In 2020 Naughty Dog released what would become one of the most talked-about games of the year. It was such for a variety of reasons: the controversy surrounding its launch, the leaks from earlier in the year, and the narrative choices that the writers made, among a slew of others. Now, more than 2-1/2 years on from release, I decided to dive into The Last of Us Part II for the third time.
This will be a full examination of the entirety of the game, so be warned that massive spoilers lie past this point.
There’s a lot to take in and digest with this epic and it’s best to not rush it. So without further ado…
In the Beginning
The story picks up within a few months of where the previous game left off. Whilst Joel may have accepted Ellie as his daughter, it’s clear that something isn’t jiving between the two, and the feeling may not be mutual. So we see a conversation play out between the two in which Joel is trying to establish a father/daughter dynamic with Ellie. Having previously promised to teach Ellie the guitar, Joel shows her one that he found while out on patrol and proceeds to play the song “Future Days” by Pearl Jam, thus fulfilling his promise.
This is the point where Ellie understands how much she means to Joel. She realises that if Joel was to ever lose her, he would probably go back to what he used to be — a man with few moral lines left to cross. The extent of the bond this creates between the two is not fully realised by the player at the start of the game but it will become more evident as the game progresses.
The game cuts to four years later where we now play as a 19-year-old Ellie. Apart from some mild homophobia on the part of an older member of the community (as shown in a scene that also sheds further light on the fraught relationship between Joel and Ellie), we are led to believe that life in Jackson has been relatively safe and calm. We are also introduced to characters both new and old, notably Jesse and Dina. We find out from Maria that Tommy and Joel have already left for patrol (due to horde sightings) and that Jesse is to replace them, so Ellie is to join Dina on the creek trails.
Ellie and Dina make their way through the creek trails and ultimately end up sheltering from a blizzard in the library hideout created by a member of the Jackson community, since deceased. As the player, we’ve only known Dina for a couple of hours, but it feels like we’ve known her for years. The amount of trust she and Ellie share and the way they talk to each other show that their friendship has a long history. To top it all off, the writers chose to make her Ellie’s primary love interest. For anyone who didn’t have a reason to be invested in Dina, knowing how Ellie would be affected if something happened to her should give plenty of reason.
It is at this point that the game introduces us to its other protagonist, Abby Anderson. For the moment, we don’t know much about Abby, apart from the fact that she clearly has a history with another character named Owen and that the group that she is with is looking for someone within Jackson. After seeing what Jackson looks like, Owen wants to turn back to their hideout in a nearby abandoned mansion.
But Abby is determined to find their target, so she heads off toward a potential outpost building. On her way there she encounters an infected horde and gets caught in a vulnerable position that looks inevitably like the end of her. However, she is rescued by Joel and Tommy, who happen to be passing through that area. They escape the outpost and take Abby up on her offer of shelter at the mansion.
We briefly return to Ellie and Dina who get interrupted in the library by Jesse. He reveals that Joel and Tommy didn’t show up at the lookout where he was supposed to meet them. The game cuts back to Tommy, Joel, and Abby, and this is where the group’s true intentions are revealed. Once Tommy and Joel introduce themselves, Abby shoots Joel in the leg with a shotgun, and Tommy is knocked out. She then proceeds to have a tourniquet put on Joel’s leg before asking if he knows who she is.
The game returns to Ellie who is making her way into the mansion where she hears pained grunts coming from the basement. Upon entering the basement we see a nearly dead Joel being beaten by Abby with a golf club. Ellie is immediately wrestled to the ground and starts pleading with Joel for him to get up. Abby delivers the final blow and at this point, if you were anything like me, you wanted revenge (after all they did just kill Ellie’s father figure). Just as importantly, Ellie’s famous quote from the game’s first trailer rings back across the years:
“I’m going to find, and I’m going to kill, every last one of them”
For many people (myself included) killing Joel off in this manner felt cheap and it felt like it didn’t do his character justice. What I came to realise is that this is the world of The Last of Us, cruel and unforgiving, and not everyone goes out in a way befitting who they were. So for a character like Joel, whilst his death wasn’t what we wanted as fans of the series, it was a death that he would have expected for himself, his past deeds catching up to him. And for those who thought that it was unlike Joel to give his name out to complete strangers you’ve got to remember time changes people. Add in the fact he was living in a somewhat secure place and you’ve got a recipe for being less cautious and lowering your guard more often.
After returning to Jackson, Ellie finds out who the group was, and where they are based. She decides to go to Seattle, with Dina refusing to be left behind, beginning her quest to seek vengeance for Joel.
The next sections of the game take place across three days in Seattle, mapping out Ellie’s devolution into the revenge-obsessed monster she sought to destroy — Abby. It becomes apparent as events unfold that Abby and Ellie’s stories are fundamentally the same, just taken at different snapshots in time, with Ellie’s ending where Abby’s begins.
Seattle Day 1
The beginning of the story in Seattle finds Ellie and Dina in a semi-open-world area of downtown Seattle. You can find a music shop in this area, where Ellie can find a guitar in one of the rooms. She plays a tiny bit of “Future Days”, emphasising the idea that she is going to use it to keep a connection to Joel. Ellie then reminds Dina of a time in Jackson by playing “Take On Me” by the 80s band A-ha.
Given Naughty Dog’s insane attention to detail it would be safe to say that like “Future Days”, this song foreshadows the outcome of our characters, with the line “I’ll be gone in a day or two,” putting a point on the idea that by the end of their time in Seattle, Ellie will be a shadow of her former self.
We see this slow transition of Ellie begin when she and Dina are looking for Leah (a member of the Salt Lake crew who went to kill Joel) at the TV station. Unfortunately for them, they arrive too late finding that an unknown group has already been there and killed Leah. They do find useful information in Leah’s belongings, though Ellie makes it quite clear that she wanted to talk to Leah herself.
Well… she’s dead. How do you feel?
I’m pissed we couldn’t talk to her.
Yeah, but she didn’t hurt Joel. It would have been pretty fucked up to make her talk.
She travelled hundreds of miles to torture him. I don’t care if she held the club or not.
It’s clear to the player that Ellie would have tortured Leah, if she was alive and Dina wasn’t present — due to Dina acting as the voice of reason in their relationship. Only a couple of hours earlier at the Serevena Hotel, the thought of torturing someone for information seemed absent from her mind — Ellie is clearly beginning to change.
Dina and Ellie get chased out of the TV station by Leah’s fellow Washington Liberation Front (WLF) soldiers and into the abandoned subways of Seattle. Here we are introduced to a new type of infected — Shamblers. More importantly, Ellie’s mask breaks leading Dina to offer to share her mask and Ellie refusing, as she is immune. Dina is obviously overwhelmed by this information, so after being chased by a horde they decide to camp out in a theatre just outside of the subway station. This is where we learn that Dina is also pregnant, which creates parallels between Dina and a member of Abby’s group, Mel.
Whilst this may seem like the game is turning into a teen drama, it does create an interesting problem for Ellie. Her partner is in a compromised health condition, in an unsafe city. In the end, it’s Dina who tells Ellie to keep at it, showing us that whilst Dina may not fully know the pain Ellie is in, she understands that it’s what Ellie wants to do.
Ellie finds a guitar whilst checking the theatre, then sits down and begins to play “Future Days” again. This results in her having a flashback of when Joel took her to the Wyoming museum for her 15th birthday. The scene opens with Ellie learning to play the song, waiting for Joel to return from whatever surprise he has in store for her. This is Naughty Dog really hammering home to the player that this song is what defines the relationship between these two characters.
The flashbacks in this game explore the best of times and the worst of times for Joel and Ellie's relationship and this particular one could very much be described as the best of times. In it we see Joel allowing Ellie to live out her dream of becoming an astronaut by taking her to the space exhibit at the museum and giving her a tape of the Apollo 11 launch, an item that is not easy to come by.
This scene is in the same vein as the arcade scene in The Last of Us: Left Behind DLC. There is hardly any audio apart from the tape, and all the emotions and conversations between characters are displayed through facial animations. It is a simple but effective scene, showing the true depth of the relationship that they share. This scene will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the most moving scenes in the game, and perhaps in the whole of PlayStation’s catalogue.
The flashback continues into an unexplored part of the museum where we are shown the outcome of Joel’s decision in the previous game. We are left with a sour taste in our mouths as Ellie wakes up in the theatre.
Seattle Day 2
The next morning, Dina and Ellie find out over the radio that an armed trespasser has been spotted in a nearby area. Presuming this trespasser is Tommy, they make ready to set off in search of him, but Dina is forced to stay at the theatre due to her rapidly deteriorating physical condition. Once Ellie has powered her way through the infected and WLF soldiers to reach the trespasser, she finds it isn’t Tommy at all, it’s Jesse. In a sequence reminiscent of Uncharted, she and Jesse escape the area and return to the theatre. Jesse and Dina reunite, with Ellie feeling slightly awkward given that the father of her girlfriend’s surprise baby has shown up. She goes for a walk around the theatre, which triggers another flashback.
Ellie has always suspected that Joel wasn’t telling the full truth she has kept that to herself — as she knows what she means to Joel. By constantly burying those thoughts Ellie appears vacant when talking to Joel and this is clearly affecting their relationship. It’s also shown that Joel could be overly protective and wants to keep her immunity secret. Joel is afraid of losing her, though this is actively pushing her away from him, with Ellie’s absent nature further increasing Joel's behaviour.
However, this flashback does imply that Joel is willing to let Ellie have more freedom and that if she thinks she is ready for something (in this case paired patrols) she can do it. It shows that Joel has taken an interest in some of Ellie’s interests (the savage starlight comics), and whilst this was shown in the previous flashback with the tape recording it emphasises Joel’s want to make this Father-Daughter relationship work. Like the previous flashback, this one brings it back to Joel’s choice and what he said to Ellie about the number of immune individuals.
This flashback is also the first time we see Ellie’s tattoo, of a moth on a fern leaf, the same moth that’s on Ellie’s guitar. The moth motif represents her desire to look for the light — linking her back to the Fireflies, but it also represents Ellie’s obsession with fulfilling revenge.
Back at the theatre, Ellie and Dina find out that Nora (a member of the group who killed Joel) is stationed at St Mary’s Hospital. Ellie is still hell-bent on revenge, so much so that she doesn’t do the sensible thing in waiting for Jesse to wake up. She instead decides that she needs to go by herself and ask Nora where Abby is — backing up the symbolism of the moth representing her obsession. We also see Dina’s attitude toward revenge changing as she starts to see how it’s affecting Ellie.
Ellie arrives at the hospital and sneaks her way into a room with a WLF soldier playing on a PS Vita. After holding her at knifepoint and asking where Nora is, Ellie stabs her in the neck in a scene that made me positively sick, then makes her way through the hospital to find Nora. Upon finding her, Nora initially tries to appeal to Ellie’s humanity, ultimately turning that appeal on its head when Ellie doesn’t follow.
You still hear his screams?
I hear them every night… Yeah. Yeah, that little bitch got what he deserved.
Ellie chases Nora through the hospital and into the basement where there are spores. Nora realises that Ellie is ‘her’ and still tries to appeal to Ellie, asking her to think about what he’s done. Ellie however does not care and continues to ask Nora where Abby is. She refuses, making the argument that she’s already dead, why would she give up her friend’s location? The next words Ellie speaks mark a defining moment in who she is and it demonstrates a clear departure from the person that arrived in Seattle a day earlier.
Because I can make it quick. Or I can make it so much worse.
The game then makes you, the player, torture Nora, by repeatedly hitting her with the metal pipe. Ellie making Nora talk is an action, that we as players have to deal with because the game makes us do it. We can’t opt out of it and choose to skip the cutscene — we have to go through with what Ellie wants to do. Not only does this take a toll on Ellie, but by forcing the player’s hand into being part of such a traumatic event, it’s going to take a toll on them as well. This particular scene was a major talking point in the discussion about the level of violence and why people disliked the game.
When we see Ellie again at the theatre she is covered in Nora’s blood and visibly distressed over her actions. She succeeded in making Nora talk, but at what cost? Dina being the loving partner cleans Ellie up and tries to comfort her. It’s here that we see the physical tolls this is taking on Ellie: the cuts, the bruises, and the tightness of the skin. From this, we can assume that she’s not drinking, eating or sleeping, all things that will quicken the decline of her mental state.
In the final flashback with Ellie, we are at the hospital in Salt Lake City. Whilst Ellie has always suspected that Joel wasn’t telling the truth she was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt for the sake of their relationship. But it has gotten to the point where she can’t deal with Joel’s lies anymore and she goes to find out the truth.
Ellie gives Joel an ultimatum:
Tell me… what happened here. If you lie to me one more time, I’m gone. You will never see me again. But if you tell me the truth, I’ll go back to Jackson. No matter what it is.
You can tell from Joel’s facial expressions in this scene that he doesn’t want to tell her, that in fact, her immunity meant something. But he knows what he’s got to do to keep Ellie, and so he tells her the truth, causing her to have a breakdown, telling Joel that she’ll go back but they are done. So evidently between then and when the game takes place something happened that caused Ellie to change her mind and let Joel come back into her life.
Seattle Day 3
As Day 3 in Seattle begins, we see Ellie is allowing her thirst for revenge to make decisions on what’s more important, going after Abby or getting Tommy. Ellie decides that Tommy can take care of himself, whilst Jesse decides that they should go after Tommy. By doing this Ellie is putting Jesse and Tommy in more danger than they should be, all in the name of revenge.
Ellie arrives at the aquarium and finds that Abby isn’t there but she does find two of Abby’s friends, Mel and Owen. She decides to use them against each other to get them to tell her where Abby is. Ellie lets her emotions get in the way and ends up killing them. Ellie learns from Owen just as he’s about to die that Mel was pregnant, which causes deep distress for Ellie as she tries to reconcile this horrific act with Dina’s pregnancy. Ellie starts to have a panic attack before Tommy and Jesse walk into the aquarium and find her.
At the theatre, the group makes the collective decision to head back to Jackson for the sake of Dina’s health. By this point, Ellie has completed her transition to becoming more of a monster than some of the actual monsters within the game. We see that she has become obsessed with revenge to the point where everyone around her questions if that revenge is worth it. Most importantly, it is the player who should be questioning if the cost of the revenge is worth the reward.
Ellie and Jesse hear some muffled shouting coming from the foyer, rushing out only for Jesse to be shot and killed and Ellie to see Tommy being held on the floor by Abby. Ellie explains that she knows why Abby killed Joel and that it was only done to protect her. Ellie offers herself and begs Abby to spare Tommy. The first half of the game ends with these words from Abby:
“You killed my friends. We let you live and you wasted it!”
In perhaps one of the most consequential cliffhangers in gaming memory, players are left wondering what has happened to Tommy and Ellie. And with what many consider to be a jarring and unwelcome switch, players are launched into Abby’s campaign to play for another dozen or so hours.
Abby’s story begins just before the final events of the first game. Abby is a Firefly stationed at the Salt Lake hospital and her father Jerry Anderson is the main surgeon that is going to operate on Ellie. We see that for Jerry and Marlene, the thought of ending a person's life for the sake of humanity weighs heavily on their minds. But in the end, it’s Abby who convinces him, saying that if it was her, she would want him to do the operation.
Joel kills Jerry when saving Ellie, not only destroying the Fireflies’ hopes by taking Ellie but killing the only surgeon who could have created the vaccine. We see that like Ellie, Abby is distraught seeing her father lying dead on the floor in a pool of blood and is overcome by the need for revenge.
After killing Joel, we see that Abby was given the choice to kill Ellie and Tommy to dispose of the loose ends, but decided against that idea because as Owen put it, “we kill them, we are no better than he was”.
This is a truly momentous occasion in the history of video game narratives. It is here that Naughty Dog presents us with the challenge of playing as a character that, over the past 15 hours, they had asked us to hate. Not only do they make us play as Abby but also empathise with her.
As one reviewer of the game said, “there is no difficulty setting in the game or in life that makes forgiving someone easier”. That is why Naughty Dog places us in the position of having to replay those three days in Seattle, to learn that Abby is the protagonist in her own story and that she was in the same position as Ellie is now when she killed Joel. This is further emphasised by the developer’s use of parallels between the two protagonists. It shows us that they aren’t all that dissimilar despite how different they first seemed and what our biased consciousness is telling us.
Seattle Day 1
The game cuts to Abby waking up in the WLF (Washington Liberation Front, the group Abby and her friends are with) home base. Throughout this early section, we are introduced to a different side of the WLF than what we had been shown in Ellie's portion of the game. It shows us that they are a community that cares and looks out for each other. They provide for their community, with food, health care, education, safe shelter, and most importantly a place where people can escape from the horrors that exist in the world.
Some time passes and after an ambush by a group of Seraphites (a religious cult that has sprung up in the wake of the pandemic), Abby arrives at the WLF forward base to find out that Owen shot Danny (a WLF soldier), “to protect some scar”. So with the help of group member Manny, she heads off toward the aquarium where Owen is known to be hiding.
Whilst Abby is en route she gets ambushed by a group of Seraphites, and this is where we begin to see a change in her character. Two Seraphites (also known as “Scars”)bring in Yara, an Asian woman that they feel, for an unknown reason, is an apostate to their religion. We see them break one of her arms with a hammer before arrows come flying in to kill the Scars. Another Asian person, identified as Lev, cuts Abby down and the three of them fight their way through a group of infected. Abby helps them find a safe place, sets Yara’s broken arm, then leaves to go to the aquarium.
Naughty Dog did something quite clever here by matching the thoughts and emotions of the player to that of Abby. We don’t quite know yet but we are beginning to have empathy for a group that we initially wanted to hate. That night Abby has a nightmare about Lev and Yara being killed and hung in the operating theatre where her father died, signifying she feels some familiarity with them and a duty to care for them.
The next morning she goes to find them in the shipping yard where she had them take refuge. She finds that Yara’s health is declining rapidly and decides to take them back to the aquarium, where they find a member of their group, Mel, who has greater medical training. Mel determines that Yara has compartment syndrome and will need surgery, so Lev and Abby set off for the hospital to get medical supplies.
Seattle Day 2
During this section, Abby bonds with Lev over her fear of heights and there is a clear change in Abby’s character. She’s beginning to accept people for who they are rather than what group they were born into. And whilst this doesn’t redeem Abby from her actions at the start of the game, it certainly shows that Abby is a person who is willing to change. Upon arriving at the hospital Abby is locked up by other members of the WLF because she has gone AWOL. She is freed by Nora who tells her the only medical supplies are in the lower levels of the hospital, were the first infected were brought.
The little side stories in this game are interesting enough, but the one told at ground zero is harrowing. It tells a story of ignorance and a lack of understanding, of ordinary people struggling to come to terms with their fate, and it tells a story of Outbreak Day.
Abby retrieves the medical supplies and after fighting some infected she and Lev return to the aquarium. The operation goes smoothly and for the first time in a long time, Abby can sleep without having a nightmare. Instead, she sees a vision of her dad, alive in that operating theatre, and she is allowed to be happy.
Seattle Day 3
We wake up on day 3 to find that Lev has gone back to the Seraphite’s island to get his mother because Owen has offered to take them with him when he goes to find the Fireflies. Mel has a go at Abby claiming that she’s putting on this charade only so she can get closer to Owen, with whom Mel is already in a relationship.
Issacs’s top scar killer had a change of heart? Nothing to do with Owen, right?
Mel goes on to say that the best thing she could do is to get out of Yara and Lev’s lives. This riles Abby up, making her want to prove to Mel, and maybe herself, that this isn’t just a charade but that she’s actually changed and really does care for Lev and Yara. Even after discovering it is Tommy who is the trespasser reported on earlier, and after he kills Manny, Abby still doesn’t pursue him to avenge Manny. Instead, she continues to go to the island with Yara, in order to save Lev and hopefully their mother as well.
Once on the island, Abby and Yara have to fight their way through groups of Seraphites, as the WLF has begun an attack to finish the group off once and for all. They eventually find Lev at his home with his mother’s body. It turns out that when Lev arrived, his mother attacked him, and in self defence Lev pushed her, causing her to hit her head on a table and die from the impact.
Lev, Yara, and Abby are making their way to Haven (a city on the other side of the island) to get a boat and to return to Seattle. But they are caught by Isaac, the leader of the WLF, who is intent on punishing Abby for deserting his forces. Yara is shot and Isaac threatens to shoot Abby to get to Lev. Just as Isaac is about to shoot her, Yara kills Isaac, giving Lev and Abby time to run away. Yara is riddled with bullets by WLF soldiers, dying as Abby and Lev make their escape.
Whilst Isaac didn’t get as much screen time as he deserved he represented the side of the WLF that we saw whilst playing as Ellie. He shows the WLF as this group who’ll do anything they need to do to get their own way, even if that means killing their own. This is a shared trait that all WLF members have, including Abby and Owen, only they have used their training and skills to save Seraphites rather than kill them.
It’s at this point where Abby has come to the same conclusion as Owen: she is done with the WLF and everything they stand for. She’s realised that maybe she needs to start looking for the light.
Those were your fucking people!
You’re my people
This exchange perfectly sums up Abby’s change of heart, as she’s learnt not to associate herself with a particular group but instead with the people who she cares about. Abby and Lev leave Haven and return to the aquarium. Abby discovers Owen and Mel’s bodies, and Lev finds the map that Ellie left in the aquarium. Together, the two head off to the theatre with Abby in a revenge-filled rage.
The dual protagonist structure makes the game narrative so different from almost every other game. If like me you have grown to empathise with Abby it creates this interesting dilemma where you as the player realise you have committed those atrocities on yourself and you don’t quite know who to root for. It distances you from both characters, making you understand that in this world no one is just good or just evil. Instead, everyone feels they are justified, by the people around them, in what they are doing.
We are now back to where the timelines diverged in the first place. We have the altercation between Abby and Ellie where Jesse is killed, with Tommy taking an arrow to the knee and a shot to the head. We are left to assume he’s dead as Ellie runs out of the foyer and into the theatre being chased by Abby and Lev. The following fight is reminiscent of the fight against David in the first game.
As the player you realise how much of a monster Ellie has become — she is truly scary in this fight and on harder difficulties it can take upwards of 30 minutes. This fight is also really difficult emotionally, which is a credit to the writing team, as they have now been able to get players to empathize with, and maybe even care about, both characters to the point where we don’t want to see either of them get hurt anymore.
Abby ends up overpowering Ellie and starts to punch her, at which point she gets attacked by Dina with a knife. Abby takes the knife and is about to kill Dina. Ellie tells Abby she’s pregnant, to which Abby responds with an enraged “good”. At that moment Lev walks in, reminding Abby of who she is now and the changes she’s made. Abby pulls the knife away from Dina’s neck and leaves with Lev. Just like that, Abby has broken her cycle of violence, and her redemption arc is complete.
The next we see Ellie and Dina they are fulfilling Dina’s dream, living on a farm just outside of Jackson. Baby JJ has been born and all seems to be going well, the idyllic life of two people raising a family together. Dina asks Ellie to put the sheep in the barn and we see that all is definitely not right. One of the sheep knocks over a shovel sending Ellie into a panic attack. Ellie still hasn’t mentally recovered from Joel's death, and still has PTSD from it. Her journal provides further evidence of it, that this has happened multiple times before.
An unknown period of time passes before Tommy arrives at the farmhouse with news for Ellie. He’s heard from informants that a woman and kid fitting the description of Abby and Lev have been seen in the area of Santa Barbara, California. Tommy wants Ellie to go after them since he can no longer physically do it. Ellie refuses at first, knowing what she could potentially lose by going after her.
That night she can’t sleep and goes on a walk around the house closing windows. She plays a song on Joel’s guitar that reminds her of the dance in Jackson. During the dance Ellie and Dina kiss causing one of Jackson’s citizens to make a homophobic comment about Dina and Ellie. Joel steps in with good intentions but annoys Ellie, who believes he’s not allowing her to fight her own fights or make her own decisions about what she’s allowed to do.
The game cuts back to the farmhouse and we see that Ellie is packing to leave. Dina tries to convince Ellie to stay but at this point, Ellie isn’t doing it for revenge she’s doing it because she thinks she has to.
I have to finish it
You don’t owe Tommy anything
I don’t sleep, I don’t eat. I’m not like you Dina.
Dina tells Ellie she can’t go through it again, waiting around to find out if Ellie dies in her quest. With that Ellie walks away, leaving behind everyone she loves and cares about.
In Santa Barbara, we play as Abby for a bit and find out that she and Lev are looking for the Fireflies like Owen had wanted to do. They learn over the radio that the group is located on Catalina Island. As they leave, they are ambushed by a new faction, The Rattlers, and are taken to be put to work as slaves.
We return to play as Ellie, who finds out where Abby is being kept. After fighting through a group of Rattlers and working her way through the Catalina Island resort where Abby is being kept. She finds Abby hung up on a pole by the beach, alive but severely weakened. Ellie cuts her down, and Abby goes to rescue Lev, heading to the boats to make their escape. By this point in the game I’m tired, Ellie is tired and Abby and Lev are clearly exhausted. Still, Ellie follows them to the beach, where she tells Abby she won’t let them leave.
It’s obvious that even in the conditions they are all in, Ellie believes the only thing that will cure her PTSD is killing Abby.
Abby initially refuses to fight but once Ellie threatens Lev, she battles back against Ellie. During the fight, Abby bites off two of Ellie’s fingers, but Ellie gets the upper hand and pushes Abby’s head beneath the waves. Just as she’s about to drown Abby, she flashes back to the last moments she ever shared with Joel in Jackson, and finally understands that he wouldn’t want her to do this. Ellie relents at the last moment, letting Abby and Lev escape on the boat, breaking the cycle of violence.
Ellie returns to the farm to find it empty, and sadly Ellie doesn’t seem all that surprised. Her wounds have healed, and she is wearing Dina’s friendship bracelet. Once in the farmhouse, Ellie finds her belongings stacked together in an upstairs room, and tries to play Future Days one more time on her guitar. Her two missing fingers prevent her from doing so, and the picture of all that she has lost is finally complete. One last time, she flashes back to her last conversation with Joel.
In this final flashback, the night before he died, we see Ellie have a go at Joel for constantly getting in her way and not allowing her to fight her own fights. Most importantly she has a go at him for pulling her out of the hospital.
I was supposed to die in that hospital. My life would have fucking mattered. But you took that from me.
If somehow the lord gave me a second chance at that moment I would do it all over again
Yeah. I just… I don’t think I can ever forgive you for that. But I would like to try.
I’d like that.
Joel and Ellie’s last conversation, explains most of Ellie’s behaviour in this game. Joel died knowing that Ellie wanted to forgive her, but Ellie never got to forgive Joel because, like most things in her life, it was taken away from her.
After the flashback we see Ellie put Joel’s guitar down and walk off into the distance, signifying that Ellie is putting her past behind her and moving on. Where to? Nobody knows. The ending of this game is more ambiguous than the first. The credits roll and we get a rendition of Wayfaring Stranger by Joel and Ellie, signifying that maybe Ellie has gone off into the wilderness to find herself and to complete her redemption arc.
There are many recurring messages within this game, from the moth motif to the foreshadowing of Ellie’s fate, and the cycle of violence. We see the moth as this creature that’s constantly looking for the light, it’s obsessed with it, to the point where it’s prepared to die for it. As the player, we can easily interchange that moth for Ellie, as she became so obsessed with revenge that it took her over and cost her everything.
Both songs that feature in the game, Future Days and Take On Me, foreshadow that our protagonist will be a shadow of their former self by the end of the journey.
The most important, most elementary messages the game tries to get across are about the effects of trauma, revenge, and the cycle of violence. In an interview with Games Radar, co-writer Halley Gross discussed the effects of PTSD on a character like Ellie, and how, as I mentioned earlier, she isn’t doing it because she wants to but because she feels she has to, she feels it’s the only thing that will help her. This game strives to give an authentic depiction of what PTSD will do to a person; we see this firsthand as the game progresses and we explore Ellie’s declining mental state.
This brings me to the final two messages; as players we know these things are bad but the game doesn’t tell us outright, it shows us through gameplay. The Last of Us Part II and ‘fun’ don’t belong in the same sentence; the violence in this game is visceral and heavy, every gunshot and melee attack made to feel purposeful. In a traditional game that would make for fun combat but when you combine that with enemies calling out their friend’s name when they are found dead or enemies begging for mercy, it makes for combat that is tiring. By the end of the game, it feels repetitive and takes a toll on you as the player — the same toll that it’s taking on Ellie — thus getting us to feel first-hand the negative effects of revenge.
When looking at the game as a whole, you realise that this masochistic approach to realism makes for an emotional rollercoaster of a game with a story that just doesn’t let up — one that will ruin the rest of my weekend every time I finish it. You could definitely make the argument that a couple of hours of depressing videos would do the same trick, but where’s the fun in that? By doing that you won’t get to experience one of 2020s most well-crafted narratives. One that tells a story built off the most basic of concepts, that leverages the fact that it’s a video game, to show us these new concepts with a whole new level of detail.
So is the game depressing? Yes. Is it very depressing? Also, yes. But is it so depressing that the narrative is drowned out? Not at all. Rising above all the noise, all the controversy is a story that should be played for the messages it delivers, even if you don’t play it for the game that those messages exist within.
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