Character Spotlight: Kenny
There are some people in The Walking Dead universe that you wish were a little less on the walking side, and more on the dead side. A lot of them were on your team – part of your group of survivors, and a lot of them did meet an unfortunate end. We knew it would happen, because that’s the way these things always go. Does anyone really make it through to see society rebuilt? Is it even possible to go back to the way things were? Then there are those that you hope will stick it out to the end – or to a glorious end. One of those people is Kenny – whether you like him or not, he’s there for the long haul and has been through so much that it would only be fitting to see him live long enough to go out in a blaze of glory.
Kenny is one of the first regular characters that you’ll meet in season one of The Walking Dead. Kenny, his wife Katjaa and their son Ken Jr. (Duck) are the epitome of a working class family and they have an interesting dynamic, if you happen to look close enough (or care…). Kenny is a commercial fisherman, paired up with Katjaa, who is a veterinarian. Sure, love may not know financial boundaries, but the two seem so different that it’s a wonder how they got hooked up in the first placed. Then there’s their son Duck, who for all intents and purposes might as well quack. He’s got his father’s brains (Hah!…aww, now I’m sad).
It had been mentioned that Katjaa didn’t exactly approve of Kenny’s choice of career and through various conversations the this is what we’re going to do because I say so kind of behaviour makes an appearance, turning a somewhat charming guy into right the asshole. It’s doubtful that Kenny was abusive, but through Katjaa’s expressions, likely that it’s something she’s familiar with.
As soon as you can say the words ambiguous moral choices, we’re faced with one. Shaun, the guy who helped us out of the city and to his father Hershel’s farm is trapped by a tractor that Duck happens to be the driver of. He’s stuck in a precarious situation, forcing you to choose to save Duck or Shaun and of course you’re saving Duck, he’s a little kid! Regardless of what you choose, Shaun dies, a death that stays on Kenny’s conscience for a long time.
Kenny is a family man, blood or otherwise. He’s the kind of guy that you’d want on your side, because if he is, he’ll do anything to keep you safe, even if that means doing something that gets him hated by his fellow survivors. When Larry croaked from a heart-attack in the meat locker at the dairy farm, Kenny knew what had to be done even if Lee and Lily didn’t want to. Sure enough, whether you did or didn’t do what needed to be done, Kenny was right. Sure, it was a shitty, asshole thing to do, but at the end of the day, it was the thing that kept them all alive.
As a family man, it’s as if Kenny has the most to lose and the game sets the player up for his downfall pretty well. It’s almost too good to be true, in kind of a Rick Grimes (from the TV show adaptation). Against all odds, his family is still there and still cares for him, even when the rest of society crumbles. What are the odds of that? What are the odds of more than one person in your family surviving this thing not just for a few days, but a few months? A few close calls were alluded to through some conversations, but the three of them came through pretty much (physically) no worse off. It’s almost as if these people are invincible.
That is until the inevitable happens.
After the siege on the Motor Inn by bandits (and then walkers), Duck was bitten. The rest of Episode 3 plays out like an all-too-effective after-school special on the stages of grief. Kenny is reluctant to accept the fact that Duck is going to die or was even sick, or bitten at all. After a certain point, Katjaa turns to Lee to talk some sense into him, but Kenny was still committed to the idea that Duck would be okay. He fights with you, bargains with how they’re actually going to do it, then finally accepts his son’s fate, all the while believing it was karma for Shaun Greene, come round to give him his.
There ain’t no way this world lets my son live when I helped put someone else’s in the ground.
The fact that The Walking Dead actually went there with the subject of us having to kill a kid in the worst way possible was rough enough, but nothing could have possibly prepared us for how rough it was actually going to be. Just when things seem to be going about as right as they could be, given the circumstance, Katjaa commits suicide instead of shooting Duck. In one fell swoop, the invincible family man lost everything. And we still have to deal with shooting Duck.
Even after the most catastrophic loss the team has faced, Kenny still marches on. He still had the rest of the survivors, and they still had a plan, even if it wasn’t the most original idea in the Big Book of Zombie Apocalypse Plans.
When Ben finally revealed that it had been him who had set in motion the events that caused the death of Katjaa and Duck (even though their deaths technically aren’t his fault), Kenny was rightfully furious. The two of them had grown close with Kenny’s mental breakdown while in Savannah and to know that a brother in arms had betrayed him so badly was not an easy pill to swallow. However the urge to kill isn’t exactly long-lived. If Ben survives the bell tower at Crawford, he tells Kenny straight up that he’s lucky to have been able to see his family at all, as Ben didn’t have a chance to see his – he didn’t even know if they were even alive. It didn’t make up for all of the fuck-ups that Ben was responsible for, but it definitely lent another dimension to his character, and it made Kenny realize that he wasn’t the only one to have lost everything.
When Clementine goes missing, what’s left of the survivors go after her (if you’re lucky enough to be in all of their good graces) and they stumble upon a couple that had taken their own lives. Kenny is disappointed, angry at himself for not being the man he should have been. He states basically that he was so far removed mentally and emotionally from what was actually happening with Duck that he wasn’t there for Katjaa when she needed him most.
You don’t just give up. You stick it out and help the folks you care about.
Not minutes later, Ben dies (if he hadn’t already) and players were left with the impression that Kenny did too, sticking around long enough to help the ones that he cared about. It could be said that Kenny finally realized how selfish he had been and took the last moments he may have had on this earth to give peace to someone else. He knew that Ben’s one fear was dying alone at the hands of walkers and didn’t want his brother in arms to go down like that.
What actually happened in the alleyway is up for discussion, but what matters is that with two shots fired, as Lee we see neither Ben or Kenny ever again. The stock of Kleenex probably rose significantly that week.
Spoilers for season 2 ahead!
When Kenny shows up at the ski lodge in the second season, it is definitely a surprise. Of all the people we expected to see, Kenny was pretty low on the list. He laments to Clementine that he half-expected to see Lee right next to her, more wishful thinking on his part. With a new lady, Sorita, at his side, he seems tougher and more wizened to the way the world works now (or maybe he always was, and it was us who were living in the past?) This puts him at odds yet again with the new survivors that Clementine has grouped up with.
He’s still hurt though – as Sorita comments to Clementine that she had found him in “a dark place,” that she had dragged him out of, but he’s still not the same man he used to be. He also made the critical mistake of calling Clementine by the wrong name, which was painful for pretty much everyone.
Despite his instant clash with Clementine’s new friends, he still is a man that is looking out for the good of the group, even if that happens to get him into trouble. When up against Carver’s group, he almost gets himself killed and winds up in a coma after having his face bashed in. When it’s feared that he might not make it, the group debates leaving him behind (there was really no debate – would you leave him behind?!). However despite all odds, the guy wakes up from his little coma and not only pulls through, beats the living shit out of Carver, possibly killing him!
You can’t help but want to see Kenny through to the end of this. Or as mentioned earlier, live long enough to go out in a blaze of glory. To find redemption for letting himself lose everything.