After rolling the credits on The Last of Us Part II recently, I was left thinking about “the point” of the game. By the end of the game I didn’t really feel like the narrative had gone anywhere. Other critics have noted that the game wanted to push it down our throats that violence is bad and that revenge isn’t worth it, and maybe that’s all true.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD, PLAY THE GAME BEFORE READING FURTHER.
But what I found most interesting about The Last of Us Part II is that, maybe, the game didn’t have a point beyond Ellie seeking revenge for the death of Joel.
Joel makes the decision to potentially doom all of humanity in The Last of Us by not sacrificing Ellie for a cure. When Ellie finally learns the truth years later back in Salt Lake City, she’s broken. She has to live with the fact that she could have potentially saved humanity and was robbed of the choice to do so, leaving her without purpose. She explicitly tells Joel that her life could have mattered.
It’s not until the very end of the game that we learn that Ellie had decided, on her own, to finally try to forgive Joel for what he had done. The next day, he’s murdered and her choice to forgive him is stripped from her just as her choice to save humanity had been. But in turn, it gives Ellie a new purpose. Revenge.
Media tends to focus on the larger consequences of potentially world-altering events, but The Last of Us Part II doesn’t do that. It’s completely focused on telling a self-contained story about the unintended consequences of Joel’s actions from the first game, just not in the way we expect it to.
We expect the loss of a potential cure to be a world-altering event for The Last of Us, but only a select few people even knew about its possibility.
Joel knows about it, Ellie knows about it, Abby knows about it, and most others who knew about it are likely dead back in Utah. The world doesn’t know it may have lost out on its one chance for a cure; it continues on as normal with people fighting every day of their life to survive.
Ellie’s path of revenge begins after Abby brutally murders Joel to get revenge for the death of her father. Not because Joel stopped the world from finding a cure, but because he murdered her father in cold blood. Abby even has the chance to kill or take Ellie hostage to finish what her father started, but she doesn’t.
Ellie’s sole focus is vengeance in Part II, and as she puts it, nothing will get in the way of that. Her pregnant girlfriend Dina is a liability, bringing Tommy home safe back to Maria is an afterthought, and anyone that gets in her way is just collateral damage. When she finally encounters Abby again, Abby literally says to her that she gave her a second chance to live and she wasted it on her path of vengeance.
It’s a heartbreaking and traumatic experience overall, and I don’t feel like Naughty Dog was trying to make you feel bad by showing you Abby’s side of the story. Rather, it was just another perspective on the situation that was kicked off by a decision Joel made and how it would impact Ellie.
I don’t know if it really worked as Naughty Dog intended as the structure and pacing of the game is a bit all over the place when compared to that of the original, but it did offer a unique perspective we weren’t expecting.
By the time the credits roll on The Last of Us Part II, Ellie’s journey really hasn’t gone anywhere, and I think that might have been the point. Ellie isn’t your standard protagonist; she’s really just a character without purpose. There’s no cure, there’s no redemption arc for her and Joel — there’s just kill or be killed at this point for Ellie, and Abby provides her that sort of distraction.
It’s not exactly profound like Naughty Dog seems to want you to think it is, but it is unsettling to consider how you would continue living in a world where your one true purpose has been stripped away.