FNTASTIC’s ‘Propnight’ is a Refreshingly Lighthearted Take on Asymmetrical Horror

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Lee and Clementine may be the de-facto leads of Telltale’s episodic series, but it’s Kenny’s story that has always stayed with me the most.

At a casual glance, Kenny is portrayed as a stereotypical Florida hick. Fiercely protective of what’s his, quick to anger, and capable of selfish, stupid acts. As his story progresses, however, he shows he’s always trying to do right by those he’s loyal to, and there’s nary a more committed man in the post-apocalypse when he’s got something to focus on.

Make no mistake, Kenny isn’t exactly likable, and any empathy you have for the various tragedies that befall him is often undone by another of his aggressive outbursts, but as a character in Robert Kirkman’s Walking Dead world? He’s arguably one of its best.

When we first meet Kenny, he’s showing the more welcoming family man side.  At the farm of Hershel Greene (before Rick Grimes shows up) he has a place and a purpose in protecting his wife Katjaa, and his son, Duck (a nickname because of the way constantly talks). When Lee and Clementine first meet Kenny and his family, there’s something to relate to in Kenny’s eyes. Another man out there protecting someone he feels needs to be. It’s what follows this introduction that the abrupt exit from Hershel’s farm. 

Duck does that frustrating, yet understandable thing that kids often do and gets overstimulated and causes an accident. In the world of The Walking Dead, these are less character-building lessons, and more deadly punishment for sloppy behavior. Duck’s faux pas on a tractor sees Hershel’s son Sean caught up in its wheel as a walker draws perilously close. A choice presents itself, probably the first real ‘oh God, this isn’t going to end well’ choice in the entire series, and while Duck survives and Sean perishes regardless, the decision impacts both Lee and Kenny in a way that doesn’t exactly endear them to an already surly Hershel. It also shows the first dent in Kenny’s emotional armor. He feels guilt and shame for what happened, but that stubborn defiance of his ultimately saved his child and kept him focused.

So Lee, Clem, Kenny, Kaatja, and Duck head to Macon, Georgia. Lee’s hometown. Kenny’s abrasive nature starts to become more apparent after the group takes shelter in a pharmacy, where they meet another party. One that includes someone who could make anyone else seem positively lovable. That person is an Old Age Pain in the Ass known as Larry.

Larry, the grumpy fucker that he is, decides that because Duck is covered in blood he must be bit, and that he should be booted out the door and into the eager rotting arms of the undead. Kenny, being the cool-headed fellow he is goes off at the suggestion and asks Lee to back him up. It’s honestly one of the easiest decisions in the game for me because Larry is such a massive prick. If you do decide to question Kenny though? Oof. The hurt in that man’s eyes shows you just how you don’t wanna be on his bad side. Kenny takes pride in what he does, and having his trust rebuffed damages him.

Season One is Kenny’s most prominent run in the four-season series, and Telltale put that man through the wringer there. The highs are short-lived. He forms part of the leadership of the group with Lee after the unseemly events in Macon, and clearly revels in it, and when he gets nasty in episode two, it’s entirely justified (if somewhat hypocritical given his Duck defense) as he bludgeons the fresh corspe of Larry (who suffers a heart attack) with a salt lick block after the group is trapped in a meat locker by a family of cannibals.

Kenny flits between loyal family man and abrasive shithead in those opening episodes, but he does not deserve the one-two punch that hits him when Duck gets bit, and after either he or Lee put the poor kid out of his misery in one of the most emotionally devastating moments in games, Katjaa kills herself in grief, Kenny is left without purpose, without focus, and given what we know about him at this point he’s a real concern because of that.

Yet Telltale isn’t done punishing the man by a long stretch. Before Season One is done, Kenny regains some hope in the search for a boat, but is crestfallen when things go South. Then, after everything, Lee gets infected, and the situation ends up with Clementine isolated from the remaining group members and forced to see her surrogate father die in front of her eyes, and Kenny shamefully slinks off to safety. Before that though, if Lee has been supportive of Kenny, he does help as much as he can when Clem goes missing. Even when it’s clear Lee hasn’t always supported Kenny, the Florida man points out he was there when it mattered most and that it would be hypocritical to abandon Lee in his hour of need. A man of stubborn pride Kenny may be, but he’s also a man of principles.

Season Two, for me, is where Kenny really grows as a character, because, by the time he’s reunited with a slightly older Clementine, he’s already so full of bitterness, anger, regret, remorse, and sadness, it really showcases just how torturous time has been to him.

Faced with his past, he once again strives for purpose and redemption, and whatever way you cut it, he ends up blighted by the events of that season. He’s not the same man he once was, and he has evolved from being quick to anger to being quick to commit violent acts for the safety of those he deems worthwhile. He’s got a kernel of the man he once was still lodged in his soul, but the world is trying its hardest to make him cough it up.

It’s here that the tragedy of Kenny’s story bears its rotted fruit. Either he can die by Clementine’s hand in Season Two’s nerve-jangling finale because she and the player suspect the worse about a climactic fracas, or he lives to murder another human being, but has one more shot at redeeming himself.

Kenny surviving the events of Season Two have always been canon to me. So it proves especially heartbreaking that his fate is left ambiguous in later seasons if he makes a noble sacrifice for Clem’s future, or finds himself subjected to the undignified death of being eaten alive in the aftermath of a car crash. That latter conclusion to his story is what I got the first time I played through the series and while it felt heartbreaking to lose him like that after all the madness of the previous seasons, I had the sense he finally found his peace. By saving Clem and the infant A.J. he had finally redeemed himself. At least as much as you could in a world like that. Whatever way he goes out from there is made a little more palatable knowing that.

Kenny is no Negan or even The Governor. He’s a man with flaws who has done unspeakable things to nullify the ongoing torture that exists in his mind from the guilt he’s accumulated from a string of tragic events, but he’s not a monster by the standards set in this world. Of course, that guilt only grows with every bad decision, and in the timeline where he sullenly tells Clementine to just shoot him for his overzealous transgressions, you see just how clearly he sees those flaws.

In the world of The Walking Dead, be it the TV shows, the comics, the novels, or the games, there’s almost never been such a captivating character whose journey I have been so invested in as I was with Kenny. It brings up a fascinating idea. I may have wanted Kenny to survive another day, to redeem himself fully and see out the series alive, but in some odd meta way, he’s consistently begging me to let him go, to end his suffering. He may not turn to the camera and say as much, but I felt it in every hangdog expression and every wounded gaze as one simple Florida man continued to live through tragedy after tragedy.

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