The first season of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead adventure game was full of difficult decisions, but I felt that was mitigated by the fact that, as Lee, the decisions were centered around always protecting Clementine. Not only are players supposed to want to her safe, but to some degree a balance of humanity and survival was mixed in. For my playthrough of the game, this created a forward momentum that made sure that I never looked back. I never doubted my choices. Heck, after getting bitten by a zombie, I had Lee hack off his own arm in hopes that would save him. I did it and didn’t doubt the importance of the decision. It had to give me just a little bit more time to save Clem. After finishing the game, I learned that it wouldn’t have mattered one way or another. Decisions didn’t have as much weight as you might think. I wish I could say the same for the second season. As Clementine, the decisions are a lot more difficult. Somehow a lot more adult.
It goes without saying that there are spoilers ahead.
I shot Kenny.
Clementine’s journey in the second season is filled with difficult decision after difficult decision. Like the previous game, sometimes the decisions didn’t matter. Someone would act up, usually not listening to you, and others would suffer the consequences. The biggest movers and shakers in the group seem to be Kenny and Jane. Kenny developed a darkness after surviving the first season, and that darkness drove violence and other erratic behavior. But there’s kindness in his heart for Clementine and the baby he helped to name, Alvin, Jr. Jane, meanwhile, has been a loner and makes decisions based on what she feels like doing. But she wants Clementine to be safe.
It was a surprise to end the season in a car with both of them. Both of them didn’t give Clementine a say in how to move forward. It was like being stuck in a car with a violent father (not violent toward you but violent to anyone around you) and a sister who tried too hard to be cool while she in fact was scared out of her mind. It comes to a head in a snowstorm. Jane tells Kenny that she accidentally killed the baby, and Kenny lunges for her. They fight, and there’s a moment where Kenny has Jane’s knife to her chest. A decision appears on screen: shoot Kenny or look away.
I shot Kenny.
It’s terrible to say, but I was waiting for a moment to be done with him. His heart was in the right place, but the papa bear routine was not right for Clementine to be around. Not to mention Alvin, Jr. At that point, with the baby out of the picture, it felt like the right time to remove a lot of unnecessary weight.
In thinking about this, it reminds me of a horrible decision I made in the beginning of Season 2. There was a dog I encountered and with which I shared a can of beans. When I refused to give the dog more, it bit me. I fought it off of me, and it ended up in a position in which it would slowly die. (I can’t remember what exactly happened, but I’m pretty sure I accidentally knocked it on something that impaled it.) I had the choice to kill it and end its suffering or to leave it be, to a slow death. I chose the latter choice at the time because I couldn’t bring myself to be even more responsible for its death. The idea of a mercy kill didn’t cross my mind.
But I shot Kenny.
Kenny was suffering. He was a dog who bit Clementine a few times over the past couple of episodes. He was suffering and dragging everyone down with him. So I shot him in order to end it all. It felt like the right thing to do. Heck, even Kenny agreed to it with his dying words. He knew he was a timebomb. He knew he was no good.
Then I heard the baby crying. Clementine finds that the baby was placed in a car, and Jane admits that she lied about the baby’s dying in order to prove a point. She proved that Kenny was a dangerous monster. The game then gives another choice: forgive Jane or leave her. In my eyes, you do not abandon/endanger a baby just to prove a point. This is especially true if it becomes a fatal point, which Jane was expecting. Even though I didn’t want Clementine to be alone again, partnering up with another potential monster didn’t seem like the right thing to do.
The last shots of my game, my version of Clementine, show her nine days later with the baby in her arms. She comes across a horde of walkers and smears the baby and herself with the blood of a nearby downed walker. They’ll be effectively camouflaged, but it’s dangerous. It’s a powerful ending in that it shows how determined Clementine has become. But there’s a certain sadness and hopelessness to it. Did I do the right thing? Have I made Clementine someone who can never trust again? Is the baby safe with just me?
I later found out that there are five endings for the game. One of the more popular ones requires that players let Kenny put the knife through Jane and then choosing to go with Kenny. Kenny follows through on his promise to get Clementine and Alvie to Wellington, a place that few believed actually existed. Wellington is overpopulated and needs to turn people away, but Kenny pleads with them to take the children. It comes through, thanks to the writing and voice acting, that Kenny’s motivation for all of this is to get the kids to safety. Wellington agrees to let Clementine and Alvie in, and a final choice is offered: enter Wellington or go with Kenny. Kenny does all he can to convince Clementine and you, the player, that Wellington is the best choice. It’s a tough decision. After all, if players had that much faith in Kenny to go that far with him, why abandon him?
What I love about The Walking Dead games is that they give these hard decisions but do not judge the player one way or another. There’s no right or wrong, as this is not a black and white world. There are just choices, consequences, good intentions, and really erratic people. What really puts things into perspective is a flashback Clementine has after being shot. (You go through a lot in the game. Even if you do what you can to protect someone who ends up being taken prisoner, he shoots you. Because he’s angry. Because he’s grieving. Not too long before that, you shot his sister after she became a walker.) Clementine remembers a conversation she had with Lee during the events of the first season. He tells her that people have good intentions but sometimes make crazy decisions. The whole season is about people doing what they can to protect themselves and the people about whom they care most. Kenny is protecting Clementine and the baby. Jane is protecting Clementine and herself. Carver, who appears to be the big bad of the season until he is swiftly killed midway through, is trying to protect a community and an unborn child he believes is his.
My Clementine’s motivation is to protect the baby. After the baby is born, I found every decision made to be based on that kid’s well-being and happiness. I could have been hands-off with the baby, I could have distanced myself from it because it’s unlikely a kid like that would survive in a zombie-infested world. Truth be told, it’s probably because I’m a father that I decided to focus on saving the baby. I missed out on another version of the game that other people were playing, though. Other people apparently played a game in which they were saving Kenny from himself. Choosing to let Kenny kill Jane leads to an ending in which Clementine and Alvin, Jr., are delivered to safety, bringing Kenny some sort of absolution for his rage and repeated endangering of the group. I didn’t play that version of the game at all.
I shot Kenny. Without hesitation. I brought him another kind of absolution, and he thanked me. That’s my Clementine.