The following article contains FULL SPOILERS for The Last of Us Part II. Please play the game before reading.
If you’d like to read our spoiler-free review you can find that here.
I feel like it is important to preface this: I think Joel is a bad guy. Although I wanted him to save Ellie at the end of the first game, there is no denying the line he crossed and the pain and suffering he caused many others. As such, his death within the first couple hours of The Last of Us Part II was brutal, but I took a good guess at just who had come to seek revenge and was proven right some hours later. The sins of Joel’s past were always going to catch up to him and they lived with him every day as Ellie struggled to forgive him for what he did.
As a tale of two people, Ellie and Abby, it’s not the death of Joel that’s the catalyst for this story, it’s Joel’s rampage years earlier and the death of Abby’s father, the lead doctor and surgeon Joel murdered when he entered the operating room that’s the spark for this story. It’s a continuation of the first game, not a new story, hence “Part II.”
The game doesn’t seek to answer if revenge is worthwhile, or just. It simply is the story. Abby justifiable wants revenge for her father and she gets it in the first couple hours of the game. But then begins Ellie’s revenge mission. In many ways, we see Abby at the end of her hate-filled years of planning and searching, but enter as Ellie begins hers.
Through three days in Seattle, you slaughter many WLF (Washington Liberation Front, aka ‘Wolves’) and most of Abby’s friends along the way. Each random grunt that’s in the WLF also screams out in pain as others call their name in despair. You murder not only hundreds but brutally torture others, slay at least one dog and then end the lives of Abby’s love interest, and his pregnant partner. As Abby catches up to Ellie the game then rewinds — let’s see this from Abby’s point of view.
I loathed this at first; I now believe I was supposed too. I began thinking about how much of a stupid idea this was and that the team at Naughty Dog weren’t in any way going to make me feel bad for Abby by having me play as her for a few hours. But then I was introduced to Lev and his sister Yara.
Haunted by her many violent years that culminated in seeing her father’s killer beaten to a pulp, Abby sees a chance for redemption in two young members of a religious cult, The Seraphaties. It’s through this relationship that echoes of Joel and Ellie from the first game ring-through. When Abby goes on a dangerous mission with Lev for medical supplies, the two of them bonding opened up a new side of Abby. It’s not her dark, revenge-induced one, it’s not her military one, it’s just Abby attempting to do what’s right and help someone in need. She couldn’t be there for her father, but she can be here for them and save someone for once, instead of killing them.
Putting everything back into perspective, it’s Abby who’s past her revenge mission and onto one of redemption that’s at the heart of The Last of Us Part II. Ellie has only just begun her journey and it’ll take right up until the final moment of the game for her to begin her journey of redemption.
The final hours of The Last of Us Part II are some of the hardest I’ve ever experienced in a game. Not only because I was sick of fighting the same types of enemies at this stage, but also because I didn’t want to do what the game was making me do.
After seeing the end of the three-day events of Seattle from both Ellie and Abby’s side, Ellie is once again sparred. We get to experience the life Ellie could have forever. A family with Dina, a real chance of something normal. Of course, the game was never going to end this way. Instead, you’re offered one moment of reprise as Ellie sits on the tractor watching the sunset with little J.J and you’re allowed to rest for as long as you need. It’s a beautiful moment and for a beat, I did think this was going to be the end. The Last of Us Part II’s queer love story was going to get the pay-off it deserved. Ellie and the amazing Dina were going to be happy in their quiet farm life.
Similar to what we’d seen in flashbacks on Abby’s side where she pushed Owen away time and time again as she obsessed with revenge, Ellie makes the same mistake. She pushes Dina and their family away and chooses to once again seek revenge in an attempt to end her torment and the obvious PTSD she sufferers with.
I wanted to turn my PlayStation off watching this scene play out. I can’t remember ever disagreeing with a protagonist so much as I did when Ellie left the house and Dina behind. When Dina turns away from Ellie and proclaims “I can’t do this again” and Ellie bluntly responds, “that’s your choice,” it’s like my heart broke with Dina.
What follows is a torturous walk through normality in the apocalypse. Monsters to kill, both human and not. The fact is simple: there are bad people everywhere and there always will be. Abby has now been kidnapped by another faction in Santa Barbara and Ellie blows away many in her path once again to get her revenge on Abby. It doesn’t matter that she’s suffering already, or possibly dead, what matters to Ellie is that she deals the killing blow.
As you work through the courtyards and buildings towards the location Abby is supposedly being held prisoner, the game makes Ellie perform a finisher on the final enemy in each encounter. They stop, beg you to let them live and you must press square to deal the final blow. The violence and gameplay are repetitive by this stage because it’s supposed to be.
When Ellie finds Abby she’s starved and obviously beaten. Both Abby and Lev are strung up to poles obviously as a form of punishment, but Ellie frees them and the three head towards boats. For a moment it does seem like Ellie will simply let Abby go but that nagging feeling for revenge is unscratched and she can’t let Abby walk away.
The fight against Abby is tortuous. I didn’t want to do it. I no longer wanted to play as Ellie, and I no longer had her side in this mission. I began the game understanding why Abby did what she did, but aboard Ellie’s mission for revenge; I now didn’t want a single part of it. As Ellie slices and beats Abby I nearly stopped the game. It was around 4 AM in the morning and I couldn’t handle this. I didn’t want to participate in killing Abby, a character I thought I was going to hate, but now cared for. I didn’t want Abby to kill Ellie either. I just wanted the violence to end.
This cycle was seemingly endless. What was going to happen if Ellie killed Abby? Does Lev seek revenge in five years time? I couldn’t bear the idea.
And then Ellie, with her hands wrapped around Abby’s throat stops as she breaks down into tears in the water.
Abby and Lev leave in their boat.
When Ellie arrives back at her homestead Dina and J.J are gone. The house is packed up and the only things that remain are Ellie’s art, records and guitar. She attempts to play ‘Take On Me,’ a song we’ve known to be integral to Joel and her memories of him, but she can’t. Abby bit two of her fingers off in their fight, her guitar playing is over.
In the final flashback, we get to see Joel and Ellie’s final moment together, the night before Joel’s death. Ellie once again expresses how angry she is that Joel took her from the Firefly hospital at the end of the first game. Joel’s response is one of pure truth as he says “if somehow the Lord gave me a second chance at that moment… I would do it all over again.” Ellie tells Joel she doesn’t think she could ever forgive him for that but says she would like to try. Joel responds that he’d like that as he chokes and holds back tears. The following day Ellie’s path to forgiveness with Joel is cut short and replaced by a path of revenge.
You can take the ending of The Last of Us Part II as a dark representation of everything Ellie has lost. Dina isn’t at their home, Joel is dead and she can’t even play the guitar he gave her. But the ending is a moment of hope and relief in a game mostly hellbent on a rollercoaster of violence. Ellie is choosing to let both Abby and Joel go. She’s finally ready to move on and begin her journey to redemption.