The Last of Us: Part II has been out for a full week now, and it’s dominated our online and offline discussions in that time. Many of you will have finished the campaign now, but if you haven’t, don’t rush – this article is going nowhere. If you do decide to continue scrolling, though, it’s only fair for us to point out that there are major spoilers on this page. In this thread we’ll be discussing key plot beats, in addition to the ending of the game, and inviting you to share your thoughts and opinions on the plot. If you don’t want to be spoiled, please return to the sanctuary of the Push Square homepage through here.
The word divisive gets thrown around a little too readily in our opinion, but it’s fair to say not everyone has fallen in love with The Last of Us: Part II’s plot. The backlash was pre-empted by some rather unfortunate leaks, which were then twisted to fit an agenda. In our opinion, the drama surrounding the leaks has coloured the perception of the final product in some people’s eyes, and that’s an awful shame.
But the contention surrounding the final product seems to centre on one relatively early plot beat: the sudden, brutal murder of Joel. Given our 10/10 review, it’ll surprise few of you that we thought it was brilliant: Naughty Dog was brave enough to kill off one of the series’ most iconic characters within hours. It speaks to the nature of the fiction, in our opinion: no character is safe, and this point is hammered home repeatedly over the course of the campaign.
Of course, it’s a daring move: many had expected another swashbuckling road-trip through infected America with platonic partners Joel and Ellie – instead, that’s snatched away almost immediately. You’ve got to applaud the developer for subverting expectations like that; there’s no danger of it re-treading old ground because it removes any chance of that at the earliest possible opportunity. It’s shocking in the best possible way – and a real gutsy move.
Even more gutsy is the fact that Naughty Dog forces you to play as Joel’s murderer in order to give you perspective on her side of the story. Abby has become a controversial figure among fans, but her redemption arc mirrors that of Joel’s in the first game. She’s a character who’s endured great loss and subsequently done terrible things, but through Lev she finds a new purpose and we visibly see her personality mellow. All of these traits apply to a certain Mr Miller.
It’s been argued that Joel deserved a more heroic send-off – we disagree. Joel may be the “hero” of the first game, but he’s done awful things and it wouldn’t be fitting of the fiction if he were to die in a blaze of glory like, say, John Marston from Red Dead Redemption. This world takes no prisoners, and the reality is that Joel’s luck runs out. He makes a critical judgement error trusting Abby in a hairy situation, and it’s game over from there.
Ellie’s story is much more nuanced. We learn through flashbacks that her relationship with Joel has been tested due to her learning the truth about the Fireflies. By the end of the game we know that she’d decided to try to forgive Joel, only for him to be murdered the next day. Her grief is about more than the father figure she’ll never be able to replace; it’s about all the time she wasted while Joel was alive.
Another contentious point has revolved around Ellie’s decision to spare Abby. While it’s hard not to empathise with Abby once you’ve seen her side of the story, we still believe Ellie made the right decision to end the cycle of violence. By this point in the story, both characters have endured devastating loss due to their thirst for vengeance – and while Abby was ultimately able to issue her revenge, it’s only through Lev that she truly finds the ability to move forward.
Ellie, too, is suffering from PTSD, but deep down she knows that she’ll be inflicting the same fate on Lev should she follow through with her plan. This is what makes The Last of Us 2 so brilliant: there’s layers to the characters which means they’re all capable of good and bad. We see a mellower, more settled Joel through flashbacks – he’s a decent person. But that doesn’t erase all the bad he’s done, and he gets his comeuppance.
The cycle of violence consumes pretty much everyone in the story, apart from its leading ladies: Dina loses the woman she loves and the perfect life she’d dreamed of; Jesse dies; Tommy loses his health and his marriage to Maria; Owen and Mel die; Manny dies. These are the repercussions of Joel’s actions from the first game; it doesn’t matter whether his decision to save Ellie was just, it’s just the consequence of the choices he made.
It’s a bleak story, there’s no doubt about that, and there are holes. Ellie, for instance, murders hundreds of people over the course of the campaign – just not the one she set out to kill. That does require some suspension of disbelief, but it’s also true that she spends the course of the campaign in a state of rage; she’s a nutcase, let’s be honest. But as she ekes the last bit of life out of a weakened, malnourished Abby, she remembers that while she may never be capable of forgiveness, she does have the capacity to try.
It’s powerful stuff, and the perfect cap on one of the greatest games of the generation.
Of course, that’s just our read on the story, and we’re opening this article up to you. We want to know your thoughts on the storyline: do you think Ellie was right to spare Abby? How do you feel about the way Joel was murdered? And where do you want the story to go next? Share your thoughts, with as many spoilers as you please, in the comments section below and check out our The Last of Us 2 guide for more on the game.