Tillie Walden continues the legacy of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series with the definitive continuation of the beloved protagonist’s story in Clementine: Book One. Last seen in Skybound Games’ 2019 The Walking Dead: The Final Season, Clementine embarks on an aimless journey of her own, accompanied only by the memories from her tragic past, to try and regain a sense of things.
Are You Listening? By Tillie Walden is the book I always recommend to everyone I know. It’s my favorite book, and it consequentially made Tillie Walden my favorite author. I also followed The Walking Dead games until Telltale Games’ demise, which resulted in me being cautiously optimistic when hearing the news of both of them combining. I fully believe Walden is one of the most incredible and unique writers there is, but I thought that maybe that style could get lost in between all the grim and violence of The Walking Dead, or vice versa. Her books are varied, from a slice of life to magical realism to sci-fi and romance, but something about her works, maybe how intimate they feel, is not something I find in any of The Walking Dead stories, even at their most character-driven. I’m extremely happy to say that I was woefully wrong to doubt.
Clementine: Book One starts with Clem wandering all on her lonesome, without much information as to what happened with her friends and the school they stayed in. She faces the dangers of both the walkers and her precarious prosthetic leg, which soon breaks. She comes across a group of Amish girls who offer to take her to their sheltered town, where a dentist-turned-prosthetist makes her a new, fancy (for that world) prosthetic. Wanting to stay away from every other human being, she leaves as fast as possible, only to meet with a town boy, leaving for a trip as per tradition. Traveling together for convenience, they will find friendship in each other and other people, as well as deadly hardship. This all stays true to the themes that Robert Kirkman started back with the first issue of the original The Walking Dead comic, decided to talk about the human characters, both as bigger threats than the walkers, and the way they survive in such a hopeless world. Thinking back on it, under that lens, the combination of this franchise and this writer feels like a no-brainer.
Tillie Walden, without even the help of many thought bubbles, gets us closer to Clem than we have probably ever been. We see her eyes that make her look dead inside, and when there is an emotion it’s usually worry or anger. We all remember the first time we witnessed Lee die. It basically became a meme at the time about how much people were affected by it. Here, there are some very brief flashbacks, but everything Clementine had happen to her, and especially that, acts as a tireless shadow that follows her no matter where she goes or what she does. Everyone and everything she lost comes back in the form of self-blame for still being alive in the horrifying world she lives in. And the amazing writing from Walden, we never stop caring about her and fearing that she might go through it once again.
As always in the author’s books, the art is as much of a highlight as the writing. They go hand in hand. It takes advantage of large hypnotic landscapes and striking panels with a care for detail. A big reason why Tillie Walden’s books feel so personal and intimate is, in my opinion, that care for little things. Every little change of expression when things don’t go as expected, or the loneliness of tying your shoes while walking at the side of the road as cars pass indifferently. They invite you to feel with the characters and reflect on your own matters. These situations are a bit maximized now, which makes sense considering the dire world the book takes place in, but perfect nevertheless.
Clementine: Book One is a triumph at combining styles, an amazing continuation to both Telltale’s The Walking Dead and Tillie Walden’s beautiful works. It’s a book about surviving in a world that makes us confused as to why we would want to survive. Being only part one of three, the story isn’t complete, but it ignites a spark of hope that I assume will let us further see in future books the reason there are to keep going after everything.