Telltale's Walking Dead is an equal opportunities killer. Long-running characters and new characters, baddies and goodies, children and adults all alike are fed into the game's meat grinder.
Each of the last two episodes has ended with a bloodbath, and episode four – 'Amid the Ruins' – starts where episode three left off, in the middle of a herd of zombies from which two further characters will never emerge.
The brutalising horror of the last few weeks has had the inevitable effect of bringing the surviving members of Clem's raggedy little group close to despair, and the question of whether to succumb to despair or cling to hope is the central theme of this chapter.
Oh my god, they nearly killed Kenny!
The character most obviously embodying despair is Kenny, who, once again, has lost everything and spends much of the episode staring into the void. He has a pistol, and it seems there's a pretty good chance he'll turn it on himself.
“You know what it feels like to get beaten almost to death?” he says to Clem. “It feels peaceful.”
But if Kenny represents despair in its most obvious form, Jane represents the psychological and emotional territory into which despair can lead you.
Jane is a loner, ruthlessly pragmatic and unsentimental. As far as she's concerned, the only way to survive in the post-apocalyptic world is to avoid depending on others or allowing them to depend on you.
She makes her philosophy known early on when she seems on the verge of abandoning a child and a pregnant woman to their fate in a zombie herd, despite patently having the skill to rescue them.
But despite Jane's ruthless rhetoric, she is unable to resist helping Clem, no doubt because Clem reminds her of the little sister she mistreated as a child and then abandoned as an adult. "She thought I was her best friend," she tells Clem, in the standout line of the chapter. "That couldn't go unpunished."
Jane is a complex character, not only embittered by her experiences but seemingly unsure of her own nature. Whatever cold and pragmatic philosophy she may espouse, it's clear she's irresistibly drawn to innocence, kindness, hope, intimacy. Jane is the clear star of this chapter.
The killer in me is the killer in you
And she has a point. Life in Walking Dead is getting more and more dangerous. "There ain't no boat or train to get us out of this one," Kenny tells Clem grimly. And Clem has similar advice for Sarah, the sheltered teenager whose infantile vacillations have already gotten a couple of people killed.
"We can't be kids any more," she says. "You need to grow up or you'll die."
Just as Jane's unseen rite of passage was to abandon her sister, Clem finally has to decide how to deal with her own wide-eyed liability.
You have a choice, of course, to abandon Sarah or to rescue her. But it feels like you're being steered in a particular direction. It's significant that 'Amid the Ruins' gives you two virtually identical opportunities to choose between Sarah and Jane. (Humanity and kindness over ruthless self-interest – are you sure about that?)
So Jane, in my version of Walking Dead at least, lives. She's a more valuable person than Sarah - even though she's clearly horrible.
Case in point: to Jane, Rebecca's pregnancy represents nothing more than a fatal lack of mobility.
Then again, while it's hard to be that callous it's equally hard to disagree with her. We know how these things go.
But when the baby comes you're compelled to protect it anyway. Even if you swept Sarah aside, you're unlikely to be so callous with a newborn – and a newborn is an even bigger liability. That's the dilemma at the centre of this episode – common humanity is the single most dangerous trait for a common human to have.
And the character who knows this best is also the one most susceptible to indulging her human impulses. Nothing is simple.
Choose this adventure
'Amid the Ruins' is one of the neatest and most satisfying episodes of Walking Dead yet. Like any well-executed piece of storytelling, it crystallises its ideas in characters, set-pieces, and symbolic backdrops, but – thanks to the quality of the writing - never feels trite or excessively neat (though the civil war symbolism is a bit overdone).
It doesn't feel quite as much like an interactive story as some previous episodes, however. A lot of the tension in Walking Dead comes from the pressure of managing relationships, and that particular kind of tension is largely absent from 'Amid the Ruins'.
While there are a couple of serious decisions to make, whose implications hang over you, in most cases you just feel like you're expressing an opinion or making an incidental interjection without significant consequences.
And ultimately the narrative feels like it's heading inexorably in one direction. You can wriggle around a bit, but in the end Telltale is telling you a tale.
And what a tale it is.(Screenshots taken from PC version).