As I've already warned in part one, major spoilers inbound. Proceed with caution.
I don’t think I’ve ever been more depressed by a good ending than I have with The Last of Us. There was no more appropriate a way that I can think of that this game could have ended, and that’s what bums me out. In a world such as the one Ellie and Joel live in, happy endings are hard to come by, and unfortunately, their happy ending (“happy” as in they’re both alive) is built on a lie. My biggest fear in this game was that Ellie would die, and this almost happened. Surgically killing her was the only way for the Firefly doctors to fully study her immunity. Her death could have potentially saved humanity, and to be perfectly honest, like Joel, I wasn’t okay with this.
Joel took things to the extreme, though. In his mind, after 20 long, lonely years, he finally was reunited with the closest thing to a daughter he ever had after his own died in his arms. And despite the trauma she endured during the winter chapters, Ellie still cares for Joel and is still glad to be with him. But now that they’ve finally found the Fireflies and have reached the end of their long journey together, everything they’ve built is about to come crashing down, and Joel can’t handle this. Not again.
Learning that the only way to discover the secrets of Ellie’s immunity is to study her brain post-mortem sends Joel over the edge, and at the time, I was right there with him. I was rooting him on as he tortured the Firefly guard to find out Ellie’s location, and I felt his urgency as I gunned his way through dozens of paramilitary fighters to rescue the girl. As I entered the surgery room, I killed the doctor with no remorse, and my heart pounded with more fear and panic than at any infected encounter as I dodged bullets with Ellie in Joel’s arms. Finally, as he stepped out of the elevator and met face to face with the woman who reluctantly ordered Ellie’s death for the good of all mankind, I knew she would be the last person who would have to die. If it meant getting Ellie out of there alive, like Joel, I was just fine with this.
What I wasn’t okay with and what I’m still struggling with is the fact that Joel lied to Ellie about everything that had happened. Obviously, he didn’t want her to know that everything they had gone through, in the greater picture, had been for nothing, and in the process, he killed one of Ellie’s only remaining living friends. Like any father, Joel wanted to protect her from the painful truth, and it’s also very likely he didn’t want her to see him as a monster for what he did, which she probably would if she fully understood what happened.
I want to be angry with Joel for letting Ellie live a lie (and to a lesser extent, potentially dooming humanity), but I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing in his situation. There’s no telling if there really are other people out there who are immune like Ellie, but that possibility doesn’t forgive the lie. We don’t know for sure if she really would have been willing to die if it meant her death could be for the greater good. It’s possible that everything could have ended so differently had Marlene just let Joel speak to Ellie one last time before the surgery. There are too many unknowns to justify or condemn Joel’s actions.
Despite all of the drama and all of the unknowns leading up to the ending of The Last of Us, the one thing that got to me the most was that powerful, heartbreaking final line: “Okay.”
Ellie is troubled. You can hear it in her voice. She is likely still recovering mentally from her brutal encounter with David over the winter chapters, and there definitely appears to be some doubt in Joel from her perspective. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have needed Joel to swear that he was telling the truth in that there really are other immune survivors and that she ultimately didn’t need to be studied. Being able to play as Ellie in this final chapter perfected the moment. Like with Sarah all the way at the beginning, we’re seeing the world, and more importantly, we’re seeing Joel through her perspective. We’re seeing a man who is desperate to protect the things he loves in this world.
Naughty Dog has confirmed that there will be story related DLC coming out for The Last of Us, and there are already all kinds of speculation about whether or not the DLC might expand on this tough ending. Personally, I’m torn on this idea. I want Joel to come clean. I want Ellie to know the truth because she, of all people, deserves to know. I also want a happy ending for the two of them; one where Joel can finally have peace within himself and Ellie can have the normal life that she never had before, and more importantly, one where she wouldn’t be alone.
At the same time, I know that this game can’t be wrapped up with a nice clean bow. For me, the emotional impact of that ending hit me harder than any game I have ever played. I can’t even listen to the music on the opening menu without all those feelings welling up again and again, and then I lose myself in the simplistic beauty of the yellow spores drifting in some fleeting breeze over the empty blackness of the loading screen, and as they float, I think about the journey that I’ve shared with Joel and Ellie. I laugh harder at Ellie’s comic relief, I smile longer at the small bonding moments between her and Joel, and I find it more and more difficult to contain myself in the big emotional scenes all because I know how it’s all going to end.
Maybe I’m just gushing over what I feel is a really good game. Maybe I’m just too sensitive when it comes to video games in general. However, it lends a certain validity to the medium when a video game can elicit this much emotion, especially when triple-A gaming is in the strange state that it is. I can only speak for myself, but considering the astronomically good reviews The Last of Us has been getting, I know I’m not alone. Maybe there’s hope for this industry after all.
Maybe I’ll eventually come to grips with this ending. Until then, I’m just enjoying the ride.