Five Narrative Directions For The Last Of Us Part II
Warning: Major spoilers for The Last of Us and the Left Behind DLC.
The Last of Us is a well-crafted adventure that many believe doesn’t need a sequel. Could a continuation of this narrative diminish the impact of the original’s tense ending? Will revisiting these beloved characters, in a drastically different tone than the last game, be satisfying? It’s hard to say, but if anyone is equipped to deliver a promising storyline, it’s Naughty Dog.
At PlayStation Experience 2016, we were treated to The Last of Us Part II’s two-minute reveal. Ellie takes center stage as the protagonist, and a foreboding sense invades the teaser as piles of bodies lie in her wake. Joel stands in the doorway, but the emotional connection between the two seems to stutter. It’s clear that much is different this time around.
Questions and fan theories have been rampant online, and we have some of ideas of our own. Here are five narrative directions we hope to see in The Last of Us Part II.
Repercussions of the Lie
The original The Last of Us ended with Joel making a tough decision and telling an irredeemable lie. After discovering that Ellie would need to be sacrificed in order to extract a cure for the spore-borne virus turning everyone into monsters, he couldn’t face that reality. Instead, he brought her to safety, and lied by telling her that the Fireflies were no longer looking for a cure. Rather than saving the world, he saved the one person he loves.
Did Ellie believe him, or is there part of her that knows he's hiding the truth? In the final scene, we see her confronting Joel again, who insists that he is telling the truth. It’s left ambiguous as to whether she believes him or not, and it’s likely we’ll see ramifications of this in the sequel. Perhaps Ellie discovered the truth, or maybe Joel finally admitted it. Joel didn't only tell her a huge lie, but he also killed several Fireflies in the hospital, and brutally murdered Marlene. If Ellie found out, I can imagine that there would be significantly more friction in their relationship. It wouldn't be surprising to see some animosity between the two or a falling out, considering Neil Druckmann has described the sequel as "a story about hate."
Perhaps this hatred divides Ellie and Joel, but it's also possible it'll appear in the form of self-hatred. Ellie is already plagued with survivor's guilt, and if the truth came to light about Joel's decision, it's likely that this guilt would become even more crippling.
Emphasis on Backstories
The Last of Us did an astounding job of fleshing out characters that felt real. Talking to Ellie during the quieter moments brings depth to her personality, whether she's pulling out her joke book of bad puns or commenting on the world around her. What ended up really connecting me to Ellie, however, was playing through a pivotal moment in her past in the DLC Left Behind. Rewinding back to when she was first bit, the game acquaints us with her best friend Riley, and what life was like for Ellie before she met Joel or the Fireflies.
In the main campaign, we see Joel’s hardships first-hand; we know exactly what pain he went through and how it shaped him into the hardened man he is today. Ellie also saw loved ones fall at the hands of the infection. What’s interesting is that neither of them opened up much about these past traumas. Ellie briefly mentions it at the end of the game, but it's most effective and emotionally impactful when we play through the past ourselves, rather than being told about it through exposition.
In Left Behind, we got to know Ellie better. Like most people in this world, she has lost people she loved, including one girl she cared deeply for. Ellie and Riley's kiss was a defining moment that was real, beautiful, and heart-wrenching. It was a brief romantic moment that didn't feel shoehorned in, but instead had a genuine lead up, making the sorrowful ending that much more difficult to face. While Naughty Dog's games never fully focus on romance, they have proven that they are more than apt at writing realistic romance. For example, the relationship between Nate and Elena has had its fair share of ups and downs, and the connection between the two shined brightest during the quieter moments of Uncharted 4.
The Last of Us is first and foremost a zombie apocalypse thriller, but the original game also focused on realistic human connections. It would be interesting to see Ellie's sexuality further explored, or see how a love interest could impact the story.
A Human Enemy
In the first game, Joel and Ellie bond despite having difficult histories, helping one another move past incomprehensible traumas just by showing affection to one another. This is the core of The Last of Us. It's less concerned about an enemy figure, and more centered on character development. In the sequel, it will be interesting to see how the cast grows, and what new faces appear. Perhaps we will see the return of the Fireflies, with them becoming a more central enemy this time as Joel keeps Ellie from their grasp. Or perhaps it'll be something altogether different. What I hope is that zombies won't be the sole enemy, with more human conflict coming into play during this desperate fight for survival.
Is Joel Dead?
In the teaser from PSX, Ellie is surrounded by corpses, and blood runs down her forehead. It gives the impression that she has killed off all these people herself, and some fans believe it may have been to avenge Joel. A popular theory online is that Joel is murdered in the sequel, and that he returns as a ghost, or as a figment of Ellie's imagination, as she hunts down those responsible for his death. We never see him up close in the teaser, with his back turned to the camera as he talks softly to Ellie, which could be an indication that he's not making the full return we are expecting. It could make for an intriguing story, perhaps with Joel acting as a guide to Ellie, even though it would be a hard pill for fans to swallow.