WARNING: This feature contains full spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2. If you haven’t finished the game, turn back now.
Naughty Dog’s willingness to take risks with The Last of Us Part 2’s story have been admirable. We all would have loved another Joel and Ellie story, another trek across the country that would have seen the bond between the two of them develop even further. But Naughty Dog didn’t want to do that- they had already done that, and doing more of the same was not a good enough reason to want to make a sequel for them.
Instead, they decided to turn the tables and do something completely different, but in a way that felt true to the series. Constantly putting its characters in tough places, constantly building on the harsh realities of its post-apocalyptic world, constantly exploring the complex moralities of all its main players. These are things The Last of Us Part 2 is thoroughly committed to doing, to a degree that’s dragged the game into the centre of hotly debated (and so often vitriolic) conversations everywhere.
This also means that each of its main characters are left in murky and ambiguous places by the time The Last of Us Part 2 comes to an end. Ellie’s quest for revenge leads her no place good- that place is rock bottom. Over the course of her journey, she has lost much that she held dear. For starters, she lost Joel, of course, who was murdered in humiliating and devastating fashion right in front of her.
Following that, over the course of her hate-driven quest in Seattle, she slowly lost her humanity bit by bit. When she got to Nora in the hospital, she beat the woman, who was already dying because of heaving breathed spores, until she told her where Abby was. Clearly that affected her, given how she relays this information to Dina back in the theatre, but does it affect her enough to make her question herself? Not as much as we’d want.
When she gets to the aquarium, she kills Mel and Owen, and both of these deaths are troubling ones for various reasons. Mel for very obvious reasons- she’s pregnant, which Ellie wasn’t aware of at the time she stabbed her, but that doesn’t undo her actions. Then there’s Owen, who was not hostile toward Ellie at all, and hadn’t been even back in Jackson, and was shot dead because of his unwillingness to tell Ellie where Abby was.
That’s not to mention the dozens, if not hundreds, of other people Ellie kills during the course of the entire game. When all of this is done and Abby comes to the theatre herself to kill Ellie for what she did to all of her friends – fittingly enough for a story that is all about the cycle of violence – she also kills Jessie, and almost kills Tommy. Jessie’s death is another heartbreaking one in a series full of them, but that, too, doesn’t deter Ellie in her quest for revenge.
Well, it does for a time. After Abby beats Ellie within an inch of her life and is dangerously close to slitting a pregnant Dina’s throat, she is stopped by Lev. Unlike Ellie, Abby is willing to let things go, but even as she walks off, she tells Ellie very plainly that if she sees her again, she will kill her. After that, for a few months, maybe a little over a year, it seems like Ellie’s quest is over. She is living on a farm with Dina and her baby in what seems like a peaceful, quiet life (relatively, at least)- but she is still haunted by the visions and memories of Joel, and she knows that she won’t be able to rest until she’s avenged him.
Or so she thinks anyway. Why she feels the way she feels may very well be up for interpretation. Consider everything Ellie did to kill Abby, only to fail at the very moment- is it likely that she might have been driven by the one thing that drove her to go to the Fireflies in the first game? That all of it could not have been for nothing? Possible? Hell, I’d say it’s overwhelmingly likely.
And so, Ellie does up and leave, leaving behind her seemingly idyllic life with Dina and her child, when she finds out where Abby is after a tip from Tommy. She decides to track her down once more and finish her quest for revenge once and for all. By the time she does track Joel’s killer down, she sees her in a much different position than she had been a few months ago.
In Santa Barbara, where Abby and Lev had arrived to follow a lead on a possible Firefly reunion, the two of them got captured by a gang of bandits known as the Rattlers, and they remained captive for months. They were clearly put through unspeakable horrors, and by the time Ellie reached them and made her way through the gang of bandits, she saw them both hanging off poles, exposed to the elements, starving, parched, within an inch of death.
But if there’s one thing Ellie hasn’t learned by this point, it’s how to let things go- given that the thing she has to let go is Joel’s murder, maybe that’s not so hard to understand. After she pulls Abby down, she insists of fighting her to the death, and even the the latter is reluctant to do so at first, after Ellie threatens to kill Lev, the two women do engage in a brutal brawl. And this time, Ellie is able to overpower Abby, and she almost kills her. Even when Abby literally gnaws two of her fingers off her hand, Ellie chokes Abby and holds her head underwater, and comes extremely close to killing her, when something stops her.
After all this time, perhaps its the overbearing weight of her actions that catches up to her, perhaps its the realization that her vengeance would be pointless and that nothing would make her feel better about Joel’s death, perhaps its the fact that she sees Abby protecting Lev the same way Joel used to protect Ellie- for whatever reason, Ellie decides to let Abby and Lev go.
At the end, she returns to her house, where she sees that Dina and her baby have left. She remembers her last conversation with Joel, during which she told him she would try and forgive him for what he did with the Fireflies years ago, and in an emotional gut punch, is unable to properly play the guitar with her deformed hand that he gave her years ago. She then puts the guitar down and leaves.
Fittingly enough for a game as bleak as The Last of Us Part 2, it ends on a pretty sombre note. It leaves Ellie at rock bottom, and it puts her entire quest for revenge into question. But of course, Ellie is not the only protagonist of this story- there’s also Abby, who has her own journey, and things for whom are probably looking somewhat brighter at the end.
Throughout The Last of Us Part 2, Abby’s storyline brings up the possibility of a return for the Fireflies, and towards the end when she finally manages to make contact with them at Santa Barbara, that is confirmed as fact. And though she spends months as a prisoner of the Rattlers, after Ellie lets her and Lev go, you’d think she heads straight to Catalina Island, where the Fireflies told her to meet up with her. In fact, The Last of Us Part 2 co-director Kurt Margenau recently told Press-Start that the new start screen the game shows you once you’ve finished it is actually showing Abby and Lev’s boat on Catalina Island, suggesting that they did make it and manage to find the Fireflies.
It’s clear from the way the stories for both Ellie and Abby end that there is a very real possibility that there will be another The Last of Us game. Neil Druckmann himself recently said that that might be the project that Naughty Dog move on to next, so a Part 3 is, at the very least, something that he and Naughty Dog are thinking about.
And here’s the thing about a potential Part 3– unlike the first game, Part 2 very explicitly calls out for a sequel. Where the first game was a beautifully self-contained one that could have easily done without a sequel, Part 2 seems to very explicitly set up a sequel in more ways than one. For starters, the fates of both Ellie and Abby are left ambiguous in a way that makes it feel like their stories will continue.
But more importantly, larger events seem to be setting up a sequel as well. Specifically, I’m referring to the fact that the Fireflies are back. Their ultimate goal was to re-establish all orders of the government and bring back some semblance of structure and society to their post-apocalyptic world, and even though Marlene might not be around to lead them anymore, you’d think that’s what they’d want to do following their return as well. And they have something they did not have before- they know how to get a cure. They know this time that Ellie is immune, and that through her they can make a cure that will help them bring order and stability back to the world, and it’s more than likely that that will play a massive role in Part 3.
Where the common consensus with Part 1 was that its self-contained and conclusive story did not need a sequel, Part 2 actually seems like a game that would greatly benefit from one. I would love for there to be redemption for Ellie, for a concluding chapter of her arc and this trilogy to tie off all the threads still left hanging, from the characters of Tommy, Ellie, Abby, Dina, and Lev, to the who Firefly arc. In fact, it would make a lot of sense to bring things full circle and have the story end with the Fireflies finally being able to make a cure thanks to an Ellie who’s looking not only for purpose, but also for redemption.
I’m sure that’s going through Naughty Dog’s thought process as well- or at least I’m hoping it is.