It’s a two for one blog post this week, with more analysis on the video game, The Last of Us.
• Segmenting the main plot is good. Four part method is (1) introduction; (2) first journey; (3) everything terrible happens; (4) beginning of hope/new plan, biggest battle and conclusion.
• Main emotional conflicts should be established early on and come to a head often (a big middle event and the big final event).
• Every segment needs an emotional payoff at the end, with enough time for buildup.
• Transitioning between large periods is okay without explaining what happened on the journey in-between.
• Little things count: keep the reader reminded of the main themes/conflicts and set them up early. Physical reminders can help us remember these things.
• We care about characters who care about others, who are experts or at least try to learn, and are proactive.
• With darker stories, intersperse some reasons to hope, and don’t take away every one of those reasons. If everything is dark 24/7 we won’t care as much.
My previous post was on the general lessons of The Last of Us. This post is included as a bonus for those interested in delving in more. I made the summary for the previous post to better organize my thoughts. Pertinent points will be bolded for potential playlist items. I put in my own chapters where I thought they were appropriate (there are no chapters in the game).
The game segments into four seasons, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Spring, so I’ll divide my own summary into these (with a few additional parts in the beginning).
Sarah’s POV [Sarah’s POV really brings us into this as she’s young and doesn’t know what’s going on. Can you change the POV to make things more impactful, even if it’s a character who dies?]. Sarah is a little girl sleeping on a couch in a living room. Her father, Joel, enters the room and wakes her up. Sarah surprises Joel with a birthday present, a watch [this watch becomes important throughout the game and is a great example of how small symbols can draw the reader in]. There’s some nice banter as Joel pretends the gift is broken. They stay up watching TV for a bit then Sarah falls asleep and Joel carries her to her room. [great opening to make us care about the characters and show that they love each other]
Sarah wakes up later from a call from her uncle Tommy who frantically is trying to reach her father. The call gets disconnected. Sarah walks around the house looking for her dad and doesn’t initially find him. There are small signs that something is wrong–a newspaper tells us about infections at a hospital; a newscast shows a reporter at the scene of a giant explosion in the city which we can see from the window and the TV; we hear dogs barking suddenly get silenced, etc. [tension build up from small things].
Sarah finds her father, who reenters the house scared to death. He talks about a sick neighbor who then attacks them. Joel shoots the neighbor, killing him. Sarah is disturbed and Joel comforts her [deal with consequences; how would these events actually impact the characters?]. Tommy pulls up with a truck and all three leave the suburbs, heading into the city, talking about what’s going on.
Some nice interaction between Joel, Tommy, and Sarah. We see people leaving their homes. The group refuses to pick up a family on the road who try to get their attention. Sarah thinks they should have helped them since they had a kid but Joel was dead set against it. [This sets up early on that Joel will protect his loved ones without caring about the consequences to anyone else, an important theme throughout the game; Sarah’s moment of empathy for wanting to stop also makes us care for her. Can you add small moments where the protagonists/antagonists empathize with something?]
When they try to leave the city all the highways are backed up. Infected attack them and they barely make it back into town which is in complete chaos. They get in a car crash and the screen blacks out.
We switch to Joel’s POV with him getting out of the car [This switch is nice because we get POV’s from both the father and the daughter, making us care for both]. He carries Sarah with him since she was injured. Tommy defends them as they make their way out of the city. Lots of infected attack. Joel and Tommy get separated. Joel makes it to a military checkpoint outside the city, being chased by infected. The soldier kills the zombies, then gets orders to kill Joel and Sarah to containment the outbreak. Tommy shows up at the last minute and kills the soldier but not before the soldier open fires. Sarah is mortally injured and dies in Joel’s arms. [The setup of this entire section makes this last part work tremendously, making the gamer really care about Sarah’s death and Joel’s pain]
We get a montage of radio reports describing what’s happening with the infection–it’s global, killed lots of people or changed them, and the government has collapsed. We get an introduction to the Firefly group who want to bring back all branches of government but are viewed by many as terrorists. Lots of protests and general chaos. [Nice way to say what happened during the 20 years it takes for chapter 1 to start; books have similarly done this with quotes strewn throughout that detail something in the past]
Segment 1 Summer
Chapter 1 Joel wakes up 20 years later as a grizzled old man to a knocking at the door. We see he is wearing the watch that Sarah gave him, though it now has a bullet hole in it [Here we still keep Sarah’s presence alive; using a physical object can be great for this since it’s a constant reminder; though we as authors can’t have the constant visual cue, we could include something where the main character is always touching his token to remind us of what it means]. He talks to his partner, Tess, about their smuggling operations. Tess is injured from getting attacked on the way back from a job by some thugs who work for a guy named Robert. The two decide to go after Robert [Initial conflict of the story that isn’t the main plot but draws the reader in].
We get an introduction into the setting of a ruined world with armed soldiers, forced ratios and curfew [Big setting establishment]. People live in walled cities away from the infected. People suspected of being infected are rounded up and shot.
There’s a Firefly attack, causing a shutdown in the city. Joel and Tess are forced to go outside the wall to get to Robert. They learn the leader of the Firefly’s, Marlene, is looking for Robert too but they don’t know why. We get introduced to the outside, which is a lush beautiful wasteland. [Again, introduction into setting]
We get our first action scene of dealing with minor zombies and learn about the spores that cause the infection and require gas masks to stay human. Joel and Tess get back into the city, closing in on Robert’s location. Both Tess and Joel are shown to be expert fighters [Showcases the characters’ proactivity in taking out Robert and illustrates their expertise in something]. They take down Robert who admits he stole their gun shipment and gave it to the Fireflies.
The leader of the Firefly’s, Marlene, shows up wounded from the earlier attack. She offers to give them back their guns with additional payment if Joel and Tess smuggle something out of the city. [This is the catalyst that will start the characters on their main plot] The job turns out to be smuggling a girl named Ellie. Joel and Tess are to take the girl to another group of Fireflies in the capital, a few miles away. There’s a small interlude while Tess goes to make sure Marlene has the guns and Ellie and Joel spend some time together [Force the characters into a situation where they have to interact; Ellie asks Joel about his broken watch, again reminding us of Sarah and keeping her in the story]. Initially, their relationship is rocky and they dislike each other. Ellie is 14.
Cut scene to Joel waking up at night. Tess comes back and is excited about getting Ellie to the capital so they can collect their guns and other payment from the Fireflies (the Fireflies can’t take Ellie because most of them are dead from the earlier fight and Marlene is wounded). Joel and Tess don’t know why Ellie is being transported and Ellie won’t say.
The group gets outside but are caught by soldiers who test them all for infection. Joel and Tess are able to take out the soldiers but not before the soldiers positively test Ellie for infection. Joel and Tess are upset, but Ellie tries to convince them she was bitten 3 weeks ago and still hasn’t turned, meaning she is immune and could be a cure to the zombie fungus. [This revelation sets up the importance of their mission]. Joel and Tess don’t initially believe her but reinforcements interrupt their conversation and they have to flee.
Once they escape, Ellie explains that the Fireflies wanted to use her to make a cure. Tess begins to think it might be true and convinces Joel to at least take Ellie to the capital. They make their way through ruined skyscrapers [Great setting inside decrepit skyscrapers with waterfalls running down them from the rain]. They meet a new type of zombie along the way (clickers who use sonar to locate their prey). We learn about how the world fell apart: the government bombed the outsides of each quarantine zone to destroy the infected and pave some room. [Shows you can spread out your information. It can be a good thing to give the reader just enough information to keep up with what’s currently happening. Also, it’s useful to have a character who is ignorant to the world so others can explain things to her. In this case, it’s Ellie.]
The group makes it to the capital building near dawn. They find the Fireflies but they’re all dead, caught by soldiers in the area. Tess wants to take Ellie onward but Joel disagrees and tries to convince Tess to forget about it. Tess reveals that she was bitten earlier. She compares her wound with Ellie’s to convince Joel that Ellie might be for real. Soldiers show up and Tess demands to stay behind and buy them some time as she’s going to die anyways. She forces Joel to promise he’ll take care of Ellie and get her to the Fireflies.
Joel takes Ellie and they run. They escape through a subway which is full of infected and spores. Joel quickly puts on his gas mask but sees that Ellie is breathing it in without any consequences. [Confirming major revelations a few times isn’t a bad idea]. Their escape is complicated by the fact that Ellie can’t swim but they find solutions around that [Characters have weaknesses they need to overcome/adapt to it by working as a team]. Ellie tries to apologize for Tess but Joel shuts her down and tells Ellie to not talk about it [The main flaw of Joel comes up that he shuts his emotions off].
Joel plans to take Ellie to his brother in Colorado since his brother used to be a Firefly and should be able to take Ellie on his hands. They head into another town to meet up with a friend, Bill, who can provide them with a car. They have some downtime as they walk through the woods [There’s a lot of intermittent action with down periods of talk. This can be extremely important for readers to see how characters are digesting what’s happening to them]. Ellie tries to learn how to whistle. Ellie starts to make herself useful, getting into places where Joel can’t fit and wanting to use a bow so she can help fight the zombies. Joel initially denies her helping in any way, but is forced to relent in certain situations. [Shows Ellie is proactive, and that she likes to learn. Gives us insight into her personality with her trying to whistle] We get additional setting, such as notices for mandatory evictions, as well as traps that highlight Bill’s personality.
Joel gets stuck in one of Bill’s traps. Ellie tries to rescue him but he’s ultimately saved by Bill who takes them into a safe house. He is a grouchy man living by himself who instantly dislikes Ellie. Joel finally convinces Bill to help them to get a working car.
They go to Bill’s armory and stock up. Ellie wants to get a gun to defend herself but Joel won’t let her. [This is another common theme that is building up: Ellie wants to help, Joel won’t let her. It will become important later on. This tension is shown throughout. It also makes us like Ellie because she continually tries] Bill keeps bringing up Tess but Joel never tells him that she died [Again establishing Joel’s personality of never getting close to people].
Ellie gets into some of Bill’s things, causing a temporary fight. They make plans to get the battery out of a military truck that recently got overran by infected at the ruined high school. However, when they fight their way there, they discover the truck’s battery is missing. They flee through the constricting halls of the high school, barely making it out alive. They end up at Bill’s ex-lover’s house where they find he committed suicide some time ago after being bitten. Bill is devastated but hides his pain. They find the truck battery in the house, along with a semi-working car. Joel and Bill push the car down hills while Ellie works to get the engine running, all the while being attacked by infected. The car finally starts and they escape. [Ellie proves she is capable, forcing Joel to start to treat her like a person and not just cargo].
They drop Bill off so he can hike back to his house. Ellie and Joel go on ahead and share some downtime, including Ellie talking about a comic book she stole from Bill along with a cassette tape and some porn which leads to an awkward but humorous exchange. Ellie falls asleep in the car [Again, the downtime and exchanges allows the characters to grow closer and for us to care about them more. Also, the humorous situation with the porn gives some much-needed relief from all the pain and horror].
When Ellie wakes up they’re in another city whose highways are jammed with abandoned cars. Joel takes an off-ramp and they’re ambushed by bandits called hunters. Joel recognizes the trap (because as he says, “I’ve been on both sides.”). They evade the initial attack but crash the car. Joel brutally fights off the hunters and the two flee deeper into the city before more hunters arrive. Ellie is perturbed by the hunters’ wanton murder of people.
They explore the city, and Ellie finally learns to whistle. Joel also finds some comics for her [showing he’s warming up to her, even if just slightly]. They continue working their way through the hunters. However, they get separated in a hotel when Joel falls down an elevator shaft. He fights his way through infected [Great scary tense moments here and a reminder of the real enemy]. At the very end, he’s attacked by a hunter who nearly kills him. Ellie saves Joel by grabbing a pistol and shooting the hunter in the head. Joel rebukes Ellie for not staying where she was. He realizes she saved his life and can take care of herself despite his own wishes. [This is a PIVOTAL moment where Joel realizes Ellie is a human being who can actually help].
They run into a large group of hunters that they have to fight through. Joel finally acknowledges he needs help and gives Ellie a rifle, asking her to back him up. Together they take out the hunters. Joel takes back the rifle from Ellie but gives her a pistol, taking the time to make sure she knows how to use it [Again, this is a huge moment for Joel’s character arc as he finally begins to trust].
As they keep going through the city, they discover the hunters have an APC with a mounted machine gun. They run into another group of survivors, a man named Henry and his younger brother named Sam. After an initial scuffle (both thinking the others are hunters), they join forces to get out of the city.
They gather supplies and share a moment of rest, Ellie making friends with Sam who is about the same age. We also get a contrast of how Henry and Sam do things versus Joel and Ellie. For instance, Henry’s group only takes what they need–when Sam finds a toy he likes, Henry forces him to leave it behind as it’s a non-essential (Ellie picks up for Sam to give to him later, which makes us like her even more). Joel, on the other hand, doesn’t say much about what Ellie can and can’t bring, and even goes so far as to collect comics for her (definitely non-essential). [This intermittent hope is crucial in a story this dark. We need to see some rays of sunshine in the bleakness. It helps emotionally impact us more when things go wrong; also, juxtaposing the way things are done in two groups is a great way to highlight character differences; introducing new characters that interact with the main characters also helps us learn more about the characters in new ways, such as showing Ellie carrying about Sam and getting the toy he liked].
They make plans to leave at night to break through the hunters’ defensive lines. While initially successful, they get chased by the APC and Joel and Ellie are left behind by Henry and Sam. Ellie and Joel are forced to jump into a raging river. Joel initially refuses as he knows Ellie can’t swim but she jumps in anyway. Joel is knocked out trying to save Ellie [Again, the inclusion of this weakness is important to the plot. Characters are stronger for having limitations. Also, Ellie is shown to be super brave and trusting because she’s the one who jumps into the river first].
When Joel awakens he discovers Henry and Sam nearby. He threatens to kill Henry for leaving them behind, but Ellie convinces him that Henry saved both of them from drowning. The two parties reconcile and make their way toward a radio tower. They head into a large sewer/storm drain complex. Ellie proves her skills again, using her small size to get places where Joel can’t. They find remnants of a group of survivors who used to live in the sewers [This builds the setting and again shows Ellie’s proactivity and ingenuity, making us like her more along with Joel; it’s also noteworthy that all these locations are very different, highlighting how the same setting can be tweaked to create something fresh and new].
They get separated by traps set up by the previous residents. Joel is forced to take care of Sam, and Henry to take care of Ellie, all the while being chased by infected [Switching roles can be a great way to introduce conflict]. They reunite and have to fight off a massive horde of infected, barely making it out of the sewers alive.
The group gets into another town which they explore for a bit. We get some more tender moments (Joel/Henry talking about how things used to be) before they are ambushed by hunters, including a sniper who Joel eventually kills. The APC from before shows up but Joel is able to kill the driver with the sniper rifle. A bunch of infected show-up, attracted by the ruckus. The group escapes, ending in a quick cut scene.
We next see them in the radio tower where they share a respite. [The transition is well done. It doesn’t seem awkward and showcases how time can pass quickly without having to detail everything in the journey.] Joel and Henry talk about motorcycles and life. Ellie and Sam talk in another room about the infected, the state of the infected souls, and the afterlife/religion. Ellie gives Sam the toy that Henry told him not to take. Sam seems disgruntled and upset [This downtime is crucial, especially for what happens next; also, showing Ellie’s small kindness with the toy is a great way for us to find NEW ways to appreciate about her].
After Ellie leaves, we realize Sam was bitten earlier. In the morning, Ellie finds Sam has already turned. Zombie Sam attacks the group. Joel immediately goes to end the threat but Henry stops him. Realizing his little brother is gone, Henry kills Sam himself, then turns on Joel, blaming Joel for what happened. Joel pleads with Henry to not kill him. Realizing Joel isn’t to blame and also realizing he has nothing to live for, Henry kills himself in front of Joel and Ellie. The scene abruptly ends, finishing the first seasonal segment [HUGE emotional impact here which is set up because of how much the characters interacted, the things they shared, etc. This is a master ending to the first segment and showing what’s really at stake].
Segment 2 Fall
Joel and Ellie reach Jackson county near Tommy’s place. Joel reveals he has a strained relationship with his brother due to a fallout over Tommy’s relationship with the Fireflies. Joel also refuses to talk about Henry and Sam’s death even though Ellie wants to [again hammering home this crucial point about Joel’s character]. They get to a hydroelectric dam which turns out to be where Tommy has built up a settlement with his new wife and other families.
There’s a nice bit of respite as Joel meets his previously unknown sister-in-law, who shows great kindness to Ellie. Tommy’s community has horses, intermittent electricity and is becoming a beacon of actual civilization outside the military walled cities. However, they have to deal with frequent bandit raids and infected. Joel takes Tommy aside privately to talk about Ellie. Tommy tries to give Joel an old picture of Joel and his daughter, Sarah, but Joel refuses [again with the theme of Sarah and Joel’s refusal to deal with his grief].
Joel tells Tommy about Ellie, how she might be the cure for the zombie outbreak, offering strong evidence why she’s immune. He then asks Tommy to take Ellie to the Fireflies since the Fireflies was more of Tommy’s cause than Joel’s (even though Tommy is no longer a Firefly) [this is the beginning of one of the most critical emotional points in the story, where Joel tries to get rid of Ellie the first chance he has]. Tommy refuses but their conversation is interrupted by bandits raiding the plant. Joel helps fend them off and the community is saved.
Tommy grudgingly decides to take Ellie off of Joel’s hands. Ellie overhears their conversation and asks Joel about but he refuses to confirm it. She runs away, taking one of the horses. Joel and Tommy chase after her on horseback, following her trail to an abandoned house in the woods [setting is again important here. We’re getting various new flavors like the hydro-electric plant and the woods along with the novelty of having horses and a large/friendly community].
Ellie fights with Joel, yelling at him that he wanted to get rid of her from the start. She relates that everyone she knows has either left her or died and Joel is the first person to not do so until now. She brings up his dead daughter, Sarah, which turns the fight EXTREMELY bitter [this is the breaking point of their relationship, where the conflict is brought to a head]. Joel brutally tells her, “You’re not my daughter, and I sure as Hell ain’t your dad.” They’re interrupted by bandits and have to fight them off. Afterward, they ride back together to Tommy’s in silence, Joel pondering all the way. When they make it back, Joel has decided he’ll take Ellie. Tommy is surprised, but Ellie is grateful, understanding Joel’s change of heart. Joel and Ellie take one of Tommy’s horses and head out to the last known location of the Fireflies.
Ellie and Joel make it to the university where the Fireflies are supposed to be. Joel is explaining how to play American Football [after their huge conflict, we start to see major character growth in Joel opening up to Ellie and allowing himself to show it]. They both share more about their lives, their hopes, and their dreams, Joel sharing he wanted to be a singer. Ellie presses him to sing but he refuses [this is a beautiful and happy way of reinforcing Joel’s stubbornness while simultaneously showing he’s starting to trust].
They make their way through some infected cluttering up the dorms and get into the apparently abandoned Firefly base. They’re both disappointed but find out the Fireflies have gone to a hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Just then, they get attacked by hunters. This time Joel is severely injured, falling onto a piece of metal rebar that pierces his stomach. Ellie helps him outside, killing hunters along the way. They escape by horseback but Joel’s injuries become worse. He faints” from blood loss as Ellie tries to save him [this becomes a huge role reversal, flipping one of the main conflicts on its head: Joel refused to let Ellie take care of herself; now he is forced to let her take care of both of them].
Segment 3 Winter
Ellie is hunting alone in the snowy woods for meat. She manages to kill a dear but is set upon by two survivors (David and James) who also want the deer for their larger party [we get a really personal view of Ellie because we switch to her POV]. David proposes a trade for the deer and Ellie asks for antibiotics. James leaves to get some penicillin and David and Ellie spend time together [these people will later be revealed as bad guys, and we get a great/intimate look into their thought process, especially how they don’t view themselves as villains. It’s great to show how your villains show themselves]. While waiting, Ellie and David are set upon by infected. They fight them off, forming a bond but Ellie is still distrustful.
David reveals that his group sent out a small force earlier to look for food and they were slaughtered by a crazy man who had a little girl with him. Ellie realizes he’s talking about her and instantly goes on guard, just as James returns with the penicillin. David forces James to gives Ellie the medicine as per their agreement and offers to take Ellie into their group. Ellie takes the medicine and runs, afraid of what they’ll do.
Ellie returns to a house a ways away where Joel is out cold, still recovering from his wounds and fighting a heavy fever. Ellie gives him the medicine. In the morning, she awakes to find the hunters have tracked her down. She draws them away from Joel, fleeing on horseback. The horse is shot and she tries to escape but is captured by David and is knocked out.
Ellie awakes at the hunters compound where she sees James cutting up a human body. The hunters are cannibals. David comes to feed her and comes onto to her. Ellie fights back, breaking his finger. David curses her out, telling her he’ll have no choice but to chop her into little bits if she doesn’t cooperate.
Joel wakes up, the medicine having worked. He searches for Ellie and realizes she’s been taken by hunters, some of whom are still nearby searching for him. He captures two of them, brutally torturing them to find out where they’re keeping Ellie [this really shows the lengths to which Joel will go to protect his loved ones; we’ve seen Joel brutal before but not this much; also, this continued quick POV changing raises the stakes much higher].
Ellie is put on a butcher’s table by David and James, who are about to kill her. However, she manages to bite David then reveals she’s infected. They check her wound, which looks zombie-ish. David and James panic, giving Ellie the chance to kill James and escape the room into a blizzard. Chaos ensues as the whole town starts searching for her. She gets trapped in a large restaurant with David who tries to kill her with a machete. He accidently sets the building on fire. Ellie stabs David multiple times with a pocket knife but he knocks her out at the last instant. They both faint.
Joel enters the hunters’ camp which is on high alert due to an infected (Ellie) on the loose. He discovers the hunters are cannibals and finds Ellie’s backpack, hoping she’s still alive. He then finds the restaurant on fire.
Ellie wakes up around the same time as David. She tries to get his machete but he beats her then taunts her while choking her to death. She manages to grab the machete and hacks him to death, cutting him well after he’s dead. Joel comes in and rescues her, trying to calm her but she’s too traumatized to hear what he’s saying [this is another HUGE emotional impact. You’ll notice the end of each segment has a big emotional payoff and climax. This is a great way to tell stories. Do the end of your main segments have these kinds of payoffs? Are they built up this well?]
Segment 4 Spring
Joel and Ellie have made it to Salt Lake City. Joel is positive, upbeat and open, offering to teach Ellie guitar lessons after their journey is done. Ellie remains distant and removed, still traumatized by her encounter with David and the hunters [reversal of roles provides very effective emotional conflict: Joel is now the open one, and Ellie is now the closed off one. Can you switch up your characters like this? Make the learned one ignorant one, the protector the helpless one, etc.?].
Suddenly, Ellie sees something and runs off, leaving Joel behind. He catches up to her, at first worried it’s something horrible. However, it turns out to be a group of giraffes who have somehow survived all the horror the world has to offer. Joel and Ellie share a tender moment watching the giraffes meander in a grassy field. The LDS/Mormon temple is prominent in the background. The sight of these creatures and building renews Ellie, showing that hope can still exist even in a world as horrible as this one [this is one of the most impactful moments in the game and it’s essentially a scene where nothing happens. It lifts the character’s spirits and our own before the final conflict/battle; it also shows that not all instances of hope have to be taken away–Sam and Henry had a painful emotional ending but these giraffes keep living. It’s important to have actual moments of hope that don’t all get destroyed].
Joel expresses doubts about continuing on and recommends going back to Tommy’s. Ellie can’t believe Joel and decides they have to forge on, asking “Otherwise what would all this be for?” [this will foreshadow the final conflict]. They get into an old quarantine/triage center. Joel opens up and shares his history, finally talking about his daughter Sarah, all without shutting down Ellie’s questions. Ellie surprises him by offering him the picture of Joel and Sarah that Joel had refused at Tommy’s (she’d taken it when no one was looking). Joel gratefully accepts it, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice, signaling he has come to terms with Sarah’s death. [this is almost about the conclusion of Joel’s grieving plot where he can now talk openly about Sarah. There’s one more scene ahead but this is the final breakthrough].
They make their way through a bunch of infected, working more closely as a team than ever before. Ellie asks Joel to teach her how to swim when all of this is done, to which he heartily agrees to. They enter a tunnel which has become a raging river. Joel accidently falls in and Ellie tries to rescue him, plunging both of them into the depths. Ellie gets knocked out and Joel swims to save her, barely getting onto dry land but she’s not breathing. Fireflies show up, ordering Joel to put his hands as he fights to resuscitate Ellie and is knocked out by the Fireflies.
Joel wakes up in the hospital with Marlene, the Firefly leader from before. She tells him how impressed she is with how he made it this far since her own group was utterly destroyed getting here. She also tells him that Ellie is fine and she’s being prepped for surgery.
Joel wants to see her but Marlene refuses, revealing that to find the cure, they’ll have to kill Ellie as the fungus has grown into her brain. Joel angrily demands they let her go but is powerless to stop it. Marlene tells Joel how difficult it’s been for her since Marlene has known Ellie since Ellie was young. Joel disbelieves her [this difference in choices to the same problem is prominent]. Marlene thanks Joel for getting Ellie to the hospital, then has one of her soldiers escort him out with orders to shoot him if he tries anything.
Joel realizes there won’t be any reason to go on if Ellie dies. He breaks free from the guard, finds out where they’re keeping Ellie, then kills the soldiers. He fights his way through the Fireflies, murdering anyone in his way to get to Ellie. He finally makes it to the surgery room with soldiers hot on his heel and kills at least one of the medical staff then rescues Ellie who’s sedated. He escapes in an elevator to the garage floor where he is met by Marlene. Marlene tells Joel that Ellie would want to give up her life to find the cure. Joel realizes this is true and Marlene offers to let him go if he gives Ellie up.
The scene switches to Joel driving away from Salt Lake with Ellie in the back seat. Ellie asks what happened. Joel tells her they found the Fireflies but tells her they had lots of people who were immune and it didn’t help to find a cure, which is a lie. The scene cuts back to Joel gunning down Marlene. She survives his initial shot and pleads for mercy, promising she won’t search for Ellie. Joel stands over her, saying, “You’d just come after her,” then puts a bullet through her brain.
We play as Ellie again, the first time ever when it’s both Joel and Ellie together [again, this POV is important as it ties us back with her and makes us care more]. Their car has made it near Tommy’s but they have to hike through the woods for the final stretch. Joel openly talks about Sarah and how Ellie and she would have been good friends [this shows us the finale of Joel’s emotional journey and the acceptance of his decisions].
Before they arrive, Ellie stops Joel. She tells him about how she got bitten along with her best friend and how they decided to turn into monsters at the same time. Only Ellie never turned while her friend did. Ellie brings up Tess, Sam, and everyone else they lost. Joel tells her, “You have to keep finding something worth fighting for.” Ellie cuts him, making him swear that everything he said about the Fireflies is true. Joel stares at her for a moment, then lies, telling her, “I swear.” Ellie says, “Okay,” looking like she might not believe him and the game ends [another huge emotional impact with Joel completely betraying Ellie’s trust; his emotional journey is at an end as he’s basically found a new daughter and can’t see himself losing her. The game does a phenomenal job at storytelling, having each character have their own arc, even if it’s small, and really endearing us to Ellie and Joel. The ending is HUGELY impactful, especially given the very gray moral choice that Joel made in sacrificing all of humanity in order to save his own ‘family.’ While the merits of his decision can be argued about, we understand WHY he made that choice and that makes the game all the better].