I'm salty about that, by the way.
There is something that struck me about Joel as I was playing that I don't think I've noticed in a game character before. Joel is most definitely an alpha male, but not in the way "alpha male" is understood within popular culture.
If you decide to ever read up on certain PUA (pick up artist) tips or head to an MRA (men's rights activists) thread — and I would caution that you do so at your own peril — and you will most definitely hear the term alpha male thrown around a great deal. For PUAs, they'll often remark how "girls only want alpha males" and as such, they often advise their hapless followers to start acting the part. Be bigger, more aggressive, don't be afraid to put her "in her place." In short, be an arsehole, because nice guys always finish last ammirite?
Don't get me start on that.
On the MRA boards, it's often lamented that nice guys finish last, and men are alpha and should be on top and where do women get off tell them what to do and "I did a thing for her, why won't she fuck me"?
I won't get started on that, either.
This all stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of what being an alpha male means, based on research so flawed an author of a wildly popular book on the topic, L. David Mech, has thoroughly disowned it. This is important, because there was so much similarity between human and wolf societies that people latched onto the idea of an aggressive "alpha male" wresting power by challenging the alpha before him and always fighting his own pack to stay in power as a model for human male behaviour.
[Obnoxiously loud buzzer] NOPE! Wrong!
Wolf behaviourists who have spent time watching wolves function in their natural habitats have noted that the role of alpha, and alpha behaviours are actually incredible different from the popular conception of them (here is one of four articles on the subject).
Yes, alphas get incredibly violent when the need arises. But it's only when the need arises.
They are tasked with defending their pack against outside threats. Like Joel continuously does in the The Last of Us. In my most recent live stream, I came upon a section of an old building where below us were two clickers and four runners (the one's who know will know what that means). Joel immediately volunteered to go in by himself and take care of them so that his pack (then consisting of Tess and Ellie) could move through the area safely.
He does quite unspeakable acts of violence, but never against either Tess or Ellie, however much they might sass him... which is quite a bit.
Which brings me to his relationship with Tess. While it is unclear in game if the two partners in crime (quite literally; they're smugglers with an extremely fearsome reputation... which is to say they don't have much of a moral centre) are in fact lovers, it's strongly suggested that they are (what, with his romantic ways and all), you'll note while playing that Tess is the leader of their pack of two.
Joel does not do anything without her say so.
This is, actually, quite in keeping with the alpha male role. In the wolf pack, it's the alpha female who decides when to hunt, where to move to and when. Sure, the alpha male leads the hunt, but he doesn't go unless his alpha female gives the go ahead. Often, he is even the last to enjoy the spoils of the hunt, ensuring the rest of his pack eats their fill first.
The same can be said for stallions or bull elephants. It's the matriarch of the herd which makes all the decisions.
Joel moves the same way, for the same reasons. Despite his protestation about going with Marlene, Tess says they go, so they go. Despite Joel protesting about taking Ellie, Tess says the girl is to go with him, so Joel takes the girl. When Tess says they're smuggling the girl out of the city, Joel smuggles the girl out of the city. Joel constantly checks in with Tess, making sure she's alright, or that she agrees with his suggestions.
The phrase heard most from Joel's lips when speaking with Tess is, "Yes, ma'am."
This is not the behaviour you would expect of an alpha male as conceptualised by pop culture; the dude who makes all the decisions, smacks down back-talkers, struts around like a bloody peacock, etc.
Even when Tess tells Joel to take Ellie to his brother's, a goal far past the agreement made with Marlene, that Tess intends to stay behind to buy them some time, Joel protests. He offers to protect her.
Poor Joel, man. This is the point where he finds out that Tess is done for.
In a game more focussed on the sort of toxic masculinity that is often associated with the phrase 'alpha male,' I have no doubt that it would play very differently.
But it doesn't. Joel, as he had done every moment before this point, remains subordinate to the alpha female.
Joel is alpha; quieter, gentler, but god help you if you try to hurt those he cares about.
As the article I linked to states:
Clearly, our alpha male stereotype could use a corrective makeover. Men can learn a thing or two from real wolves: less snarl, more quiet confidence, leading by example, faithful devotion in the care and defense of families, respect for females and a sharing of responsibilities.
Right, that's enough from me. I'm off to do more work.