[Editor’s note: The following contains spoilers for The Last of Us: Part II. For more of our coverage, be sure to check out our spoiler-free review, our beginner’s tips & tricks here, the list of trophies, and a full-on spoiler rundown here, including our ending explainer.]
Now that The Last of Us: Part II is out in the world for everyone to enjoy (as much as one can enjoy the singularly brutal, heartbreaking experience), it’s plain to see that it’s as divisive as many expected it to be. Even in a best case scenario, the sequel to 2013’s award-winning The Last of Us was going to have a tough time measuring up to its acclaimed original title. So instead of trying to simply outdo TLoU by going bigger, louder, and more explosive, Naughty Dog, led by Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross, doubled down on the difficult truths that have always been a core of this franchise’s story and characters. But while the returning characters and their fates were obvious draws for returning players, it’s the new characters — one in particular — who is at the heart of the division. (Here’s your final spoiler warning.)
That character, of course, is Abby. Her existence (and unique appearance) isn’t exactly new to anyone who’s been following along with the game, but it could have easily been overlooked. Our first introduction to Abby came in a teaser trailer for The Last of Us: Part II that’s nearly three years old now. It features a rather important moment from relatively late in the game that I’ll get into in a bit. But other than that, gamers haven’t seen much of Abby or heard anything about her until the game’s release. That’s by design. Why? Because she’s not just a major antagonist in the story, but also a big part of the game’s best kept secret.
One secret that hasn’t been so well kept is the fate of Joel. Players got to spend hours and hours with the gruff survivalist and smuggler in the first game as he escorted Ellie to a waiting Firefly facility, ultimately rescuing her from that same place in an effort to save her life. And, in doing so, Joel killed a lot of people … like, a lot. So while enemies in the world of Uncharted and games like it can be dispatched violently and without much thought or moral weight, The Last of Us: Part II opts to change all of that. Joel’s heavy-handed violence is visited upon him as a team of Fireflies leaves Seattle, tracks him down in Jackson, and deals out their own vengeance. Leading that team is Abby.
Abby has a personal ax to grind (or golf club to wield) in this instance. While all of humanity may have lost its only hope of a cure thanks to Joel’s actions that day, and while the team of former Fireflies lost fellow friends and soldiers, Abby lost her father. That’s right. The man who was prepping to do the species-saving surgery that would have claimed Ellie’s life was Dr. Jerry Anderson, one of the many men Joel killed that fateful day. So while all gamers see when Abby blasts Joel’s knee with a shotgun and then brutally kills him with repeated strikes from a golf club is an unhinged murderer who just offed one of their favorite characters, all Abby sees in that moment is a fulfillment of her long-awaited vengeance. Four years had passed since that fateful day, four years of Abby seeing red at the thought of avenging her father. Gamers should understand that; they’re thrust into the same sort of self-fulfilling cycle of vengeful violence as they lead Ellie on a quest to kill Abby. And so the cycle continues.
But this is where Naughty Dog does something different. Abby and her fellow Washington Liberation Front “Wolves” may be the enemies, but they also have names, friends, family members. They’re humans. And we learn just how human they are when we get to play as Abby roughly halfway through the game. It’s a difficult moment to wrap our heads around, and easily the moment that many gamers who struggle with empathy will give up and drop a 1-star review online, but this is the most important moment of the game. If you can put your hate and anger and vengeance aside for a second, you might just find that forgiveness is the only way to stop the cycle of violence.
The Last of Us: Part II is smart about the way they present this. They know it’s not an easy ask, so when we take control of Abby, it’s as a lost young girl who’s looking for her father in the woods. Then, we soon learn that not only is her father quite similar to Joel — from the jokes, to the worldly survivalist spirit, to the way he cares for his daughter and those she cares about — he might actually be a better man altogether. It’s just a cruel twist of fate that Abby’s father happened to wield the scalpel that would have taken Ellie’s life, ultimately costing him his own. But revenge isn’t the only thing that defines Abby.
After the Fireflies disbanded, Abby and her childhood love interest / shoulder to cry on / fellow Firefly Owen joined up with the W.L.F. along with other members of their team. There, Abby found a purpose, a home, a new family. They were so tight knit, in fact, that when Abby asked them to help her track down Joel years later, they not only went with her, they helped her carry out the final act. (Bad news for them since it also put them square in Ellie’s crosshairs.) So now imagine Abby’s reaction when not only is Owen stringing her along while impregnating another woman (on the less dramatic end of the spectrum), but all of her new family members are being summarily executed by Ellie (on the most dramatic end of the spectrum.) Factor all of that in, and then add a dash of primitive, horse-riding, bow-and-arrows-wielding religious zealots who abduct, torture, and nearly kill Abby, and you can begin to understand that she and Ellie have quite a bit in common…
Here’s the trailer I mentioned earlier, which reveals a pivotal moment in Abby’s story:
The moment that plays out above is incredibly important. It not only sees Abby being saved by two members of the very same Seraphites who had just abducted her, it sees her taking her first steps toward caring for them, like an older sister or perhaps even a mother. She tends to Yara’s broken arm and even risks her own life to get her life-saving medical supplies and treatment. She escorts the young Lev, formerly Lily, around the city, acting in a partnership that’s not unlike Joel and Ellie’s adventure in the first game. There are other similarities, either of themes or personality traits, scattered throughout the game — Ellie is fearless when it comes to heights while Abby is acrophobic, Joel takes Ellie to an old museum of natural history while Jerry enlists Abby’s help in treating zoo animals, even Ellie’s interaction with the giraffe in the first game (which was originally supposed to be a zebra) is mirrored by Abby’s interaction with the zebra in the sequel — all of which are supposed to equate these two, not set them at odds. What you’ll start to see, I hope, is that Ellie and Abby are not that different, it’s just that we happened to meet Ellie first.
So when it’s all said and done, Ellie and Abby are destined to clash head on, not once, but twice. Each time, one of these incredibly strong and stubborn women prevails but lets the other one live. Their vengeance is satisfied, their ledgers are balanced, their scores are settled. These women are two sides of the same coin. Now, each having learned to forgive and forget the other, perhaps their long cycle of violence against each other is finally at an end.