Telltale’s The Walking Dead video game is the very best realization of the franchise. The Walking Dead property spans comics, TV, and even novels, but we have never been more impacted by the world than in Telltale’s rendition.
When Telltale’s The Walking Dead first hit the scene, it changed the way we look at episodic games. Industry titans had been trying to make episodic gaming work in the video game industry for years. The most notorious example of ‘failed’ episodic gaming is, of course, Half-Life 2: Episode 1 and Episode 2. Two games whose plot has been left hanging for a decade. We are still laughing about the elusive “Half-Life 3.” Thanks to The Walking Dead’s impeccable narrative and characters, Telltale final struck a cord that had audiences checking in with every episode. It is no surprise how many independent and self-funded studios have taken to the format.
At the heart of Telltale’s The Walking Dead are its marvelous characters. We challenge anyone with a heart to play through the series without finding a character that pulls them into the universe. Of course, the series’ phenomenal characters don’t preclude the games having a few duds too. We’re going to be looking at the absolute coolest characters in the series, as well as a handful of stinkers who managed to detract from the otherwise astounding video game narrative.
15 Coolest: Lee Everett
Lee is more than a surrogate for the player; he is a fascinating character in his own right.
Each and every decision Lee —and you, the gamer— make is a funnel of morality. Lee is one of the most layered characters in modern gaming, balancing player choice with crucial narrative development. He is undoubtedly one of the coolest characters in the series. When there is a leadership decision to be made, Lee steps up to the challenge; making decisions for the group, and balancing it with being a father figure for a young girl. For Lee, Clementine is the last bastion of hope in the world, a person unbridled by pessimism and despair. What’s more, Lee has demons of his own to contend with by himself. Dave Fennoy portrays the character flawlessly.
14 Lamest: Ben Paul
It doesn’t matter how much lenience or forgiveness you give them: some people are just always going to disappoint you.
Ben Paul is a shining example of why you can’t trust everyone in a life or death situation. He’s not a bad person, but he is an absolute coward. Ben grabs every chance to save his skin or give himself a leg-up. He is an annoying, scared kid. During the apocalypse, bravery is an important virtue — Ben has none whatsoever. Ben joins the cast of characters during episode 2 of the first season of the series and proves himself a burden every step of the way. It takes real fortitude not to leave Ben for dead at a moment’s notice, thanks in large part to a strong performance by Trevor Hoffmann.
13 Coolest: William Carver
Everything about Carver is terrifying. He’s the best kind of villain.
The most unsettling thing about William Carver is that he has a code of honor — and it is as twisted as a moral code can be. Carver believes in survival of the fittest, making him a ruthless and decisive leader. Moreover, his charisma lets him manipulate his flock into obeying his command. He rules over his group of survivors like a twisted version of Lots-o' Huggin Bear from Toy Story 3.
Carver makes his startling introduction in the Season 2 episode A House Divided, where he invades Clem’s home using his physicality to control the situation. Undoubtedly, Carver is the best antagonist in the series, with an interesting arc and an incredible performance by Michael Madsen.
12 Lamest: Lilly
Lilly is the shit that hits the fan.
Lee and the gang spend day after day wondering if food, gas, or electricity are going to give out — and then there are wild cards like Lilly who end up being the issue. Like in real life, having to play peacekeeper between two people is a chore in any social situation. Lilly is that aggravation incarnate. She is testy, aggressive, and often unreasonable — it is torture to deal with her. Not to mention her racist father who’s always bellyaching about something or other (who remains an angel in her eyes). As strong as her portray by Nicki Rapp is, we would be thrilled if we never heard from Lilly again. She has caused enough grief for a lifetime.
11 Coolest: Charles
The entire Walking Dead saga —franchise, even— can be distilled down to Charles the vagabond.
Also known as “Chuck,” this homeless man played by Roger Jackson, has a symbolic role in Telltale’s The Walking Dead canon. In society, we ignore the homeless, but when the apocalypse reigns and humanity is on the brink of extinction, it’s easy to see that every life matters. Chuck is a good person, a selfless person, and as kind a human as the best of the remains of humanity. Charles is a very mysterious character, but there is no denying his intentions are pure and that his role in the first season of the series is one of the coolest in the game. Of all the game’s minor characters, Chuck is the one whose backstory interests us the most.
10 Lamest: Duck
“I’m gonna drive the tractor!”
Duck is one dense kid.
If there were a High School yearbook award for “Most Likely to Die in a Zombie Apocalypse” it would have to go to Kenny Jr. (also known as Duck). Especially when you compare Duck, who is ten-years-old, to the then eight-year-old Clementine, the difference is striking. Duck is utterly oblivious to the severity of any given situation. Every time Duck opens his mouth, you just want to strangle the little guy. Max Kaufman is the character’s voice and he does just a tremendous job of playing an aggravating kid. During the third episode of Season 1, Long Road Ahead, Duck plays a game with Lee as a detective — which he might have been too old for even if he weren’t caught in the middle of the apocalypse.
9 Coolest: Carley
Carley is at the center of one of Telltale’s The Walking Dead’s first major choices. At the end of the very first episode —time is of the essence— and you’re forced to choose between Carley and Doug. Most players leaned towards Carley, which is lucky because Carley is one of the game’s coolest characters. The young journalist calls Lee out on his shit. That forward nature and honesty can lead to a blossoming relationship if you play your cards right. So many of the characters you meet throughout your journey are irrational and emotion — not Carly. She is one of the few survivors in the first season who behaves like an adult. Coupled with a sterling performance by Nicole Vigil, Carly turns out to be one of the most fun characters to talk with during the game.
8 Lamest: Mark
Telltale’s The Walking Dead is unforgettable. So why can’t we remember who Mark is?
Mark has little to no personality, making him almost entirely forgettable. If you still can’t place him: he has a super cool death at the end of Season 1, Episode 2: Starved for Help. Ring any bells? That is what makes Mark such a lame character, for as exciting as the scenario he finds himself in is, he is still forgettable. There’s just nothing remarkable about his character — he is a generic guy who doesn’t really do anything. Considering how talented the writers behind the series are, it is underwhelming how generic his character is. Like most of the cast of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, Mark’s voice actor, Mark Middleton, does a good job making him believable. Still, that can’t save an empty role.
7 Coolest: Kenny
Kenny wears his heart on his sleeve.
Kenny represents the fear in all of us. He is brash and volatile, but also passionate and caring. If there’s one thing you can say about Kenny, it’s that he is human. For all his faults —and he has many— Kenny is a sight for sore eyes. He plays a crucial role in Season 1 and 2. By his return in the second season, Kenny has become a cold and grizzled man haunted by the past. Gavin Hammon does an unbelievable job growing his performance between the two seasons. Of course, Kenny is fiercely loyal to his family (and can absolutely hold a grudge) but he also always remembers who his friends are. And anyone who can love a kid like Duck must have some secret reserve of patience.
6 Lamest: Gabe García
Gabe is the angsty, brash, and obnoxious teen from TellTale’s The Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier.
Anyone who has played all three seasons of Telltale’s The Walking Dead has grown accustomed to dealing with kids and teenagers, but no other younglings up to this point have deserved a slap in the face quite like Gabe. He is a walking stereotype of a troubled, brooding teenager. Unlike the quick-witted Clementine, Gabe needs to be parented with reverse-psychology, because he’s too dim-witted to understand something presented plainly. His voice actor is Raymond Ochoa, who captures that teen spirit perfectly — maybe because he is a teenager himself! For as aggravating as it can be to try and parent a bucking teen, we’re excited to see if Gabs shapes up to be a real hero by the end of A New Frontier.
5 Coolest: Reggie
Cameo voice performances don’t always work, but Kumail Nanjiani is pitch-perfect as Reggie in Season 2 of Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
There are very few genuinely funny moments in The Walking Dead and Reggie brings some much-needed levity to the series. Reggie is absolutely priceless as the mild-mannered and nervous garden keeper in Carver’s brutal community of survivors. Reggie is cowardly in an endearing way that makes you want to protect him from harm. His debut during In Harm’s Way steals the show. Again, it is a testament to the staff that Telltale was able to handle writing some comic relief into their aggressively depressing series. That the light-hearted character was performed by such a renowned comedian goes a long way to bringing that comedy to life.
4 Lamest: Nick
Nick is supposed to be the emotional center of the second season of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, but he is far too unlikeable for anyone to care about whatsoever. Nick is a hotheaded and, quite frankly, bad person. He is tormented by his personal demons, but as any adult knows: two wrongs don’t make a right. So why would anyone excuse him for his behavior?
In Season 2, Clementine is the player-character and after all that audiences have been though to protect Clementine, it’s incredibly difficult to be sympathetic to anyone who puts her through so much grief. It is especially hard to swallow if they don't have a good excuse, and are merely impulsive. If Telltale didn’t try so hard to make Nick sympathetic maybe we would have enjoyed Brian Bremer’s performance more, but as it stands: Nick is a lame character.
3 Coolest: Kate
So far, Kate is the best part of Telltale’s The Walking Dead Season 3: A New Frontier.
TellTale has proven over and over again that they are experts at creating “Catch-22” situations. Kate is a perfect example of that prowess. Kate is an incredibly likable character, she’s also smart, sexy, and … Javier’s sister-in-law. Shelly Shenoy also has the perfect voice for the character, who is equal parts laid-back and no-nonsense. Kate is one of the few characters to openly use drugs (in this case some harmless pot), which makes her seem a bit rebellious given that she is Gabs and Mariana’s Step-Mother. Of all the new characters to make their debut in the third season of the series, Kate is indisputably the coolest of the bunch.
2 Lamest: Brenda
Brenda is a walking trope.
Starved For Help (the second episode of Season 1) is the only mainline episode of the series that is mostly standalone. It is certainly the pulpiest and most traditionally “Horror” episode in Telltale’s rendition of the infamous series. The only problem: Brenda gives away the twist two seconds after meeting her. No disrespect to her voice actor, Jeanie Kelsey — it is the writing that is at fault. She is just too pure, too wholesome. There’s something too ‘off’ about Brenda, and it makes it incredibly obvious where the plot is headed. It is frustrating beyond belief and totally lame to have the plot given away from the get-go. Role reversals are a great trope, but it takes a lot more nuisance than Brenda’s character can handle. Maybe next time Telltale will be able to surprise us.
1 Coolest: Clementine
Clementine is Telltale’s The Walking Dead.
Clementine is a brilliant example of a kid coming of age. No other video game has even come close to capturing what Telltale has done with Clem. Even movies struggle to make kid-characters likable, but Clem can crack a joke and hold her own in a heartbeat. Clementine is the emotional center of the series and an iconic video game character in the making. She is anything but a cookie-cutter character; she is a well-realized protagonist from one of the best narratives in gaming. Getting to see her grow up from season to season is unlike anything we have ever experienced in a game. It is indisputable: Clementine is the coolest character in Telltale’s The Walking Dead.