Mike Murphy

Digital Video Producer, YouTube/Twitch Personality, Web Journalist, Sports Fan & Lover of Many Things

On Being a Survivor: Thoughts on The Last of Us

As many of you lovely gamers are aware, there’s this little game by Naughty Dog called The Last of Us that’s been out for a while and causing one heck of a discussion. The title’s being considered by many for Game of the Year, and the ending is something of a shocker to most — if not all — who’ve completed it. The following are my thoughts on the game and the ending specifically, so obviously here is a spoiler warning in case you haven’t witnessed it yourself. I’ll even put it in bold words after this paragraph to show I mean business.

*SPOILER WARNING! The plot of The Last of Us — specifically the ending — is broken down and analyzed here. Don’t read  further if you intend to finish the game and haven’t yet!*

What catches everyone by surprise is the fact that when those credits roll and the game is finished, Joel has essentially become “the bad guy.” Instead of sacrificing Ellie for the greater good at the Firefly base in Salt Lake City, he selfishly kills just about everybody he can so he can take her to his brother’s camp and have something to live for. Some can’t forgive him simply because he lies to Ellie in the closing scene. Many can’t forgive him at all.

While Joel’s ultimate decision makes me uncomfortable, I can forgive him. For everything. Not because what I think he did was right, but because I believe I would’ve done the same exact thing if I was in his position.

It all comes from Joel’s beliefs regarding this new world, which gets mentioned a few times via different quotes. The two that stand out the most come from one of the game’s trailers and the game’s ending.

Quote 1: The Trailer

“[Joel] tells me that on this journey, you either hang on to your morals and die or do whatever it takes to survive.”

-Ellie

Quote 2: The Ending

“I struggled for a long time with surviving. And you- No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for.”

-Joel

Knowing this mentality going in, I prepared myself to have to do terrible things as Joel in order to keep fighting an surviving. It didn’t leave me heartless, but made me aware of the fact that should I be in a life-or-death split-second decision or under immense stress regarding mine or Ellie’s survival, I’d take the route that would keep us both alive. That route, as the ending proves, wasn’t always the moral one. I still held to my morals, but removed them from the equation when necessary.

This mentality also left me completely fine with all the people I killed along the way. I made myself judge, jury, and executioner by rationalizing these peoples’ varying ethical codes and doling out justice, even if by my own code as Joel it left me as a bit of a hypocrite.

In FEDRA, I saw a group that abused its right to enforce marshal law and oppressed the freedoms of its citizens. With the hunters, they were savage brutes who used brutality, deception, ruthlessness to take whatever they wanted regardless of who they slaughtered along the way. When confronting David and his men, it was a group that resorted to cannibalism.

These men performed great transgressions, and had no right to be treated with any less ruthlessness than they showed Joel, Ellie, and others. If anything, I was ridding the world of the evil and corrupt that remained in this land. Besides, it was a kill or be killed environment and allowed me to reach my end goal all the same.

But of course the slaughtering of the Fireflies at the end of the game was something completely different. These people were treating their kind fairly, not reverting to barbarous methods for survival, and were trying to cure this plague so humanity could return to its former glory. All of these are just and noble causes or beliefs. Why then, would I feel Joel to be justified in his attack on them? Why do I believe I would do the same thing?

It was because Ellie had become family. She became a surrogate daughter, and the Fireflies wouldn’t give me a chance to at least talk to her, find out if she really wanted this, and say goodbye.

For that decision, Marlene and the Fireflies issued their own death warrant. I, acting as Joel, wasn’t going to let someone that close to me never know if she made it or not, whether or not he was with her at the end, if she still wanted to go through with everything. Also, and more selfishly, she was what Joel was fighting for to survive; and he needed to do whatever it took to keep on surviving.

So I fought through the troops without mercy. They were keeping Joel from his new family, keeping him from his reason to live. I didn’t want to kill them, but they left me no choice. The same can be said for the surgeon, but he raised his scalpel to Joel and I had to bury it into his own chest. He left me no choice.

There wasn’t even a desire in me to kill Marlene, but like Joel I had to throw away my morals; understanding that if Marlene didn’t die, she’d hunt down and kill Joel to get to Ellie and perform the surgery that would then kill her.

Was it all for the greater good? No, not necessarily. However, it isn’t the end of a cure. Joel simply decided for his sake, and a tad for Ellie’s, that he’d rather risk the long-term solution of genetic evolution over a possible vaccine. They’d kept each other alive through the worst possible situations. Doing so in Tommy’s safe haven should be a breeze.

Then came the lie, and I perfectly understand why Joel did it. It was here where he learned that if given the choice Ellie would’ve sacrificed herself, but it was too late to go back now. Joel knew that the best way for Ellie to survive is if she stuck with him, and if he told her the truth she’d leave him. Besides, she’s the reason why he keeps fighting; why he’s still a survivor.

And in order to survive, you need to do whatever it takes.

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