The Emotional Pull

How can one character grip such a wide range of people? What is it about Clementine that keeps us trudging through such a tragic tale? Perhaps we just want to believe that good prevails. “Clementine is meant to represent innocence and purity,” Sakai says. “She embodies the main character’s desire to protect and preserve what is good about humanity.” 

But it goes deeper than that. We’re watching an eight-year-old girl lose her innocence and experience the darker side of the world through gruesome deaths. The fantasy of happy endings is destroyed for her as she realizes in Episode 4 she may never return to school. Her wardrobe also changes to further enforce her vanishing naivety, “At the beginning she is wearing a sweet clean summer dress, but as the game progresses, her dress becomes dirty and bloody, and reflects her loss of innocence and Lee’s inability to shelter her from their grim reality,” Sakai says. 

The Infamous Haircut

Episode 3 was by far the most shocking in the death department, but one other big event happened: Clementine’s precious hair got chopped. Vanaman knew it was a big move and was doubtful if people would get behind it, but he knew it fit well in the storyline. Lee had just seen a child die and Vanaman wanted the realization to sting that it could have been Clementine. He made a list of everything about Clementine he thought was a liability - like the fact that she couldn’t shoot a gun – but then realized another big one existed: zombies grabbed her hair in the past. Once he approached Sakai about it, Vanaman was surprised by just how much he liked her new look, “I liked her silhouette more – you saw her face; it wasn’t just this mop anymore,” he says.

This humanization of the story draws people in. “So much of the greater story is about families, parents, and kids. That stuff is really powerful,” Vanaman says. “If we execute on that honestly then you’re going to hopefully connect.” Clementine’s desire to see her parents and faith that they’re alive even while people around her are dying showcases this childhood optimism. “Even if the players don’t have a daughter of their own,” Sakai says, “they can identify with Clementine’s fear of never seeing her parents again.”

From the beginning no character’s fate has been guaranteed, which is part of what Vanaman admires about the unsettling tale. “That’s what the story does in The Walking Dead, you have to be afraid of it,” he says. Keeping players invested in Clementine has always centered on her safety, but because of the precedents Kirkman set in The Walking Dead comics, the door is open to torture players with Clementine’s life. “Kids are treated just like adults in the narrative. Kirkman...he will kill a kid in an instant [without hesitation],” Vanaman says. 

The emotional toll of the unpredictable narrative has certainly tested Hutchison. “I can actually say that this is the first job in my voice-over career that has actually brought me to actual, physical tears,” she says.

Attached Fans

Clementine quickly became the star of The Walking Dead, and ever since she’s been showered with fanfare. Right now, Telltale has a #ForClementine hashtag on Twitter where fans express just how far they’d go for her. Telltale has seen it all, from Clementine cosplayers to beautiful fan art all in the name of one little girl. The reaction is something Vanaman wasn’t quite prepared for, but he’s happy with the result. “The fact that people care about Clementine is invaluable.” Fans are so passionate and emotionally-invested that they often react to her like she’s a real person. Hutchison says, “I have seen people get downright pissed at other characters in the game if they try to put Clementine in dangerous situations. It is awesome to see how protective people have become of her.” 

The response has forced Telltale to consider the question: Does having someone that people have taken such a liking to change the vision for the character? “No. It can’t. It’s a dark path.... It’s so tough,” Vanaman says. “You have to dance with the date that brought you. The game is doing well, so I don’t want to muck with the plan. I’m afraid to do that.” While Vanaman hasn’t changed any of his plans for Clementine, he did realize he had to make decisions about her with more care. He says, “You have to be a little bit more careful because people care so much.”

The team at Telltale is also very aware of how much Clementine dictates players’ choice. Vanaman spoke of data that confirms player’s decisions often change depending whether or not Clementine is in the scene. “That’s a pretty big power. You have to be judicious, and with great power comes great responsibility,” Vanaman says. Clementine only enters the mix for weighty decisions, but it’s never done to try and force the player’s hand. He says, “You can’t be cavalier about it, otherwise you guys will totally stop trusting us and see right through us.” 

The fans aren’t the only ones getting attached to Clementine. Hutchison even confesses to having a strong connection with her, especially since this is longer than she usually gets to spend voicing a character. “She has become my own, my love, my precious,” she says. “I too have become very protective of her.”

A Ray of Light in Video Game Writing

From the moment Clementine stepped on the screen, she pulled us into her world. We’ve watched her grow, cheering her on as she finds herself, fearing we won’t always be a part of her life. Few characters provoke such an investment, but Clementine broke through the slew of generic characters on our screens, providing something deeper for players. Like a voice of morality, Clementine has been with us all along, trying to prove good can overcome even the most vicious circumstances.

“She is like this little light of innocence and hope in a world of doom and despair,” Hutchison says. Not many characters have -ignited the type of emotions that Clementine has for many, and that’s a testament to everything that went into her creation. As Sakai says, “I strongly believe it is the amalgamation of writing, voice acting, acting/animation, and the art working together that brings out her appeal. If any one of those areas fell short she would be off-putting to the player.”