Emptiness.The only word I can use to adequately describe how I felt as the credits rolled to Gustavo Santaolalla’s musical masterpiece – ”The Path”. After a very intense 12-14 hours worth (approximately) of surviving in post-pandemic madness, I felt no means of satisfaction whatsoever as my most memorable gaming experience – The Last of Us finally reached it’s end. I had no pride of successfully tackling a rather difficult game, or conceive any means of accomplishment… I could barely muster a smirk. Just stone, cold emptiness.
Now, I am 99% certain that I was not the only person who indulged in Naughty Dog’s hard-hitting game of the year, that felt completely deprived of all means of happiness by the end of the final cut scene, but the question is, why were we left feeling so cold and confused? The answer my fellow gamers, is the fact our loose ends, remained untied and hanging. We had no closure. So, what I will attempt to do here, is perhaps ease your minds and open up some discussion regarding the very erratic sentimental side of the game.
An ending we just didn’t expect.. (*Spoilers*)
Let’s get the ball rolling with the utmost obvious of disappointments this game presented us with, the conclusive cut scene of the game.
On behalf of those with a less prominent memory of the ending of The Last of Us let’s journey back a little and freshen it up a bit.
After hours upon hours of game play searching for the Fireflies, Joel and Ellie finally reach them only to find out that the surgery required to extract the ”cure” from Ellie is fatal and she will die during the process. Joel takes a turn for the worst, refusing to accept there is no other way and goes on a rampage, willing to kill everyone in the building if he must as he attempts to save his companion. After he reaches and saves Ellie from the clutches of the fireflies, Marlene makes one last attempt to stop him, a stubborn Joel resists and puts her out of her misery. The game then shows the cut scene of Ellie awakening in a car with Joel who tells her there were others just like Ellie who are immune so they didn’t need to experiment. Unsure, but still tired from the surgery prep, Ellie doesn’t persist.The famously disappointing ending then plays out in which Joel is rambling on to Ellie about how he will teach her to play guitar and what they can do after they return to Texas, Ellie all the while being unusually distant and uninterested in what Joel is saying. The game then comes to the cut scene in which Ellie is telling the story about what happened when she and her best friend Riley got bitten back in Boston. As Joel tries to reassure her that she shouldn’t blame herself and that no matter what you keep finding something to fight for Ellie interrupts him and asks him to swear that what he said about the Fireflies was true (regarding the fact there are others and they let her go), Joel lies, swearing it’s the truth. Ellie simply says ”okay”. With that, the game concludes.
Now, there is a lot more in this ending than you’d initially choose to understand. Over the duration of the story Ellie has grown to love Joel, not as a farther or a lover as such, but simply as a companion. She looks up to him, and admires him hugely. Joel on the other hand has always had a companion, his daughter, his brother and then Tess. He knows nothing but companionship and caring for someone else despite his passionless exterior. So, when it eventually came down to it, he acted in order to save his companion.
I do however, see the more selfish side of his actions. He quite clearly told Ellie that you ”keep finding something to fight for”.This is hard evidence that Joel has to feel needed, that he always has to fight for something. After the loss of Tess, Ellie was all he had and I think after he saw past his stubbornness and truly thought on it, he could risk the disease lingering as fighting infected is not nearly as hard for him as facing loneliness. However, although I believe in Ellie’s innocence, I honestly don’t think for a second that she genuinely believed Joel anyway. She may have accepted his answer but I think she reserves judgement on whether or not she believes it. She knows Joel takes care of her so I think she accepts his selfish gesture as a sign that he will continue to do so.
The blossoming of the most touching friendship
Naughty Dogs developers main focus with The Last of Us, was to make the game solely orientated around the developing relationship between the two main protagonists. The fluctuations and progress in this relationship are ultimately supposed to make us empathise and completely engross us, this in turn makes the ending of the game that much more difficult to just accept.
Right from the moment they first encounter one another, we are desperate for Joel
and Ellie’s friendship to blossom. With every hurdle in their journey we just wish it to bring them closer together. In this process the role of ‘the dependent one’ is batted back and forth until they both finally understand they need one another. Consequently, as an audience, Joel’s selfish act leaves us feeling incredibly dumbfounded as he actually brings himself to lie to her. It is almost like another one of the many set backs in their friendship. It is what prevents a happy ending in the sense that whatever happens after the games proceedings is the result of a lie. Despite our love for Joel for saving Ellie, he has also unknowingly hurt her which left us feeling awful.
Sorry, Joel… you aren’t bad really!
Okay, admittedly, maybe I have come down on Joel a bit hard. I mean, although the surgery is what Ellie initially wanted, she wanted it under false pretenses. She didn’t know the surgery would be fatal. Maybe if she would have had the choice she would have picked a life with Joel optionally instead, i’m sure we’d all like to think that would be the case anyway.
He is in some respects the hero, he guards her with his life quite literally throughout the entire story without fail and I mean hey, let’s give the guy some sympathy, would you want to be surviving alone in a world overrun by fungal faced freaks?
The Last of This
I honestly think the part of this game that holds the most emotion is the ending. In all it’s simplicity, it is actually the most intricate part of the game. There is so much we still don’t know or understand and so many questions left unanswered. It is a killer, I know, Honestly though, if it wasn’t for the lingering feeling of emptiness and not knowing, we wouldn’t want to indulge in this games magnificence time and time again. The Last of Us will stay with me and many others forever,