The Last of Us: Processing Grief (Ellie)
Updated: Sep 5, 2021
You can start by seeing this journey through Joel and Abby.
Most players of the first Last of Us had a similar experience when they started playing. This blonde girl we are playing as, Sarah, is not the one on the cover. There is no way you missed her, she is in all the promotion material, she was in the cover of the application on your PlayStation.
Once you get through to the end of the prologue, you completely forget about Ellie. This plot about two smugglers trying to hunt someone named Robert, and this world of 2033 gets you distracted from that misdirect, only to get you the “Oh, right… Her” moment later on. Her introduction seems deliberate. She starts out by trying to attack Joel with her knife.
This establishes Ellie as a mild antithesis of the weak, flustered Sarah who loved Joel. She doesn’t really “warm up” to him, not until, I would say, after going through Bill’s town, and that is entirely on him. Right now, she is clearly more concerned about Marlene than whoever Joel is. As for her history, we don’t get much, not just because she is being cautious, but because the game is not designed like that.
One of the best aspects of The Last of Us series is the “walk and talk” system. The banter. How much you learn about these people as they’re seeing things in the world around them, and not stopping, not giving, nor asking you to give 100% of your attention to what the characters are saying. Along with letting Christopher Lloyd as Doctor Emmet Brown handle it, this is the best way to deliver exposition.
Going back into Ellie’s real history, we know that she, born in 2019 to a nurse named Anna who passed away the same day, already came to the world with this enormous debt, a debt to make the life of her mother worth something. Through her time in the quarantine, she has been a major discipline case and hates working within the safezone.
Ellie always hated her own *relative* privilege. People are always dying or getting seriously hurt to ensure that she is safe. This internalises a lot of self-loathing within herself. She hates not being the one to contribute, the one to look out for others. The first big event in her life happens during The Last of Us: American Dreams. Skip the next 5 paragraphs to avoid spoilers.
When she first arrives at the Boston quarantine zone at 13, she gets saved from a group of boys trying to rob her by Riley. As soon as she came in, she was unable to fight her own fight, and witnessed this girl face a similar threat and still win. After a small day, most of which she spent hating Riley, and a night of sneaking out, the two nearly get shot down by the militia after they attempt to save the Fireflies, Ellie is overjoyed and relived at her new friend's safety, whose life is already too precious to be lost.
This introduction pretty much perfectly establishes Ellie. She does not like how much people have to sacrifice to keep her safe, and she attaches easily. By now, you have probably predicted the course of this article till the very end, but give it time. For now, we move to her encounter with Marlene. From the very first moments she met her, she knew her. Riley, as it turns out, already knew Ellie’s name, probably because she tracked the Firefly agents within the school, and tracked their interests.
Marlene informed Ellie about her relationship with Ellie’s mother, and gave her her mother’s switchblade and the last words she wrote. Marlene destroyed Riley’s spirit to ever join the Fireflies, because the experience is, as she saw it, not a glorious and self-fulfilling life, but a random death in a sewer. The leader of the greatest cause in America is anti-zealous, anti-ideological and does not tell Riley about the philanthropic Fireflies.
Ellie sees Riley crying, something that felt so odd to her. Marlene broke her. A state of disillusionment clouded over the two, but for Riley, who defined her life by her willingness to die for something meaningful, this confrontation was stronger. We know she later persists and joins the Fireflies, but right now, she thinks the life she imagined for herself is gone.
Later that night, Ellie does get to read her mother’s letter, and it is not the comforting anecdote she thought it would be. Ellie is the most incredible thing Anna has done in her life. She asks her to keep fighting for her cause, her purpose. She ends the note with “Make me proud, Ellie.”
Starting with the DLC, we can go right on to the big incident at the mall. A group of infected swarmed in and bit both Ellie and Riley. These are two very young women who were waiting for their role in the society, their contribution, and they are going to die because they wanted more gratification.
Riley, not finding any sense in wasting her last hours moping around, wanted to give them both the best few hours of their lives, or as she put it, “But we fight for every second we get to spend with each other. Whether it's two minutes... or two days... we don't give that up. I don't want to give that up. My vote? Let's just wait it out. You know, we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together.”
The two presumably do so, and wait out there turns to get infected. Riley very much does get infected. Ellie has to see her friend, who has always fought through everything, lose to this stupid infection. At some point, she, perhaps after waiting for hours after Riley’s death, didn’t notice anything. No fever, no insanity, just her sitting away from her now deceased friend.
Yep, she was immune. Out of all the people that could have been immune, the soldiers, the rebels, even her best friend who wanted to fight through everything, she was the one. Her first move as we know it, was to approach Marlene.
It is important to remember that despite Ellie being very important for Marlene, Marlene herself is not a very prominent person in Ellie’s life. Two weeks after finding out about her immunity, she sends Ellie off with these two smugglers she knows nothing about. With everything else out of the way, let’s get to it. Let’s get into Ellie’s journey in the most beloved game ever made.
Knowing how her reckless behaviour at the mall led to her getting bitten, she starts with Joel by keeping a cautious distance. Not only has she generally had terrible experiences with strangers, she also never had a prominent male figure in her life who allowed her a sense of safety. She also notices Joel’s apathy and general disinterest, which, oddly enough, she finds comforting. She is carrying a big secret literally up her sleeve, and she does not want a curious person as her companion.
By the time they reach the safehouse, Joel casually goes to sleep, not caring what Ellie does, how safe she feels or what they will do next. He is not a complicated man, he wants his money and he has little concern for self-security.
During this long nap, Ellie has a couple hours to observe, to ponder. She notices Joel’s watch. It is broken. Why would someone wear a broken watch? He probably doesn’t care about it, or maybe he doesn’t know. It starts to rain, and Ellie realises what’s going to happen: she will go out… This is the first time she will be outside any sorts of quarantine. This means a whole world of weirdos, movie posters, incomprehensible architecture, and so much more.
Ellie does keep her destiny in mind, though. She has to save humanity. THIS. This is what her mother’s life means, and this is what Riley’s does too. With a determination to complete her objective and curiosity to make the journey interesting, she is on her way to become the best video game companion so far.
After being cornered by some militia, Ellie realises her predicament. If the militia finds out, they will shoot her on sight. If the smugglers find out, they will either abandon her or kill her. She needed to think fast, and in that moment of doubt, she ambushed the soldier, allowing the smugglers to take them down.
This was not before the scanner finished its test and learned about Ellie’s… condition. She is now cornered into telling them the truth if she wants to survive. While in the last few hours, she developed a sense of safety with them, seeing them brutally murder these two guards, the guards that defended her home, she started to panic. She wasn’t dealing with Riley or Marlene, these were cold killers who don’t care about Ellie, and will end her on the spot.
While the woman, Tess, she seemed to be interested in Ellie’s immunity, the other one was all about ending what he thinks is a stupid crusade to nothing, the promise of a cure the Fireflies have seemingly already made over and over. This promise makes Joel more confident later on telling Ellie that there are dozens like her, that the promises made previously are just as hollow as the one with her.
Once out of danger, Tess shows her interest in Ellie’s case. She could abandon her here and move on to the next supplier, the next quarantine zone, whatever. But, she didn’t. Ellie gave her hope. She now believes in her life meaning something. The other guy, however, Joel did not see it that way. Serving humanity doesn’t seem like a noble cause. To him, “the greater good” seems like a trap, a trap they designed so that they can get you to shoot innocent children without anyone questioning.
Tess, however, seems to have enough influence on Joel to get him, at least, to the capitol building, the end of the journey. Maybe he just wants this done so he can go home. Maybe he still just wants his guns back. Either way, after a creepy building filled to the brim with clickers and a museum which Ellie would have actually enjoyed under different circumstances, they arrive at the capitol building.
On the ground was the dead Firefly who was probably the contact. Not only does this put another life on her shoulders, it now means that the journey will remain incomplete. Before you could worry, Tess seems… frantic. She has been the emotional center of this journey, seeing her like this just seems unnatural.
She begins rushing around, inspecting his body, sharply interrogating Ellie about their whereabouts, until Joel unfeelingly asks Tess to look at herself, see how she is acting. She declares that he cannot decide what’s normal for her. He doesn’t know her. She slowly becomes more distant from him… She starts to back away, and Ellie immediately connects the dots, dots Joel isn’t. Maybe he doesn’t want to.
Ellie exposes Tess, something she didn’t seem to have the courage to admit to Joel herself. This is.. her end. This is what her life led up to, a sad smuggler who one day got bit and died. With zero hesitation, she immediately latched on to Ellie. Maybe she could be the woman who gets Ellie to make the cure. Or at least the woman who GOT Joel to do so on her behalf.
As Ellie sees, both Joel and Tess, in the end, agree to let Tess die then and there and continue to wherever the Fireflies are. Okay, so now it’s her mother, then Riley, and now Tess. People who either themselves declared, or Ellie declared them, as the sacrifice for her survival. After a second big escape from the militia, she tries to reach out to Joel. She knew how much she would have appreciated someone talking to her after Riley died. But as soon as she started talking, Joel just started talking in a louder voice, stating the rules for travel. The first rule: don’t bring up Tess. Ever. And keep our histories to ourselves.
Okay… So he and Tess might have had some history. Regardless, Ellie’s sympathy for Joel starts to drain out as he vents his grief by being aggressive towards her. She assures him in the moment, however, that she is listening to him. Now, Joel sets up the next objective, meeting his old friend Bill.
Oh, Bill… I could make a two-hour analysis about my love for the dynamic these two have, perhaps even bringing up the stereotypes from Modern Family where lesbian women and gay men naturally hate each other, but we’re 2000 words in and we haven’t even gotten to the legendary ranch house scene, so let’s save this.
The next key moment for Ellie’s journey is meeting these strangers who mirror her relationship with Joel. As such, she understands the kind of pain Henry must be and empathises with Sam quite a bit. From not getting a toy, this one thing that actually made him happy to having to be seen as an immature kid all the time, Sam is a tragedy of survival.
Because you see, Henry is not wrong. It is impractical to keep toys with you when you have to travel light and keep space. And Sam is absolutely not mature enough to make his own decisions, despite his success sometimes. Ellie keeps encouraging Sam to keep a part of his childish, inquisitive nature intact.
During the last moments in Pittsburgh, Henry abandons Joel to fight an armoured tank alone, and Ellie, at this point, decides to jump down and run with him. She sees Joel as one of her own and couldn’t see herself running away from him, even if it means putting herself in stupid risk.
Once the crew reunites and reaches the radio towers, Ellie tries to connect with Sam. Sam is exhibiting that same distant behaviour Tess was, but this time, instead of Joel, she fails to connect these dots. This time, she is too close to the person to suspect them.
Sam has this structured approach to his questions. First, he is defensive, asking if Ellie’s presence here is purely a move by Henry, his lack of trust on Sam’s competence and maturity. Once he is sure Ellie is looking for a real conversation, he puts the onus on her to open up first, to show that she is capable of understanding his final question. Ellie passes with flying colours, she admits her big fear. “I’m scared of ending up alone”.
Now, he asks her the big question, formed through his own answer to his greatest fear. What if these… monstrous infected, the ones they kill as a second nature, really alive in their bodies, unable to control what they do? Sam is unable to even imagine the idea of mortality, the idea that there is an end. He hates the idea that one can be trapped in their body and attack their loved ones. But the idea that you won’t just… be?
Ellie tries her best to respond sensitively, but there is not much she can do without the foresight of the morning to come. She is unable to reassure him of any peaceful afterlife, the idea that you will see your family once again. Maybe your parents, other people you love… maybe your brother? Nope, not even an undying optimist like Ellie can see that.
With bright light shining on her face the next day, Ellie prepared for a new venture with an extended family. Even Henry was lightening up with Joel and Ellie as company, like he also felt safer. He let Sam get rest for the long journey ahead of them. Unfortunately for Ellie, Sam proved himself to be too immature to tell the gang the truth, and Henry subsequently learned how much Sam feared him.
With her friend in front of him, trying to bite her face off, Ellie listens to Joel trying to save her, a gunshot, Henry declaring his unwillingness to kill his brother, followed by one more gunshot, which stops Sam… As Ellie gets up and absorbs the situation, a crying Henry slowly starts pointing his gun at Joel. The anxiety-spiking activity combined with the sombre tone of Gustavo Santaolalla’s All Gone drive this as one of the most powerful scenes in this series. Immediately after this, Henry simply shoots the person he holds most accountable for Sam’s death.
Restarting in Fall, we learn that apparently, the two made graves for their fallen friends. Ellie tries to express the impact she felt, but Joel shuts her down. One of these people learned how important it is to always embrace the love they feel for each other, while the other is reminded of the pain that attachment leads to.
Once Joel is reunited with his Firefly brother, his wife invites Ellie to lunch. She is naturally anxious to leave Joel given everything they have been through last summer. During this period, Ellie learns that Joel once even had a daughter who died when trying to escape the QZ. Of course, this is a sensitive topic for Joel, so it’s best not to bring it up to him. Anyway, the hunters attack the dam and Ellie is pinned down with Maria trying to shoot them off. After a fairly long battle, Ellie sees Joel and rushes to him to tell everything that happened, honestly, a brag a child gives an adult to show off their skills and maturity.
Tommy, of course, realises how important it must be for Joel if he wants to split up with someone so important to him. He could not look at that picture of Sarah, least of all when he was in a predicament to relive it. He agrees to leave his wife and travel to Colorado as a turning point for his relationship with Joel.
Ellie sees Maria, this cool-headed leader screaming her head off all the while Tommy looks down and Joel stands nearby. She pieces together what he is trying to do. After everything the two have been through, he is willing to let her go terrified, to the biggest moment of her life. This day can be the difference between being with Joel or losing him forever. She escapes the city and runs off, leading to my personal favourite scene in the series.
Once she dodges a group of hunters, she finds a nearby ranch and ties her horse there. There is no better place to wait for Joel, knowing he will come. All she wants is a moment alone to confront him. There, Ellie just walks around, looking at the rotten luxuries around the house she is used to seeing, until she comes upon a diary. Apparently, the girl who used to live here used to face the kind of mundane issues we used to. She wrote about her crushes, her favourite outfit combinations, and Ellie wonders what kind of perfect world it must be to not need one person to carry the lives of millions. Not very long after, Joel arrives, quickly commanding Ellie to get up and get moving. He does not even express concern for her safety, or disappointment for her leaving. He just treats her like another assignment he has taken on.
This time, Ellie refuses to listen to him. She does not let him be the one to call all the shots anymore. Contrasting to Sam’s line of questioning which builds up and tests Ellie, she bluntly asks Joel to admit that he has been trying to get rid of her the whole time. When he comes up with a hollow excuse, she immediately cuts him off and demands a real explanation.
Before he could muster up another excuse, Ellie tells Joel… that she’s not her. The audience holds their breath, knowing that the wall of detachment she just broke using this tool also holds a vast ocean of anger, the kind of anger we fear she is not ready to withstand. Joel even let’s her know that she has no idea what loss is.
Before we prepare for an even angrier, louder outburst by Joel, Ellie takes the lead, letting him know that he does not have the monopoly on loss. Ellie had to, for many hours, just wait out her own horrible and painful death, which she was spared of, but her friend who talked her out of suicide didn’t. Then, Marlene was shot and as far as she knows, killed. Then Tess, and then Sam. All of this was just in the span of a few months. Ellie deserves to fight her hardest to be with the one person who is still here, which leads to, in my opinion, the best delivery Ashley Johnson has presented.
“Everyone I have cared for has either died or left me. Everyone—fucking except for you! So don't tell me that I would be safer with someone else because the truth is I'd just be more scared.”
Everything about this line… Ellies starts off calmly and builds up the aggression, the powerful shove improvised by Ashley, and transitions to a teary voice, not wanting to hold back the vulnerability she has been pretending doesn’t exist at the whims of this guy…
After skipping a few beats, Joel doubles down on his stance and let’s her know that the two are going their separate ways. This was as low as she could feel. Afraid of being considered entitled or weak, Ellie musters the strength to open up to Joel, only to be struck down, and struck down HARD.
As a few more minutes pass, at the outskirts of Jackson, Joel shows an uncharacteristic warmth towards Ellie. He decides to take her to Colorado on his own.
This, of course backfires as another group of random hunters with no faces, no identity show up to attack the two at the University, leading to the scene everyone thought was caused by failing to press square hard enough. Ellie’s newly developed killer instinct and quick-thinking is exhibited here as she leads a VERY injured Joel to her horse, shooting anyone she can before they draw and planning flanks for others.
Winter, the coldest and cruelest month of the year. There is no better place to show-off the worst, most painful and most traumatic period of Ellie’s life. We learn that she has been caring for Joel all this time. Hunting, gathering resources, and ensuring safety. This is also the first time she actively distrusts a friendly stranger.
David is an integral person in Ellie’s journey. Ellie is attributed to cooperation, trust and compassion. Now, what happens if she meets a stranger with all of these qualities? She, of course, starts to warm up to him, even if a little. He had a hundred chances to stab Ellie in the back. The fact that he didn’t proves that he is a friendly, right?
Well, not much later, without changing those surface-level traits, he slowly reveals his true allegiance against the crazy man who killed his men in the university. It is important to note that this does not exactly moralise the cannibals, they attacked Joel first. Even the scene is framed to indicate the morally corrupt nature of David. The single-source light from the fire, the ominous music developing behind him, and the camera slowly closing up on him, letting our intrigue in his story translate into an even higher magnitude of fear and concern for Ellie’s safety.
The winter segment pushes her further and further to be prepared as a survivor. The Fall of 2033 was the age of enlightenment for Ellie. She saw how hydroelectricity works, intricate stages of planning and got to see horses once again. She went to a university, an environment designed for efficient and comfortable learning for students. She even learned some history of Joel, his time with Tommy and what he wanted to be.
For what she learns in Winter, enlightenment seems too positive a word. It is a rude awakening as to what it means to be truly alone, face-to-face with some of the worst humanity has to offer. This is her ending up all alone. As Ellie pushes through to safety, David corners her and… touches her hand. Even Ellie seems to be aware of his real intentions here.
Troy Baker stated in his definitive playthrough that he saw this to be more ambiguous, whether David’s motivations were sexual in nature, or he actually did want to save Ellie. While I don’t see the ambiguity, the essence of the David is to antithesize Joel, an unlikable, mean-spirited paternal figure who, during this point, had nothing but her mental health and development at heart.
As the story tricks us into a Joel vs. David climax, the audience gets to see Ellie, who won so far with her intelligence, skills and sharp reflexes, goes wild on David and drops all concern for more hunters, the fire, anything. During that time, there was nothing but Ellie, David, and her pure abhorrence.
As the hallway starts deafening her with the echoes of her own cries, she is grabbed from the behind. It is important that first she breaks free and tries to attack whoever is behind her. She is still fearful for her safety, and has recently just experienced the gross, perverted gesture of what some can call love.
By the time you, the player, approach Spring, you know what a special experience this is. We, the people, have an unfathomable empathy towards almost everything, and our ignorance is the barrier that holds us back from complete emotional breakdown. With this journey, you have to sympathise with some of the worst things people can go through and persevere. This is why the start to fall is absolutely heartbreaking.
The winter of 2033-34 was clearly enough to wear out Ellie’s optimistic energy. The audience doesn’t get to physically experience the damage suffered by our characters, so how do we get that? Ellie loses her identity, and once again spirals back to the question she always had: what is her purpose?
She was about to face the twilight of her journey. These are the last few hours she has before the entire world, her entire world changes. Uncertainty about the future is what makes life great. It also makes it terrifying. The emotional payoff of the death of Ellie’s innocence comes shortly after, when she, for the first time ever, sees a giraffe. A simple giraffe, the animal whose picture we have seen countless times.
The Lovecraftian realisation of the true size of these amazing beasts that could never be captured in an image is a bigger statement than it is implied. You have NEVER seen enough in your short life. There won’t ever be things that won’t seize to amaze you. Nowhere truer is it exemplified than Ellie’s return to disbelief and wonderment right after her ponderance over the empty abyss she fears.
Minutes after nearly drowning trying to save Joel, Ellie wakes up in a car. Or was this hours later? Days? Joel is in the front seat driving. He says that her immunity means nothing, that there are people out there that just happened to be immune, but it cannot be passed on. And just like that, she failed everyone.
On the return trip to Jackson, Ellie can reach out into her bag and read her mother’s note. She is still pondering over that last line. “Make me proud, Ellie.” As she ascends up to Jackson, Joel starts volunteering his stories about Sarah. As the two reach the top, Ellie summarises what this all meant.
To her, this was about her turn. She is still waiting for her turn. Everyone except Joel has left, everyone ended up dying, directly or indirectly, to save her. And in the end, if Joel can say that all of this meant nothing, he HAS to swear to her.
The haunting ending to The Last of Us, the best video game ever made, has Joel swearing to Ellie that this gift means nothing to anyone besides herself. Ellie, ambiguous in her belief, accepts whatever Joel has to say at face value and agrees to move on.
That was a heavy game. By this time, you don’t care about your own moral standing relating to this situation and care more about these two, where they are, what it means to their relationship with Joel’s swear, whether Ellie really believes him or not. Fortunately for us, the story succeeds with a sequel after a VERY long time.
The Last of Us: Part II opens with Ellie hinting Joel to keep her distance. She may not think he is lying, but she doesn’t trust him either. Joel requests for one song first, and it is Future Days. The days of you and me. A celebration to whatever days they are yet to have together.
Joel knows this as a really popular song from the year of the outburst, which he may have learned for Sarah and finally gets to perform it. Ellie doesn’t know this song and, to her, seems like a more direct message from Joel. She accepts that Joel loves her, and that’s that. Someone you love lying to you, hurting you? A pretty foreign concept.
Having previously dissected the structure of the sequel journey here, I will not go into it again in too much depth, and will skip between what I believe are crucial elements I have yet to touch.
The first place that I should jump to is the kiss between Ellie and Dina. Dina jokingly rates it a 6, which annoys Ellie, as was the purpose. But Ellie feels more hurt and embarrassed than Dina intended. What a relationship is clearly means way more to the introverted lesbian woman. She wishes she was as active, romantic and confident as Dina was, and Dina’s attraction towards her despite Ellie’s lack of self-esteem keeps her insecurities up.
When Ellie finds Joel face down with a golf club deep inside his skull, she has marked the face of that woman. Abby. Built like an ox and the most hateful eyes ever. After five years, Ellie has let down the last person there was. Now, she has no one to be a daughter to, no one to pass her immunity on to, no one left who went through hell and back for her. The only one left is Abby.
After this incident, Tommy tries to play the rational adult, the voice of Maria, even though he is probably even more traumatised, having to be there lying unconscious as the devil was torturing his brother, the brother who only wanted to keep him and his little girl alive…
Dina, being the leap of faith woman she is, decides to travel with Ellie, not knowing why they killed Joel or how many of them there are. The kind of person Ellie is too lucky to have by her. After getting Joel’s revolver, Maria informs her that Tommy stowed away to avenge Joel. Being more concerned with Tommy’s life than avenging Joel, she let's them sneak out.
Once the WLF mercy kills Shimmer, the game’s tone shifts once again. Once they power through and get to the theatre, Dina reveals to Ellie that she is pregnant, and she has been dragging herself through these terrible environments just to ensure Ellie’s safety, who in-turn lets her know that she is a burden now.
And that’s it. There was no apology, she let it sit. We soon follow Ellie back into a flashback, contrasting her with the unrecognisable bright-eyed, laid back woman. When she gets to the wall of “LIARS”, we hear a blunt, rustic theme of The Last of Us Part II. This is the emblematic scene of the game, Ellie lamenting over the loss of her value while Joel tries to pull her out, all of which is a mere illusion.
When Jesse comes back and sees being treated so well by Dina, her insecurities come rushing back, a familiar sense that she attributes her jealousy, her fear of loss to her own attachment. The subsequent flashback pushes their relationship further into further uncertainty.
By the time Ellie reaches Nora’s hospital, she asks Nora for information about the woman who is right under her nose, fighting the Ratking. Here, we learn that Ellie knew about the secret of the Fireflies already, which gets us dreading for the next flashback to come. Nora ensures that she won’t give Abby up. To ensure the doctor dies slowly and painfully, giving her time to be honest, Ellie lands a brutal strike. Then another. Then another. After some point, she is clearly past intel extraction. This is the same cathartic beatdown Abby indulged herself in.
Ellie comes back to the theatre, taking off her shirt hiding how much pain she is just unable to focus on. She just tortured a doctor to death. This is not something she can ever let go, and this is arguably the darkest the game, no, the series has ever been, the perfect setup for what was about to come.
The next flashback takes Ellie back to Utah listening to a single recording over-and-over. She could have died then and there, sacrificed for the good of the world, but now she cannot. The only doctor who could is now dead. His blood is still near the operating table, unable to be washed off. It is not hard to connect the dots. The doctor was ready to perform the surgery, the hospital was heavily militarised, yet Joel got her into a car and comfortably drove away. She has seen him take down scores of men, that thought is not a leap.
This time, Ellie is done. The camera doesn’t pan to show us how Joel reacts, nor does Ellie see it. We have both been robbed of a chance to humanise him, let Ellie feel the pain of that moment too.
In her journal, she writes, “I won’t tell Dina and Jesse, they won’t understand.” Even she realises how a rational, objective person may not leap to defend Joel, and yet she cannot stop. She wants to mourn Joel, but every time she remembers him, it gets worse and worse. Killing Abby is the only way.
The first part of Ellie’s journey climaxes with her at the aquarium. Having killed Owen out of self-defense, Mel pounces on her with a knife. Ellie fully subdues her and THEN kills her, puncturing her throat. Once she opens her jacket and sees her pregnant belly, Ellie backs up and gains some clarity. She is now the hunter, the guy who pushed Joel into the metal rod, she is now David.
When the chaos of her train of thought once again deafens her, Tommy brings her back into the present and gets her out of there. Ellie is concerned about not killing Abby, while the audience fears how she is about to retaliate, and retaliate she does.
We get to experience this fight outside of Ellie’s control, see the kind of monstrous threat she is. She will shoot Abby dead on sight, will not let her attack from the front and dodge Abby’s bricks and bottles sharply. By the time the fight ends, Ellie gets her face thrashed and beaten into the floor, a humiliation on her own account, but nothing compared to what was about to happen.
Dina attacks Abby and tries to kill her, but before she could, Abby counters her and gets ready to slit her throat. Ellie begs her to stop once again, letting her know that this is an innocent, pregnant girl whom she has already subdued.
With Jesse dead and everyone else beaten to a pulp, Abby just drops her last threat, that she never wants to see any of them again. The three survivors go back to Jackson. Jesse is dead, and his parents are waiting for him to return after sneaking out. Tommy lost his aiming eye. Dina and Ellie have been injured out of their minds and Dina needs some medical attention as soon as possible.
The story jumps an unspecified time into the future. Dina gave birth to JJ, whose second J is apparently not Junior according to a tweet by Neil Druckmann, so let’s just assume it is Joel Jesse. As Ellie, we marvel at what an amazing life Ellie has been offered, we are brought back from what we knew we could never get in this universe. Ellie’s nightmares, Tommy’s pressure, and her newest memory with Joel (the night of the kiss) kept pushing Ellie out of any comfort and self-fulfilment she had and drove her back to the hunt.
She subsequently chose to abandon Dina and JJ, ensuring that Abby has now become more important than them. Dina, this woman gave everything to Ellie and to what they mean to each other, but Ellie failed to reciprocate, to try and heal past her trauma. This is not to say Ellie’s at fault here. This is a tragic angle. She cannot recover from her trauma, and thus does not hold any value to this life.
Her latest voyage, which broke her down to a state where she is limping and repeating the same thought “Abby” makes her reminiscent of an infected, single-minded, imbalanced entity incapable of feeling anything anymore. What she finds at the beach is more horrible than she could have expected.
Abby and her little companion are hung on a crucifix to give them a slow, painful death. A couple months back, this is the kind of torture she wanted to inflict on her. Ellie, however, cut her and the boy down. She is ready to let them go, let it all go, but as she tries to sit on the boat, the pain in her abdomen activates, triggering the single frame of Joel’s head bashed in. A reluctant Abby, in an effort to save Lev, agrees to a fight.
This leads to the saddest duel in the game. Unlike the previous fight, you take control of Ellie, and this time, instead of a stealth-based approach, you go for combat. Last time Abby had the stealth advantage, this time, Ellie has a physical advantage. As you dodge Abby’s attack, avoid trying to kill her, the game keeps pushing you to feel the same as Ellie. This is not someone who would hold back, and you can’t either. If you want to see how this ends, push that knife deeper into Abby’s heart and wait.
Intercut with a single second of the real last memory of Joel, Ellie backs down and feels too empty to kill Abby. She doesn’t spare her, she just can’t find the hate for her right now. She is just… empty. As the scene progresses, the actual last memory of Joel is the best we could have hoped for.
After years of this lying, deceitful and suspicious relationship, this is how close the two can be once everything is transparent. At that porch, no one lies, no one tries to trick the other. They are both open about what they feel about what happened, which rewards Joel beautifully, an Ellie who is ready to try and forgive him, standing with him, staring at an amazing night sky.
After everything, Ellie realises that Dina took JJ and all her belongings and left. What’s worse, she left Ellie’s items, ensuring that they don’t have a future anymore. Two fingers down, Ellie plays that one song Joel once sung to her, left his guitar behind. She has finished this journey of self-loathing, purposelessness and guilt, and started another one, one on her own terms that will let her define her worth to the world, to her loved ones, and to herself.
In the end, you can like or dislike any of these three characters. Parents tend to empathise with Joel’s journey of extremes that are rationalised after trauma related to losing a child. Victims of loss due to homicide who tend to build up aggression and hate towards the perpetrator may identify strongly with Abby, and the gifted ones who live in a world of mediocrity will understand why Ellie’s immunity was so important to her.
This has been a long, amazing journey which makes me appreciate this masterpiece all the more, and I hope it did the same for you.