Spoilers for The Last of Us Part 1.
The Last of Us Part 1 has many moments to reflect on, but Joel’s final words were particularly profound to me.
For the first time in two decades, there was hope for the world with Ellie. But Joel selfishly couldn’t let her go through with invasive surgery, so he decided for her, killing Fireflies and doctors, extinguishing humanity’s last light.
When Ellie begs him to promise that he made the only choice he could, Joel responds with, “I swear.” I remember the way I sat there motionless when he said those words, hoping he would feel too guilty to go through with his lie. Composer Gustavo Santaolalla’s guitar strings began vibrating, eventually crescendoing into the credit sequence after Ellie looks Joel in the eye and responds with “okay.”
At the time, I couldn’t believe what was on screen. “How could Joel do that?” I contemplated. But now, as I’ve matured from my 13-year-old self, if put in a similar situation, I would do the same thing.
Ellie is 14 years old in Part 1, a year older than my younger brother. Her mannerisms, attitude and humor all remind me of him. Each time I replay the game, I have a hard time not envisioning my brother as her. If somebody told me he would need to die for the possibility of saving lives, I don’t think I’d act rationally.
In theory, of course, it makes a lot of sense. One life to save millions. But it all changes when someone you love is on the line.
When Part 2 was released, I saw people justifying Joel’s death by saying he deserved it for not sacrificing Ellie. I don’t think that’s fair. He was thinking like a father. Her death could’ve been futile, and he would’ve lost another daughter.
It’s selfish, yes, but it’s justified.
When he swore to Ellie that there was nothing they could do, it wasn’t out of maliciousness — it was out of affection. As terrible as it sounds, why save a world with nothing left for you?