The Last of Us: Understanding the Final Scene

I think I went into a state of depression after I finished The Last of Us. I didn’t eat for two days. This game, the connection it makes with the gamer; it’s an intense power I didn’t realize a game could have over someone. It’s in that reasoning why I decided to study the final scene in The Last of Us. With a narrative as strong as this, it was hard to choose a different subject matter.  I will analyze the meaning behind the last scene in the game by paralleling it to the last scene in the DLC. To start, here is the final scene I am analyzing.

 

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXwAKAZt8O8[/youtube]

 

Ellie: Back in Boston, back when I was bitten. I wasn’t alone. My best friend was there, and she got bit too. We didn’t know what to do. So, she says: “Lets just wait it out. You know, we can be all poetic and just lose our minds together.” I’m still waiting for my turn.

Joel: Ellie..

Ellie: Her name was Riley and she was the first to die, then it was Tess, and then Sam.

Joel: None of that is on you.

Ellie: No, you don’t understand.

Joel: I struggled for a long time with surviving. No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for. Now I know that’s not something you want to hear right now—

Ellie: Swear to me…swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true.

Joel: I swear.

Ellie: Okay.

 

This scene for the longest time really upset me. I get emotionally attached to characters in games, especially when the character development is so in-depth and well rounded like it was in The Last of Us (It was what made this my favorite game of 2013.) I didn’t understand how they could end the game without closure. How the developers could end the game with a lie. So, to get to the bottom of why the developers ended the game this way I decided to play the game again. I paid more attention to the scenes, every word, every pause, every sideways glance because I promise you, there are secrets in what characters don’t say as well as what they do say. Now, let me explain my personal understanding as to why Naughty Dog ended The Last of Us the way they did.

 

Let’s start with Joel. Joel starts with little family. His wife was gone before we entered the game. He only has his brother and his daughter, Sarah. However, Sarah is dead within the first fifteen minutes of gameplay. A death that held more emotion then I thought possible for so early into a video game.

The Last of Us(3)  The Last of us(4)  The Last of Us(5)

The death of Sarah was carved into Joel, you saw her death in his tired face, his hard eyes and the way he distanced himself from anyone he might love again. The player never forgot Sarah in the game because Joel himself could never forget Sarah. It’s in that reasoning that I think Joel was so scared of becoming close to Ellie. He was terrified of losing someone again. There is only so much loss one person can undergo. But over the span of one year, Joel began to view Ellie as family, as a daughter. Once they were close there was no going back; there was no saying, ‘goodbye.’ While some might think Joel selfish, I think it goes a lot deeper then that.

 

Ellie: Swear to me…swear to me that everything you said about the Fireflies is true.

Joel: I swear.

Ellie: Okay.

 

That lie. I hated that lie; in everyway I hated that lie. And the fact Ellie says: “Okay.” I fumed after that, watching the credits thinking, ‘Seriously? That’s all?’ That was until I played the game a second time. May I mention that Ellie is smart and extremely intuitive? She has a great judgment of character, she has been able to read situations, know they are bad, and assess them properly. Ellie has always trusted the right people in the game and was cautious of the bad. I realized Ellie had to have known Joel was lying. There is a long pause between Joel and Ellie’s last words and I think she had to have known. She probably wanted to believe Joel, also not wanting to lose another person in her life. So, despite knowing the truth internally, she outwardly accepts the information.

 

Also, I would like to ask if Ellie had to be the one to let Joel go, even if it was for the good of the world, do you think she could let that happen?

 

The Last of Us(7)

 

Ellie: Everyone I have cared for has either died or left me. Everyone – fucking except for you!

 

I know she would never be able to let Joel go if it was the other way around. And I know that Joel would have wanted to die for the good of the world just like Ellie, because he lost people to the infected virus as well. In this game, self-sacrifice is easy, it’s the letting someone go that is impossible.

 

To continue, even after playing the game a second time I was still unsettled; there was no resolve: or so I thought. Soon after I finished playing the game a second time, the downloadable content came out (Well worth the fifteen dollars) and it became time to dive further into Ellie’s life. It is in the last scene that all is pieced together.

 

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UoOnqNpkFaA[/youtube]

 

Riley: There are a million ways we should’ve died before today. And a million ways we can die before tomorrow. 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.

 

Riley’s final monologue should sound very familiar. It’s saying the same thing Joel said in the last scene, just worded differently.

 

 

Joel: …No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for.

Riley: 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.

 

This made the ending scene of The Last of Us perfect. It was with this all was revealed. Yes, Ellie knew Joel was lying, she hoped he wasn’t, but I really think she knew. With Ellie’s own desire not to lose another person in her life added with Joel’s words that parallel the words of her fallen best friend, how could she not understand Joel’s reasons for being selfish and wanting Ellie to live. The theme of this game, said so often though silence, words, and actions is no other than: “We fight; for every second we get to spend with each other.” That is why Joel lies, and that is the reason Ellie says ‘okay.’ She is not accepting the lie but understands the lie because in the end it doesn’t matter if Joel was being honest or deceitful. “The Last of Us” means exactly that. To Joel and to Ellie, the most important person in their lives are each other and they wouldn’t give that up for anything.

 

  6 comments for “The Last of Us: Understanding the Final Scene

  1. gsmith5
    January 29, 2015 at 8:24 pm

    This game was also one of my favorite games that I’ve ever played. I connected to the story a lot for some reason. I also really loved the characters, probably because they aren’t black and white. They aren’t the best people but that doesn’t make them bad either. I think one of the reasons I love the characters as much as I do is because of what you talked about here. The way Joel and Ellie care for each other so much that they are willing to live with that lie just so they don’t have to give each other up. They fight for each other and to be with each other, no matter what that means for the rest of the world.

  2. blissfulmomo
    January 29, 2015 at 10:46 pm

    I really thought it was great on how you paralleled Sarah to Ellie and Riley to Joel. I think it’s important how Joel and Ellie remind each other of people they have lost. This has to be one of my favorite games based on the gameplay and the great storytelling aspect. It’s nice because the cut scenes don’t exhaust you. You want to know more, and they are always placed in just the right places. I really feel Ellie is a great character. The fact she asks about the fireflies instead if his story is true, really shows she already knew the truth but was willing to trust him no matter what.

  3. Meghan Cardwell
    January 29, 2015 at 11:40 pm

    Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to play The Last Of Us myself, but I’ve watched Let’s Plays online and helped my friends along while they played it. So, no worries about spoilers 😉 I really love the personal touch you brought to this post. I also get attached to characters, and reading the way that Joel and Ellie made you feel really makes me want to play the game now! You definitely have way of tellng a story with your writing. Along the same line as storytelling, I really love the way The Last Of Us tells it’s tale. It keeps you hooked without totally wearing you out, and the themes that flow in and out of the storyline remind you of key points you might have forgotten about during gameplay. The Sarah/Ellie comparison is such a profound part of the game and helps you understand the ending a lot more. Excellent work!

  4. rajonnine
    January 30, 2015 at 5:43 am

    Now I want to play this game after reading this blog post O.o I liked how you talked about the scenes that caused you to be emotional and talking about the two depressing scenes. I admired the GIFS and pics to help it out your blog post. Especially you maintained to stay on topic which was the last scene you talked about. Those two depressing scenes are comparable because you were matching Riley’s side to Joel’s side. It reminds them both that they lost somebody so that the narrative of the story can keep going. Every action adventure video game must contain a narrative story to keep it going on. I’ll be honest with the lie, it seems skeptical to a person that never played the game yet but it seems the story shall go on. I’m thinking I’m going to get the game soon to play it with from the excitement and good reviews I’ve read about.

  5. mfierro
    January 30, 2015 at 11:16 am

    l love the Last of Us! I haven’t played it but I’ve been watching some gameplay of it on YouTube and I definitely want to start playing it! You really do get emotionally attached to the characters, and I was gutted when Joel was hurt (I didn’t know if he was going to die or not). The game developers did a great job developing a story to each character so that the players could connect to them . It was almost like Joel found a new family when he met up with Ellie. And I really like how you chose this ending scene to analyze because it has the most emotion to it, in my opinion. I really like the visuals you incorporated, it brought you back into the game to remember the scenes that you were talking about. I definitely agree with what you said about the title of the game. They really are the “Last of us” to each other and they want to make that last as long as possible.

  6. February 11, 2015 at 1:56 am

    I’ve only seen The Last of Us played through Let’s Plays and over my brother’s shoulder, but from your post alone I now want to go through and beat it myself. Not for the success of beating the game, but for the emotional anguish it will bring me! YAY ;_____; I absolutely love your assessment of the game’s parallels with Joel, Ellie, and Riley’s personal stances on survival matching up. It’s clear from the writing and gameplay alone how deep these characters cut into the audience’s emotions, and with goals that link up it makes their appeal even stronger. We want to see them survive, because others before them have failed! Not only that, but I believe the emotions depicted on all the characters face- be it Joel’s steely reserve, or Ellie’s optimistic openness- the graphics alone paint a picture for a harsh reality that wears on the bodies and faces of it’s characters, not just in blood spatter. I think that element alone really sold the game for me, making it not just a gaming experience but a cinematic one too.

Leave a Reply