SBox Soapbox: The Last of Us Part 2 | Does Ellie Know Joel’s Lie? (Part 1)

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To me, The Last of Us is one of the closest examples of a game being a masterpiece. In fact, that’s exactly what it is. A masterpiece. By far one of the most fun and immediately immersive gaming sessions of my life. Its excellent mix of action-adventure, stealth, and survival-horror made for a challenging and binge-worthy experience worth having. There wasn’t a dull moment in the game, neither interactively, audibly, or visually. Not to mention that it has the best story in a video game bar-none. I can go on and on about its deep themes, compelling characters, and emotional weight which persists throughout the entire the entire game. And it just so happens now is the perfect time to do so.

Yes, I know I’m a week late to this party, but I couldn’t just not talk about The Last of Us Part 2. I saw the trailer countless times by now and currently have my ear glued to the ground for any and all news regarding this continuation of an excellent game. Make no mistake, I’ll probably be talking up a storm about this game until I finally get my hands on it. Though with so many unanswered questions and a bevy of fan theories developing daily, I couldn’t possibly cover it all in one post.

I have my own theories, perspectives, and opinions about where the series will go from here, but today I’ll focus on just one unanswered aspect of this new trailer. One very important detail that will dictate the outcome of TLOUP2’s story.

Before I go any further, please note that this post will contain massive spoilers for the first Last of Us game. You’ve been warned!… In fact, do yourself a favor and play the game before reading the rest. Not a gamer or don’t have a PS3 or 4? Click here! Whatever you do, please just experience this incredible story. You won’t be sorry.

Anyway, let’s discuss the first game’s ending, and what it means for TLOUP2.

To recap, once you successfully smuggled Ellie from Pittsburgh to the Firefly camp in Salt Lake City, you learn that the only way to potentially find a cure or vaccine for the infection is to remove it from Ellie’s brain — meaning Ellie would die. However, Joel doesn’t like that idea, so he decides to extract her from surgery, killing countless Fireflies in the process including the Firefly leader, Marlene. To protect Ellie, Joel tells her that the Fireflies are no longer looking for a cure, because they already tried with other immune people like her (of which there really are none). The game ends an unspecified amount of time later at an unspecified location with these final lines:

Ellie: “Swear to me! Swear to me everything you said about the Fireflies is true!”

Joel: “I swear.”

Ellie: “Okay.”

This game’s ending is notable in how blunt, heavy, and abrupt it is. Nothing’s wrapped in a pretty little bow. No theatrics. No further clarity. It’s just “here’s where they stand. Now make of it as you will.”

Since the game’s release in 2013, there has been a longstanding debate about whether or not Ellie believes Joel’s lie. It’s an ambiguity and debate we’ve enjoyed having for nearly four years now, but that debate is about to come to an end with this new game. Make no mistake. This will be an important factor to consider before we even start throwing around theories. By picking a side now, you’re already eliminating half of the Internet’s theories, as many rely on Ellie believing Joel’s lie.

While I do have a viewpoint towards this debate, I think there’s something we should keep in mind now that we have a sequel. I believe that at this point, the final answer will come down to which scenario will make the best story for this new game. Which viewpoint will make TLOUP2 a better game? And that’s a tricky question to answer.

For this post, let’s consider the idea of her believing Joel’s lie. We’ll cover the latter argument another time. What does that mean?

Well, Ellie’s belief in Joel would confirm a couple key factors. It supports the idea that Ellie would have a vendetta against the Fireflies. Whether or not they are in fact the people Ellie talks about killing “every last one of” in the new trailer, Ellie would still have reason to despise the Fireflies. They probably hyped her up about the idea of her being the cure, so much so that the idea of them lying to her would’ve crushed her. Imagine being told how important and special you are only to have that taken away from you due to, of all things, there being dozens of people like you. If you were Ellie, you’d probably send them to hell and be waiting for the Fireflies to try you so you can give them a piece of your mind. At that point, if they so much as cough in her general direction, I’d bet she’d blow their heads off.

Moreover, that would probably mean Joel and Ellie are still fairly close towards the beginning of the game. That’s important when you consider the new theme of the game, according to Neil Druckmann, is “hate” instead of “love”. Simply put, if there’s a relationship to be broken, then chances are it’s going to break. Can you imagine the impact of being told the truth five years later? The only living person you’ve cared about in five years lied to your face, taking something very important away from you for his own selfish reasons, and you’re only finding out now? More than that, if she in fact is talking about the Fireflies, that puts whatever bad thing they did to Ellie or whoever was affected by the Fireflies on Joel’s hands; they were most likely trying to kill him anyway, yet here he is. You know there would be hell to play. Anything from a minute cold shoulder to outright slaughter is possible at that point.

Just the idea of having a scene like that, where Joel comes clean or is at least forced to and Ellie has to react. That conversation won’t be pretty, but it would be fun to watch. Plus, what better way to drive home the theme of hate than to have love either tainted or destroyed in a matter of seconds? However, before that can happen Joel attempts to keep the lie up for as long as possible, knowing she’ll react negatively. Though he knows in his heart that one day she’ll find out and he has to prepare for that inevitability… Oh my! What if there’s a boss battle in the game where Ellie has to fight Joel? It can be like when Ellie fought David, except Ellie is in the position of David? That would be heartbreaking!

This possibility feeds a ton of other theories, too. If Joel is in fact dead and only appears as a coping mirage (which is a very popular theory I’ll discuss another time), you can still have beautiful scenes both against the Fireflies and against someone else. If Ellie was the only survivor of this attack, I can see moments where Joel’s mental image is guiding her as she takes on the enemy. Somewhere along the way, she finds out about Joel’s lie and has to confront mirage Joel, who represents the person she thought she knew Joel to be and ultimately rejecting him by the end. If the enemy really isn’t the Fireflies, maybe she’ll convince herself to approach the Fireflies for help fighting the threat, only to be captured or attacked upon arrival due to what happened the last game. There she learns the truth and has a huge escape scene like when she had to escape the cannibals.

There’s also the theory that Ellie is dying of the infection she was previously immune to. This would confirm the whole mirage Joel thing I was previously talking about — if Joel is dead or missing. Otherwise, it could be what prompts Joel to tell Ellie the truth voluntarily, seeing as she’s already dying. On Joel’s end, that can also be the basis for a totally different emotion: regret. Regret for not letting her die for a more noble reason and regret for not just talking this out in the beginning. Though this theory requires a lot more elaboration for another time.

The only theory this doesn’t really feed is the whole Ellie being pregnant thing. If that is the case, then the lie won’t really play too big a role in the plot. Instead it would be periphery; something nice to have that doesn’t add much. The only way it could mean much is if the game ends with Ellie, now knowing the truth, sacrifices herself to save her also-immune child. Therefore, the Fireflies have a vaccine, Ellie’s conscience is cleared, and Joel (if alive) has a child to raise as his own.

I’ll probably discuss all of these theories in more detail eventually. For now, I want to start somewhat small before trying to tackle some of the huger theories, arguing for or against each and eventually coming to a grander theory… up until the game is released and it turns out I’m wrong about everything.

So, that’s everything I have to support the argument of Ellie believing Joel’s lie. Of course, there is a counter argument to consider. That comes with a whole other list of scenarios, though. So, let’s meet back here in a couple days to discuss the possibility of Ellie knowing about Joel’s lie. Until then, let me know in the comments what you think of my observations. Did I miss anything big? Did you agree or disagree? Let me know, because I love talking about this stuff with you guys!

I’m SBox180. Thanks for reading!

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