Over the course of three episodes, The Walking Dead: Michonne video game miniseries has homed in on the theme of regret. We live our lives haunted by old ones and try to make choices that won’t create new ones. But no matter what you do, it ultimately tells us, you can’t lock pain out of your life.
Episode 3 of Michonne begins with the build-up to an emotionally charged showdown with violent petty dictator Norma and ends with the feverish defence of the suburban family home where companion character Sam grew up. It’s a tense endgame where grim reminders of losses suffered are everywhere.
After playing the finale of the three-part solo spotlight spin-off, I did something I almost never do in choice-centric, branching path games: I replayed the ending. Someone died because I had Michonne prioritise her own grief over her presumably dead daughters for a few crucial moments and I just couldn’t sit with the denouement that my first set of choices made. So I opened up a new save file and played the last chunk of episode 3 all over again.
But the replay didn’t make me feel any better. Sure, my second-playthrough choices ensured that I saved a life, but the decision to do so pulled Michonne away from the chance to create closure around the absence of her daughters. There’s a slight difference in terms of the proximity and weight of the pain that results from either choice, but neither was easy to shrug off.
The accumulated trauma of the Michonne miniseries made me uncharacteristically cruel and nihilistic, too. When an enemy character faces inevitable death, one moment makes players choose between a quick, painless mercy killing or a slower, more gruesome end where they get torn apart by zombies. Usually I’m as altruistic as possible in games where I get a choice. I leaned hard on Paragon in Mass Effect, for example, even when it seemed to be the stupid thing to do. But, here, I chose the latter option, fed up with all the intimately abusive power games and needless death. We’re all fucked anyway, right? So let me go ahead and be fucked up in kind.
As I’ve written before, Michonne is a Walking Dead character who often seems unflappable. She’s terse and mostly aloof, not given to the hysterics exhibited by so many human survivors of the series’ zombie apocalypse. But this miniseries has shown that she’s been silently carrying burdens of her own all along and that her steely resolve comes in part from needing to numb herself to the cruel realities of a world gone to shit. Yet, even she can’t avoid holding onto old traumas, even though she knows that doing so can create new ones.