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Screenshot from The Walking Dead
Kenny pinning Jane on the ground and trying to stab her with a knife

Kenny or Jane?


Telltale's The Walking Dead has to be one of my favorite series of video games. I've got a soft spot for a good story, and one that I can interact with is just the icing on the cake.

Although I was sometimes disappointed by events that seemed to happen no matter what decision I chose, there's no denying that the game's ultimate decision - the one between Kenny and Jane - has a massive impact on how the story concludes.

In that vein, there's been a ton of heated debate over the decision. As the game's statistics show, people are split nearly in half. It's honestly quite incredible that Telltale has managed to craft the story in such a way so as to split people that evenly.

Walter the Wise

Before we talk about Kenny and Jane, let's talk about Walter. Remember him? He's that friendly dude from the ski resort who died way too soon. Yet in the short time we know him, he actually provides the basis for understanding the rest of the game - including Kenny and Jane! Just bear with me, okay?

Specifically, he has a really interesting conversation with Clementine after the awkward dinner at the ski resort:

They say the world is over, but I'll tell you a secret: it's not. People are more political now than they ever were before. In the end, we can't change the world. All we can do is continue to learn from each other: to empathize and use our heads. "All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal."

It's a strange little speech that seems to come out of nowhere, but it actually has a lot of meaning behind it. Let's focus on the two most important lines.

In the end, we can't change the world. All we can do is continue to learn from each other: to empathize and use our heads.

Walter's a realist. He knows we aren't all-powerful. We can't change the world. But he recognizes that we can work with what we have - with the people we have. Most importantly, Walter recognizes that we must empathize and use our heads. Sounds obvious, right? More on this later.

"All war is a symptom of man's failure as a thinking animal."

This here is a quote from John Steinbeck, and it illuminates the fact that nearly every interpersonal conflict in the game is the result of subpar decision-making, including the conflict between Kenny and Jane. More on that later.

Kenny the Old Friend

With Walter's words of wisdom in the back of our heads, let's start with Kenny.

Let's start by establishing Kenny's character. Kenny's been through a lot. In Season 1, he lost his wife and only child. We also learn that in the time between Season 1 and Season 2, Kenny spent a lot of time alone. According to Sarita, when she first found Kenny, he "couldn't lift a fly", implying that he was malnourished.

Sarita also tells us that Kenny, as of late, seems to be struggling with something. Literally a few seconds later, we see an odd interaction between Kenny and Sarita. Sarita intends to move a box of supplies, when Kenny intervenes. Despite Sarita's friendly reassurance that she can handle the box by herself, Kenny forcefully takes it from her, seemingly annoyed. It's a strange reaction.

Then, during dinner, Kenny raises up the topic of Wellington, speaking optimistically about its potential as a permanent home. When Nick shows some skepticism, Kenny reacts harshly, and the mood drops pretty fast.

That's when it happens. "Pass me that can, Duck."

And that's what Kenny's been struggling with. Kenny hasn't gotten over what happened in Season 1, and seeing Clementine - although a happy reunion on the surface - has wound up triggering some unpleasant memories.

It can also explain why Kenny forced himself to take the load off of Sarita, because he feels guilty over failing to protect and provide for his family back then. Thus, that guilt bled over into what should've been a normal, human interaction.

After dinner, we see another glimpse of Kenny's character. Kenny, Walter, and Clementine are walking the perimeter when they spot a woman peering through their windows.

Walter plays the nice guy, offering food for the woman and her family, while Kenny is a bit more skeptical. If we suggest to check the woman for weapons, Kenny quickly agrees.

I don't necessarily want to overanalyze this, because it's normal to be skeptical of a stranger doing some prying. I'll only say that it reinforces what we already understand: Kenny looks after his own.

Much more revealing is how Kenny reacts to Carver and his antics. Carver shows up with several people, all armed to the teeth, and takes nearly everyone hostage. Regardless of what we the players say or do, Kenny will take at least one shot at Carver's men. Rather than realizing that Carver's the one in control, Kenny beats the war drum, resulting in Walter's death. It's kind of ironic when you remember that Steinbeck quote.

Then, while being taken to Carver's base, Kenny jumps at the opportunity to try and escape. But what exactly is the plan? Carlos correctly points out that Carver and his men will be waiting for them on the other side of the doors. Kenny's plan?

I'm gonna punch the first sonuvabitch I see. Then I'm gonna take his gun and use it to shoot the NEXT sonuvabitch I see!

Don't get me wrong, I like Kenny's style, but...

Point is, Kenny gets angry under pressure. He gets impulsive. It's a destructive combination. That being said - to Kenny's credit - it's not an abnormal reaction to pressure.

On a more positive note, we again see Kenny's protective side when he takes the blame for the stolen radio, sparing Clementine from Carver's wrath.

So overall, I don't think Kenny is a bad person. He's protective of his own, and he's clearly willing to make sacrifices. Kenny's mortal flaw is his anger. When tensions flare, his impulsiveness starts to get the better of him.

And then we have...

Jane the Survivor

Our initial impression of Jane is simple: she's cold as ice. She talks little and avoids others.

She's an hardened survivor. We see how coldly she manipulates Troy and how calmly she makes her way through the horde. Not to mention her knowledge of the "cover-yourself-in-guts" and "cow-catcher" techniques. This girl knows her stuff.

I think Luke says it best:

Jane seems like the kind of person who gets tempered by hardship. You know?

The rest of Jane's character arc doesn't see that much development; rather, just explanation and background for how she became who she is. From a story standpoint, that makes sense: we get maybe half a season to learn about Jane before the big decision, whereas we get 2 entire seasons to learn about Kenny.

The most meaningful background we get is of Jane's (now deceased) little sister. Jane fought like hell to keep her alive, yet despite her best efforts, Jane found that her sister was simply unable to take care of herself. One day, after being cornered by walkers, Jane found herself unable to get her sister into gear, so she left her to her fate.

Thus, Jane's worldview is that you can't rely on others. If things are going downhill, you shouldn't let the group drag you down with them. Sometimes, it's better to be on your own.

Although we do see Jane warm up a bit to Clementine and the group later on, it's not by much, and she doesn't lose too much time mourning Luke's death despite getting a little "intimate" with him.

Although I do wish I could go on more about Jane, I think most of the more interesting analysis is going to be the contrast between her and Kenny, so let's get into that.

Kenny vs. Jane

One way I like to contrast Kenny and Jane is to think of them as competing role models for Clementine.

Kenny lost his son, so Clementine is like a daughter to him. He wants to protect her and take care of her. He wants to make it to Wellington for a shot at a better future in a stable community.

Jane lost her sister, so Clementine is like a sister to her. Jane wants Clementine to be strong and independent. Jane wants to see the kind of survivor in Clementine that she sees in herself.

By the time we have to make the decision between them, a lot has happened. Kenny's lost everything. He lost his wife and kid. He's lost Walter, Matthew, and now Sarita as well. Once again, Luke says it best:

But, when I look at Kenny now, he just... he just seems broken, and broken people get reckless.

This makes Kenny a bit of a flawed role model. The kind of anger and impulsiveness that Kenny emanates is not something Clementine should reflect.

Then again, Jane isn't perfect either. Her "survivor" attitude makes her strong, but she's also cold, manipulative, and Machiavellian.

She needlessly pressures Kenny during their ride in the truck, encourages Clementine to leave Kenny when they get the chance, and of course, the kicker: hides AJ and gets into a life-or-death confrontation with Kenny - all just to prove a point.

It's that last one especially that sets people off, and makes it seem like Jane is completely irredeemable instead of just being flawed. That's a conclusion that I have to reject, just as I would for Kenny. Let me explain.

Remember what Walter taught us: to empathize and use our heads. So let's do that. Let's put ourselves in Jane's shoes and realize what Kenny looks like to her.

Because we know Kenny. We've known him for 2 entire seasons. We know that, despite being flawed, Kenny's a decent guy at heart. Jane doesn't know that. Jane doesn't know Kenny. She's gotten to know Kenny for about the last third of a single season, when Kenny was at his worst - angry at the world and completely out of his element.

Jane doesn't know Kenny. That's why it's wrong for her to assume Kenny is totally nuts. It's also why it's wrong for us to assume that Jane is totally nuts. From Jane's perspective, she's gotta be the big sister to Clementine and get her to realize that Kenny is messed up in the head and will only create problems. Jane's reaction is born from cynicism and skepticism of a broken Kenny - not from evil.

The Right Choice

If you understand anything from this post, understand this: both Kenny and Jane are normal human beings who have been pushed to their limits. They are flawed people who have good sides and bad sides, good days and bad days. Neither is evil. Neither is irredeemable.

In the end, the anticlimactic truth is that it doesn't matter whether you pick Kenny or Jane. What matters, as Walter would say, is that you empathize and use your head.

Personally, that means leaving Clementine and AJ in the best position possible, with as many helping hands and as large a group as possible. For me, either one of the following endings would satisfy that:

  1. Clementine allowed Kenny to kill Jane, has travelled with Kenny to Wellington, and has stayed there with AJ.
  2. Clementine shot Kenny, has travelled with Jane back down South, and has accepted the wandering family into the group.

Just my $0.02