THIS POST IS SO FULL OF THE LAST OF US PART II SPOILERS, SO STOP READING IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE SPOILT.
I MEAN IT.
ALSO, THIS POST IS REALLY, REALLY LONG.
WHY AM I SHOUTING?
Now, when this time was announced, knowing how few punches were pulled din the first game, I believe my reaction was intense dread. I knew no one was safe.And I knew precisely who they would aim their sights on. I recall railing against it. I believe my exactly words were: "If Joel dies, I riot." But I knew he was a goner. I just knew.
I hate being right.
Joel dies in this game. This came as no surprise to me. It nevertheless really bummed me out. The grief didn't hit as intensely as in the first game, when Joel loses his daughter (oh, the sobbing!). What did get me, was Ellie's quiet grief. The sobs started when she was walking through his house in the settlement, when she went into his closet and buried her face in one of his jackets. I couldn't deal.
I understand that Joel's death is something of an issue of controversy amongst fans. I've read several reasons for this. The first is that fans did not like Joel dying at all, that they wanted the game to be another Joel and Ellie on an adventure game. Another reason I've heard is that the manner of his death was undeserved, wrong, and cheap. The final fanboy hate I've heard comes for the game's ending, which I'm now spoilt for, though we've not quite gotten there in the Let's Play. By that, I mean, we're not anywhere close.
Anyway, I have some thoughts.
First, though, I want you all to know that I am utterly heartbroken. From the moment I watched that section of the game, I was utterly morose. I spent the rest of the day in bed, staring blankly down at my phone, but not really doing anything with it. I did the same the following day. Yesterday. Though I also ate my body weight in ice-cream. When I say I'm heartbroken about Joel's death, understand that I am very much in mourning. I loved Joel.
Joel was a fantastic character, and the amount he grew in the first game; the person he became... All I wanted for him was to enjoy a much calmer, kinder life than he'd had until that point. He almost had it.
But I also am not yet sure that I want to call Naughty Dog out for their story decision. For the first complaint, that fans wanted another Joel to live and for a Joel and Ellie go adventuring game, I think we all know that they were damned if they do, damned if they don't. Yes, Joel and Ellie are an amazing duo. But if Naughty Dog went with that sort of game, they'd no doubt have been roused at for creating something safe and same-y. Also, Joel has done all the growing he could, and Ellie had more growing to do. It makes sense that the game should centre her, and also that Joel needed to be out of the picture for her growth to happen.
Did they need to murder him? I'm unsure. I'm still hurt about it, so it may be impacting my ability to think clearly about narrative. I do, however, feel a little pleased by the fact that they've taken the woman in the fridge trope, and gender swapped it. Because yes, women do want revenge for the loss of a loved one, too. And yes, I think only the death of Joel or someone she loved as deeply would be the only thing that would rip Ellie from her found family in Jackson on a cross-country quest for vengeance. So, Joel was fridged. What's worse is that he and Ellie's relationship was experiencing some trouble. And so Ellie watched her father figure die without patching up their relationship, without saying 'I love you' one last time. Without any kind of preparation or closure. That is what murder is, though. It's opportunities abruptly and suddenly snatched away.
I honestly wish it was different. I wish Joel was alive, and remained that way for the rest of the game, being a father figure to Ellie and continuing to whittle his beautiful wooden sculptures. Narratively, though, his death does make some sense.
Which is not to say that his death wasn't senseless. More, he was tortured to death. It was violent and came out of nowhere and awful. He was brutally murdered. We don't know why yet. I've not reached that part of the game. It is obvious, however, that his killer travelled across the country on a mission of vengeance against Joel. We can't be too surprised about that, can we? The whole premise of the first game was Joel finding his humanity after being stripped of it all at that start of the cordyceps infection that ended the world. When Joel and his murderer meet, Joel saves her life. That he was repaid the way he was was upsetting and unsettling, but it did show just how much Joel had grown when he would stop to help a stranger. He was a kinder, less selfish man than even at the very beginning of the first game, when he refused to do that much for folks in need.
We learn throughout the first game that Joel was not a good person post-outbreak, and he did some pretty evil things in order for he and his brother to survive. What those things are, exactly, we were never told. But, some of them were so awful that even his brother walked away from him. They were estranged. It's hinted strongly that it was because Tommy couldn't deal with what they were doing.
After Joel's death, Tommy runs off before Ellie to deliver justice on his brother's killers. We feel it's justified. Because we know Joel. We watched him change and grow and become a better man. We saw and understood the trauma that had turned him into a monster. Joel's killer had nothing of the sort. From her eyes, from her perspective, Joel was just a monster. And what happened to him was justice. There would be people on her side, rooting for Joel's death the way so many players are now rabidly screaming for hers.
You see, for all the pain we are feeling, that Ellie is feeling... after everything Joel did before becoming a good man... how many grieving children just like Ellie did Joel create when he was a monster? If we didn't know Joel and instead followed their stories, we might all be cheering on his murderer now.
And before you all come at me, no, torturing someone to death is never, ever justified. Or is it? When Joel tortured David's men, didn't we all feel it was justified? That's different, you might say. He had to save Ellie. Well, it's not that different. The only major difference is we know and love Joel, and we understood why he did it.
The world is never so black and white, and it isn't in this game. It never was that in the first game.
Trauma made Joel a monster. I have no doubt that it made his killer a monster, too. And likely Joel was the reason for her trauma. I suspect I'll find out soon enough.
As for the last complaint that I've heard, the one that spoilt the end of the game for me, is, if true, a really interesting choice. Depending on how it's handled, it has the potential to be incredibly powerful. I hear that, in the end, Ellie doesn't kill Joel's murderer. The muderess gets to go. Alive.
I've seen comments screaming for blood, disappointed that Ellie didn't avenge Joel properly.
If this ending is true, I am actually kinda glad. It would end a toxic cycle; we would live to see Ellie lose her humanity in the same way Joel and his killer both had. Joel redeemed himself, in our eyes at least. His killer may yet. Who knows? She's young yet. Sarah's murder made Joel a monster. Something happened to his killer, probably at his hands, that made his murderer a monster. Were Ellie to exact the same kind of revenge, she, too, would be a monster. If it's true that she does not, then I feel like it's the right move, and a way of honouring the man Joel became, and the way he raised her.
She did what Joel was not strong enough to, what his killer could not. She chose humanity.
If indeed it happened.
Of course, even if it did happen, this is all speculation. It might be that the writing is terribly poor, and there's some bullshit that happens that permits Joel's killer to live, and it's not a deliberate choice on Ellie's part. Then I think we have a right to yell at the top of our lungs about shoddy writing.
But there is a great deal of potential in this ending, and I'm actually looking forward to it.
If it does happen.
Anyway, I've been doing a lot of thinking while I was grieving Joel these past two days as I was lying in bed, sobbing. I had to work through a lot, and I seem more able to do that in writing. Quelle surprise. You're absolute champions for making it thus far. Thanks a tonne for letting me rant and get the thoughts swirling around my head out. I really needed an outlet.
Now I'm going to go off and imagine an alternate universe where Joel gets to live to a good old age, spending his autumnal years whittling and surrounded by loving friends and family. And probably crying.