in which case Lee actually may have survived the bite, but died to something else. If this is the case, then it isn’t a far stretch to assume that Clementine could also survive having her bitten appendage amputated a little while after the bite actually occurred, just as long as she didn’t wait TOO long after the bite.
But maybe you’re not buying that the amputated version of Lee survived his bite and just died for another reason. Maybe you think he did in fact wait too long after being bitten before cutting his arm off, giving the infection enough time to spread irreversibly to the rest of his body. But even if that’s the case, we still don’t necessarily know how long it actually takes for a bite to cause irreversible infection. Of course, you’d want to cut off a bitten limb as soon as possible just to be safe, but we don’t know how long it actually takes for the infection to spread. And, again, it could potentially be different for each person depending on their specific circumstances. It’s entirely possible that Lee waited too long to cut his arm off and ultimately succumbed to the infection anyway, but the gap of time between Lee’s bite and amputation is pretty significantly longer than the amount of time between Clementine’s bite and amputation. Creative Director of The Walking Dead: The Final Season Kent Mudle explained that, given that the sun was just barely starting to rise in the scene where Clem gets bitten and that the sun is out, but still very low, in the following scene in which she eventually undergoes amputation, there was probably only about ten to fifteen minutes of travel between the bridge and the barn, meaning there was probably about twenty minutes at the most between Clem’s bite and amputation. Compare that with Lee, who, after getting bitten, has a lengthy discussion with his group about who’s coming with him to find Clementine, navigates the sewers, finds Vernon’s hideout, talks to the Stranger on the walkie-talkie, opens the elevator shaft, and then passes out for an undisclosed amount of time all before amputating his arm. In other words, it’s entirely possible that even if Lee waited too long to amputate his arm, Clementine may have had her leg amputated in just enough time, since she had her bite for a shorter amount of time before amputation than Lee did.
But some of you still aren’t convinced. I hear you. Twenty minutes may seem like kind of a lot of time to have a bite before removing it, even if it isn’t quite as long as Lee had his. So here’s another theory: Clementine was able to avoid infection for so long after being bitten because she was suffering from unusual blood flow, which slowed the rate of infection. Credit to Twitter user @immadeviant for being the first one I saw point this out. As you probably remember, just before Clementine got bitten, she had a big fight with Minnie on the bridge that resulted in Minnie slicing Clementine’s leg wide open with an axe. This kind of deep tissue damage would have slowed down the normal blood flow to Clem’s leg, eventually causing her lower leg to essentially become dead tissue (notice how her limp becomes more and more pronounced the longer she goes without treating her leg). When Clementine gets bitten, the bite is right next to her axe wound – right where blood circulation isn’t functioning normally. So if you think going fifteen to twenty minutes with a bite before amputating it seems like too long of a time, under normal circumstances you might be right. But given the slowed blood flow that would have resulted from Clem’s injured leg, the infection likely would have taken longer to spread to the rest of her body than it normally would have.
I suppose it’s possible that, even after the amputation, Clementine could have had some very small traces of the virus still in her body – a slowed progression of the virus spreading to the rest of her body doesn’t mean no progression at all, after all. But, again, we simply don’t know the full science behind the zombie virus in The Walking Dead. Personally, I think it’s VERY possible that people’s immune systems can fight off the virus, as long as it’s in extremely small doses. There are multiple times throughout the universe’s various stories in which people lather themselves in zombie guts – something like this would almost certainly put people at risk of absorbing trace amounts of the virus, yet everyone who uses this maneuver is always fine. People are always bashing in zombies’ heads, causing infected blood to splatter all over the place – it’s almost inevitable that little specks of infected blood would have gotten into someone’s mouth or other orifice at some point, but again, no one (as far as I know) has ever actually gotten infected like this. Some will argue that people don’t get infected from those types of circumstances because, technically, everyone in The Walking Dead is infected, and that the zombie bite doesn’t actual infect people, it just catalyzes their death, which inevitably results in becoming a zombie unless the brain is destroyed. But we do know that walker blood does in fact have infectious properties, as seen in (SPOILERS for The Walking Dead comics and TV show) the biological warfare segment of the Savior War, in which Negan and his people coat their weapons in walker blood, then go around cutting, rather than killing, Rick’s people so that they become infected and turn later. Anyways, the point I was trying to make is that even if a very small amount of the virus lingered in Clementine’s body after amputation, her immune system could probably fight it off, since there seems to be some level of evidence for people being able to survive extremely small doses of the virus elsewhere in The Walking Dead. Remember Negan’s biological warfare, though, because that becomes important later.
Alright, so after all that, hopefully you’re now convinced that Clementine did not necessarily wait too long after getting bitten to have the bitten limb amputated and survive. The next point that some people have a problem with is how AJ managed to save her after the amputation. Clementine had probably already lost a lot of blood from her axe wound (in fact, it is arguable that she starts becoming pale in the barn not because of the infection, but because of blood loss), so AJ cutting off her foot and then dragging her all the way back to the school probably would have caused her to lose a lot more blood and would have done her in. Luckily, we have The Walking Dead: The Final Season Season Lead Designer and Writer Michael Kirkbride to thank for this next bit of evidence. Shortly after the final episode was released, Kirkbride took to Reddit to write a short story called “How I Protekted Clem by Alvin Junior,” in which it is described through the point of view of AJ himself how exactly he was able to save Clementine after he chopped off her leg. It is explained that Clementine passed out during the chopping process, after which AJ set a fire using the flint from the cave and some of the hay in the barn. He used the fire to heat up the axe, which was then used to cauterize Clem’s wound. Then, AJ used some of the rope in the barn to tie off Clem’s leg before systematically killing each of the walkers trying to get inside the barn. Once the walkers were taken care of, AJ covered Clem in walker guts (he was already covered himself) to prevent any other walkers they might run into from noticing them, then put Clem in the wheelbarrow and got her back to the school, where the other kids theoretically helped fix her up more.
The story pretty much makes sense. It’s arguable that the amount of time it would have taken AJ to set a contained fire and heat up the axe would’ve been a bit too long, causing Clem to bleed out before he got around to cauterizing the wound. But, if you want to be super technical, Kirkbride’s story might not be considered canon, since we didn’t see it actually happen in the game itself (plus, AJ talks about Abel’s amputated arm in the story, which is a determinant event in the game, so the story as Kirkbride tells it definitely isn’t canon for at least some players, myself included, who never saw Abel get bit in their playthroughs). Since the canonicity of the story is somewhat debatable, you can feel free to change it around a bit so that it makes more sense to you. If you think setting a fire would take too long, maybe your headcanon dictates that AJ used the rope to tie off Clem’s leg first, reducing, at least to some degree, the amount of blood she would lose while AJ got the fire going. If you think AJ wouldn’t be strong enough to push Clem in a wheelbarrow all the way back to the school, then you can tell yourself that AJ locked down the barn so no walkers could get in, quickly ran back to the school (which isn’t very far from the barn), and got some of the Ericson kids to come with him back to the barn to save Clem together. You get the idea. Point is, whether you buy that it happened exactly as Kirkbride explained or not, it is possible for AJ to have saved Clem post-amputation.
Okay, so now we know that Clementine likely could have survived with a bite for fifteen to twenty minutes before getting it removed, due to the specific circumstances surrounding the bite, and we know that AJ could have saved Clem post-amputation. She would need to be lucky (real lucky), but it’s possible. So now there’s one more thing to discuss, and that’s the amputation itself.
Now, there’s a good chunk of fans who can believe everything I’ve laid out so far, but there is still one more problem that gives them pause, and that’s the fact that AJ amputated Clem’s leg using an axe that had, very recently, been used to kill walkers. If you’ll remember my point from a few paragraphs ago about Negan’s biological warfare, it is canon in The Walking Dead universe that if someone is cut with a weapon coated in walker blood, they will become infected from it. Since both Clem and AJ, and Minnie before them, were all using this axe to kill a ton of walkers, the axe probably has a good amount of walker blood on it, which you would think would infect Clem, despite having the bite cut off.
Officially, the reason why the blood-soaked axe didn’t infect Clem is basically plot magic. Kent Mudle mentions how he brought up this whole bitten Clem scenario to Skybound (Robert Kirkman’s company, which owns The Walking Dead) during development to make sure nothing about it, including the fact that Clem gets amputated with what would appear to be a disease-ridden axe, conflicted with the franchise’s larger canon. And Skybound gave him the green light. As fans of the larger The Walking Dead franchise know, there’ve been instances in other stories in The Walking Dead universe (including within the comics themselves, which basically serve as the source material for everything else) in which characters have their bitten limbs amputated with weapons that had been used to kill walkers and they end up fine. Call it an inconsistency, but it’s something that seems to be allowed by The Walking Dead canon, so it’s not like the game was just breaking the rules on its own or anything.
However, I can understand if people don’t find this explanation very satisfying, so I’m going to attempt to give a different explanation. Mind you, I didn’t exactly comb through every panel of the comic to make sure the explanation I’m about to give definitely fits every scenario in it, but it at least makes sense in my mind from a theoretical perspective.
Consider this: When Negan launched biological warfare on Rick’s group, the plan was to cut people non-lethally so that the walker blood would soak into their wounds, causing them to turn later. However, it would seem to me that a cut from a blood-soaked weapon would be very different from a full-blown amputation. If it’s just a cut, blood flow would resume pretty much normally, meaning the infected blood that made contact with your wound would get sucked up into circulation. But if you’re having a limb amputated, then the walker blood on the weapon, and any of your blood that made contact with that walker blood, probably isn’t going back into circulation since it’s all about to be on the floor. Basically, Clementine would be bleeding out too quickly for her body to absorb the infected blood. I suppose some traces of the infected blood could have clung to her flesh, but these traces probably would have been exterminated when AJ cauterized the wound.
(It’s also worth mentioning that some people think that the blood-soaked axe should have infected Clementine back when Minnie first cut her leg with it, but, referring back to an earlier point, the deepness of the cut would have disrupted the normal flow of blood, slowing the infection rate. Clem’s axe injury and bite happen very closely to each other, so it really doesn’t matter which one actually gave her the infection – I think the rest of my points still apply.)
So there you go. Improbable? Sure. But Clementine’s faced plenty of improbable odds before. The point is that it’s possible. You might have to suspend your disbelief a little bit (just like you did in Season One when eight-year-old Clementine was somehow able to pull an unconscious Lee to safety after he saved her from the Stranger), but I personally think, given the emotional climax the story provided, that it’s definitely worth it.