The Cycle of Violence, Grief, and Loss in The Last of Us Part II
The Last of Us Part II revolves around a never-ending cycle of violence, where we see Ellie set out on a journey of revenge after a life-altering event breaks her new-found peace.
This article is going to go deep into spoiler territory, so if you haven’t yet played The Last of Us Part II, then please return once you have!
Set 5 years after the first game, Joel and Ellie now live in Jackson along with Tommy, Maria, and many other survivors. The Infected still roam at large, but life is as peaceful as it could possibly be in this world. However, Ellie’s world is torn apart when Joel is brutally murdered in front of her, helpless to stop it, and she risks everything to take down the people who took him from her.
This isn’t only Ellie’s story though — it’s Abby’s, too. Abby is the woman who killed Joel, and you find out that this was in retaliation as he killed her father, Jerry. Remember that surgeon you kill to save Ellie from the Fireflies at the end of the first game? That decision is returned in kind to Joel, but his death isn’t granted quite as swiftly.
This game has been described as “torture porn” by many players, and whilst it is incredibly violent, and the way that pain is inflicted feels very personal and raw, I never felt as if it was unnecessary to show. There isn’t a “good” person in this game, just a bunch of people fixated on revenge as they try to survive in an already dangerous world, and sometimes relishing in that as they carry out their violent acts. It plays on the aspect of humans who get consumed by greed and selfish desire, who are willing to throw anybody in harm’s way to achieve what they want, and really, you’re not supposed to root for Joel, Ellie, or Abby, all of whom have done irredeemable things. I like them all as characters, and they’re a victim of circumstance, but damn, they’ve all done horrific things for years.
I love it when a game lets you see events through the eye’s of another person, and TLOU2 does it brilliantly by having you play as Abby for a good 8–10 hours of the game. Did I dislike playing as her at first? Yes, she relished in murdering Joel, who I loved. But did I end up understanding her side of the story, and not wanting Ellie to be successful in carrying out her revenge, by the end of it? Yes. Ellie and Abby had suffered enough already, and both had to learn to let go, as they’d never find peace in murdering the other. When that’s all that drives you though, is walking away an option?
When the one year time-skip was introduced, I was happy to see that Ellie now resides on an idyllic farm, living a comfortable life with Dina and her baby, JJ, and it’s impossible to deny that they’ve made the best of a horrible situation, and they’re entirely self-sufficient. But when Tommy returns with information on Abby’s whereabouts, Ellie admits to herself that she still can’t let this go, and that it keeps her from sleeping, and has destroyed her appetite. She can’t rest knowing Joel’s killer is still out there, no matter how badly I wanted her to stay with her family.
I felt exhausted once Ellie had decided to leave. After Abby had spared Ellie and Dina a year earlier, showing them mercy at Lev’s request, I was totally drained of my will to fight. Abby bested Ellie, and let her live with no further threat. Ellie seemed similarly drained, but feels compelled to carry out her promise to avenge Joel, although she clearly does not have the same passion that she did a year prior. It feels like a commitment rather than something she truly wants, self-destructive behaviour that won’t rest until Abby is dead. The game is a rollercoaster from here on out, and I couldn’t put the game down, and by the end, watching the two women fight, doing all they can to survive, I was worn down, and just wanted them both to move on without murdering each other.
Thankfully, the route that TLOU2 takes sees neither character die. I’ve seen many voice their disdain that Ellie ultimately decides not to kill Abby, saying its unsatisfying, with Ellie’s hands around Abby’s throat as she successfully begins drowning her, but relenting when she remembers Joel again, alive and healthy, and realises that she’s angry at herself for never having forgiven him for the events of the first game, and that killing Abby won’t bring her any happiness or relief — and most importantly, it won’t bring Joel back. She sees herself and Joel in Abby and Lev, and doesn’t want to take that away from the young boy, who has already lost so much, and has been ostracised by the Serephites for wanting to be male.
I love this game’s ending, which is supported by the rest of the game, instead of one of them killing the other. It is perfectly set up to show how much of a toll this is taking on both Ellie and Abby, and one killing the other ultimately would not have had the same impact. My stomach was in knots, and I felt anxious at the outcome, assuming that one would come on top and not find peace. It is clear that, by the end, both had felt that they had hurt each other enough, and have lost the hunger to avenge their loved ones. Ellie is finally able to let go, and though she has thrown away everything that she ever had, she can begin to move forward.
Whilst they both go their own ways in the end, the grief, stress, and intensity of it all brought me to tears. Video games do not often bring me to tears, although it’s one of my favourite mediums for storytelling, but TLOU2 had me sobbing during its final moments. And would I change a thing about it? No, I wouldn’t. Ellie couldn’t return, as if she never left, to resume her previously makeshift paradise, and she returns home to see that Dina has taken JJ and left, leaving only Ellie’s art room untouched. With two of her fingers bitten off by Abby, she cannot even play the guitar anymore. Was it worth it? No, not in the slightest, and now she has even wasted Joel’s final gift to her in being able to play guitar.
Ellie’s greatest fear, which she admitted to Sam in TLOU1, came to life, driven by her need for revenge. “Being by myself. I’m scared of ending up alone.”
By the end, you question how things got so out of control, and if there was a point to it all, and that’s the point of it. The journey of each character felt fully fleshed out, and I understood both side’s perspectives, and in the end, I didn’t feel as if I wanted to root for anyone. I just wanted them to stop. That it eventually comes to a point where Ellie and Abby make peace with letting the other live, despite the pair having killed pretty much all of the other’s closest friends, suddenly tearing them away in a matter of seconds time and time again, proved to be overwhelming. All of this was done with a specific goal in mind, and Ellie realises she can’t do it anymore, making everything before it for naught. If she quit sooner, maybe Jesse would have survived, and Tommy would still be with Maria, but Ellie had to reach that point herself to be able to put it behind her.
TLOU2 is, to me, what the first game was to many others, in the way that it emotionally resonated with me so deeply. Like the first game, its storytelling shines, along with its astounding visual and audio feats, and its performances feel entirely natural and real. In a world like the one that Ellie lives in, this is the sort of tale that feels entirely believable. Sure, you have to imagine some of the large-scale action scenes being tamer, but the core plot doesn’t feel entirely out of the realms of possibility if an event like this were to pass. Naughty Dog took a concept with roots in reality, and told a story that could be based in reality. That said, let’s hope that it doesn’t happen, yeah?
I loved every moment of TLOU2. When it made me wince, when it made me wish for a different outcome, and when it had me emotionally exhausted at the game’s relentless and merciless events. I didn’t realise how emotionally invested I was until quite late in the game, but now I can’t stop thinking about it, and all the little details that help this story to stand tall. It’s a story I won’t soon forget, and one that will be used as a benchmark going forward. It made me want things to be so different, but I wouldn’t have changed a thing.
“If I ever were to lose you
I’d surely lose myself
Everything I have found here
I’ve not found by myself
Try and sometimes you’ll succeed
To make this man of me
All of my stolen missing parts
I’ve no need for anymore”