The Last of Us Part Two: A Story of Empathy

Disclaimer: This article contains extensive spoilers for The Last of Us Part Two.

The Last of Us Part Two has been the subject of much debate, discussion, hate and complaints ever since the controversial death of Joel was leaked online. To add fuel to the fire, once the game was released, fans found that they were made to play as Abby, the very character that dealt the killing blow to Joel.

Many players considered this as a spit to the face, but I am here to tell you that Naughty Dog (ND) is trying to teach us empathy, and the shocking death of Joel is where it all began.

If the first game is about Love, then the second game is about Hate.

The Last of Us Part 1 is a phenomenal game that pulls on the heartstrings of everyone who plays it. In essence, it is about a man who bonds with another young girl after the death of his own daughter. It is a simple story about fatherhood and the bond between the two characters is heartfelt in a way that very little other games can compare to.

ND used that emotional connection as a bullet, locked and loaded it into a gun, and squeezed the trigger. If that short sequence of Joel’s death shocks you, enrages you and infuriates you to the end of the earth, then congratulations, you have become Ellie. You the player are now Ellie the protagonist, filled with grief and sorrow, and your only goal is to hunt Abby down. This is part of ND’s plan to have the player embody the main theme of Part Two: hate.

Joel bludgeoned to death

Looking at both sides of the mirror

Unlike Part One, which had a linear narrative storyline and a clear cut set of cultivated friendships, gruesome villains, and apocalyptic hurdles, Part Two’s narrative is more perspective-driven, with multiple flashbacks and backstories, especially for Abby.

In the Last of Us Part Two, we see the viewpoint of our two protagonists, who are simultaneously our two antagonists. When you play as Ellie, she becomes the protagonist who views Abby as an antagonist, and vice versa. This parallelism in the game’s narrative is what I love about Part Two. We often forget that in war, both sides fight for their own beliefs and their own brand of justice.

In the first 10 hours of the game, you play as Ellie seeking justice for Joel, a narrative move that many fans did not approve of. Here’s why.

Ellie’s Descent

From Day 1 to Day 3 in Seattle , the weather will go from bright and sunny to relentless rain, and eventually a storm. Each day represents the downward spiral of Ellie’s mood and mentality. Ellie also slowly performs more horrendous acts and becomes even more terrifying than the zombies in game. With the cruel torture of Nora to the murder of Mel and her unborn child, Ellie becomes unrecognizably obsessed with getting revenge.

Ellie torturing Nora to get information

This does not sit well with the players because Ellie was once a hopeful and positive character who believed that she is meant to save humanity. However, now she is torn down to embody the very basic instinct of revenge. She did not want to even save Tommy because that path will take her away from hunting Abby.

Ellie’s murderous rampage only stopped after killing Mel, a pregnant woman. This hits a nerve with Ellie’s mental state as she sees her partner Dina in Mel, and is no longer willing to put her in danger just for to sate her need for revenge. Ellie is ready to pack it up and go home.

This is when Abby appears.

Rise of Abby

The game then immediately turns you into Abby, a character with nearly no backstory, and at this point in the game, you probably still hate Abby with all your being. However, ND immediately makes the player walk a mile in her shoes.

As Abby, you will interact with many people from your faction–people who were murdered by Ellie. You get to know many friendly faces, including Alice, Mel’s loyal canine companion, while knowing of their demise at the hands of our former protagonist. This is the first time I felt guilty of killing the “bad” guys.

As Abby’s story progresses, she learns to empathize with Lev and Yarra, two young children from an enemy faction known as Scars. She goes to great lengths to help Lev and Yarra despite all the risks, and even ends up fighting her very own faction. She does all this in the hopes of cleansing her guilt from what she did to Joel.

Moments before Abby let Dina go

The End of a Cycle

As Abby learns to empathize with Lev and Yarra, the player in turn learns to empathize with Abby. Abby’s trauma parallels Ellie’s in the loss of their father, friends, and the traumatic events that cause them to exact their revenge. Even when Ellie is supposed to be happy with Dina and Jessie Junior, Ellie could not let go of Joel’s death. PTSD keeps haunting her even with her calming life on the farm. Despite all the good in her life, she has not let go and once again goes after Abby.

However, things take a turn during the climax of the game. At the very last moment, when Ellie has Abby at death’s door and she is finally close to enacting the revenge she desired throughout the game, she instead lets go. She let Abby live and this in turn means she has let go of the hatred that governs her very being.

For the first time in a long time, Ellie does not remember Joel as a bludgeoned face but rather, him sipping his coffee and playing his guitar. This is Ellie’s closure.

Final Scene with Joel

Yes, this revenge plot ends with Ellie killing everyone except Abby. Some argue that there is no closure, but I feel that Ellie letting go of her need for revenge is closure as of itself. At the end of the game, we finally get back the Ellie that we loved from the first game.

Finally, ND has done something tremendous here. ND made me empathize with both the protagonist and the antagonist at the end of the game. This is only something that games, as an interactive medium can do. I do not believe I can feel this much anguish, pain, and relief for both Ellie and Abby if I were just watching a movie titled “The Last of Us”. This game played with my emotions from the start to the end and I absolutely loved it.

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