I consider myself lucky in that I was able to avoid all the spoilers for the Last of Us up until I finished the game a few days ago. I didn’t know what to expect at the end of Joel and Ellie’s long journey. But, something happened in the very last act that had a lot more impact on me than the ending of the game.
Now, this article’s going to be very spoiler heavy so if you haven’t finished the game I’d definitely skip it.
So we know that poor Joel lost his daughter to a soldier who was ordered to take them down even though they weren’t infected. It was a heartbreaking scene with Joel cradling his dying daughter Sarah in his arms, especially for me since I have a child of my own. It’s also the event that really sets up Joel and his transformation to a hardened survivor and in the end, back to a caring parent.
Throughout the game, you witness the bond that develops between Ellie and Joel. Ellie, who is a possible cure for the infection that’s lasted over 20 years. But to be that cure, she must be sacrificed.
Joel, having been through so much with Ellie, can’t bear to watch her die, even if it is for the greater good of mankind. He definitely wasn’t about to go through losing another daughter, which is what Ellie has become for him. Cradling an unconscious Ellie in his arms, eerily similar to the scene at the beginning of the game with Sarah, Joel sets forth escaping the Fireflies in the hospital, determined to take her away and live their life at Joel's brother's community.
It's here that Joel is his most vulnerable. Without the ability to draw a weapon and trying to race through the hospital with an equally vulnerable Ellie in his arms, I sensed the game was near its end.
Throughout my time playing, I thought there was a chance that one or both of the main characters wouldn't make it to the end credits alive. The thought was reinforced when Joel was told Ellie would have to die in order for a cure to be produced.
My first time trying to escape with Ellie, I ran pretty far when I suddenly was confronted by one of the armed Fireflies. The scene of the Firefly unloading onto Joel's face with his gun was such a shocking sight to me that my mind raced through a number of events that I experienced with Joel and Ellie, almost like one who's life flashes before their eyes in the face of death.
I sat there in a state of disbelief, which is a little surprising since I almost expected Joel and/or Ellie to die. I thought of all that Joel and Ellie went through to get to the Fireflies, all the pain, all the close calls, all the sacrifices made. So many emotions went through me as the screen went black.
It was here that I thought I would see a cut scene where the Fireflies take Ellie back to the operating room with another doctor coming in to finish the operation. It would've been a bitter sweet moment to have Joel die tying to protect his second "daughter" Ellie and seeing the aftermath of a world without clickers or runners.
It seemed forever but when the screen snapped back to me holding Ellie, I was surprised again. It took me a few seconds to start running, but this time I was able to elude all the Fireflies and get the true ending.
After Ellie's last word, I sat back and though about what I just experienced. For many, the way Joel lied to Ellie was a shock unto itself. For me, that ending didn't compare to what I thought was going to be the end with Joel dying while holding Ellie in his arms. Don't get me wrong. I thought the ending of The Last of Us was really powerful. But for some reason, Joel's death at that point in the game had a more profound affect on me.
It seems trivial because I've seen Joel die many times at the hands of an infected or human. And as I said earlier, I was kind of expecting Joel to die. The proximity to what I felt was the end game, the intense scenario of me carrying Ellie away from harm, and the incredible animation that Naughty Dog produced all combined to leave me speechless at a death scene that didn't mean anything.
I don't think there's ever been a game that's done that to me. For me, it's another example of how Naughty Dog masterfully crafted this game where a simple death scene to a level had such an emotional affect.