The following contains spoilers for Russel’s story in The Walking Dead: 400 Days and choices made in Season One.
As someone who works with teenagers, I’ve heard many of them say “this isn’t fair.” Up until recently, I didn’t understand why parents seemed so determined to tell their kids that “life isn’t fair.” But now, I think I get it: how we respond to unfairness is what develops our character.
Season One of Telltale’s Walking Dead was pretty unfair. Save Carly and Doug dies. Side with Kenny and Lilly hates you. Save a guy by chopping-off his leg and he becomes a liability. And no matter what you do, Duck gets infected. You’re often left feeling powerless, even with a “controller” in your hands.
One kid who comes to my youth center told me that Season One of The Walking Dead is his “favorite game,” but that he hated the ending because it was “cheap.” When pressed, he said he “just felt like it wasn’t fair.” Lately, I’m thinking this might be why Telltale chose a teenage boy to be one of the five playable characters in 400 Days.
The driver spots Russel, before he can hide. Russel tries to talk his way out of it, but finds himself inside the truck, stuck with his new “companion.” Nate introduces himself and questions if there’s any “tail” where Russel comes from. He proceeds to show-off a previous sexual conquest, who has since turned into a walker. He drives up next to her, winds down the window so she can grab at Russel, and tells him to rate her from one to ten. Then Nate tries to shoot her, but realizes he forgot to reload his gun. He peels off and drives away, asking Russel to reload.
Once they get to Gil’s Pit Stop, they’re greeted by gunfire. Using cover, they flank the sniper only to discover he’s an old man with a dying wife. He seems to recognize Nate, who suggests that they kill the old couple and take all their stuff. Russel has to quickly decide how to deal with his “new friend,” or he’ll be stuck with Nate and his lifestyle. If Russel hesitates, Nate pulls the trigger and they’re stuck together. But if he stands up to Nate and confronts him with all he can muster, he gets out. But no matter what he does, he can’t stop the old couple from being killed.
There’s an unfairness about forcing someone to deal with an unreasonable person, but only when we’re confronted with others’ greatest character flaws do we figure out how much grace we have or how much integrity we hold onto. A wise man once told me that he thought he was a good person until he had a strong-willed child who challenged him every chance he got. Difficult-to-work-with people define the testing ground for character development.
This kind of beleaguered character interaction is what shapes Russel’s Story, all of the short stories in 400 Days, and Telltale’s Walking Dead thus far. But it’s also what’s shapes our real lives. How do you deal with the Nates of this world? We often don’t know until we’re stuck with them and then have to figure out where to have grace and where to confront. It’s not fair, and it’s certainly not fun. But that’s life.