[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.]
Whether you’ve played The Last of Us: Part II or not, it’s hard to escape the pop culture pull of the title. What began back in 2013 with Naughty Dog’s acclaimed and award-winning game The Last of Us has now come full circle. We don’t know if “Part II” will be the final part of the franchise, but for now, we’re fully satisfied with the story that Neil Druckmann, Halley Gross, and the creative team have shared with us. So while we fully recommend playing all available games in the franchise for yourself to get the full experience, we also want to break down the ending of The Last of Us: Part II for interested folks out there. But first!
You don’t necessarily need to know the entire story from The Last of Us, but it helps. Essentially, the gruff survivalist and smuggler Joel escorted the young but tough Ellie across the post-apocalyptic American countryside in order to deliver her to a waiting group known as the Fireflies. Why? Because Ellie may be the lone human who is immune to the effects of a parasitic fungus that infects, mutates, and ultimately kills every other living person on Earth. But when Joel discovered that the Firefly doctors would have had to kill Ellie to develop a cure, he opted to kill the lot of them instead, saving Ellie’s life at the expense of the human race.
That’s the story so far. And it picks up right where we left off. To get the full force of the story, play it (obviously), or check out my spoiler rundown linked above to get a refresher. Essentially, The Last of Us: Part II is about Ellie finding a way to forgive Joel after learning that he’s been lying to her all these years and robbed her of her one chance, in her mind anyway, to be someone truly special. It’s also about Ellie finding a way to forgive herself after not patching things up with Joel before his untimely death at the hands of a vengeful foe. So while Ellie’s revenge against Abby, who violently murdered Joel, may feel like the crux of the story of The Last of Us: Part II, it is but an infinitesimally small part of the overall tale.
Why? Because Ellie’s story is only half of it. While her revenge may take up 95% of her adventure, the most important part is the other 5%. More on that in a minute. The other half of The Last of Us: Part II is actually played from the perspective of Abby herself, a character we, as gamers, are conditioned to absolutely hate from the earliest moments. She killed Joel, the character we spent hours with in the previous game, and her people are hunting Ellie and others. What redemptive quality could possibly be found in Abby? What’s the point of even looking for redemption when video games have trained us to expect the Good Guys taking out the Bad Guys by any means necessary?
This is where The Last of Us: Part II excels. It forces you to either put down the controller and stop playing entirely (Bad Ending) or live within the skin of a character you absolutely hate. Spending the exact same amount of time in Abby’s shoes as you do Ellie’s allows you to empathize with her, to see her side of the story, to learn her background and her daily life in order to better understand her. And if you can understand both Ellie and Abby, you can understand the ending of The Last of Us: Part II.
After playing as both Ellie and Abby against members of the W.L.F. the Seraphites, and the Infected, we get a time jump to a few months later. Ellie is living with Dina and baby J.J. in a bucolic farmhouse setting outside of Jackson. But Tommy comes calling with a lead on Abby and Lev, which Ellie takes as an opportunity to achieve her vengeance and finally get some peace and quiet. The problem is that Dina tells Ellie, in no uncertain terms, that if she goes through with this, they’re done; Dina “can’t go through that again,” a reference to Jesse, the father of her baby, being murdered at Abby’s hands. Ellie prioritizes vengeance over a down-home family life, partially to satisfy her own desires, partially to placate the PTSD that troubles her.
In those intervening months, Abby and Lev are imprisoned by the Santa Barbara gang known as the Rattlers. This group chains up Runners as watch-dogs and forces prisoners into slave labor to harvest their crops (and possibly become food themselves, continuing the theme of cannibalism from the first game, though that’s unconfirmed). Ellie, too, is apprehended by the Rattlers, but she’s able to escape, tracking the rest of the gang to their compound. After murdering yet more Bad Guys, Ellie frees the prisoners who take revenge against their captors. They point Ellie towards the beach where Abby and Lev are left for dead, tied up crucifixion-style on the “Pillars”, the old wooden posts of a long-gone pier.
Ellie, grievously wounded from her fight against the Rattlers, saves Abby and Lev, but demands that Abby fights her one last time. Ellie gets the upperhand this time, evening the score from their previous skirmish in which Abby was the victor, and almost drowns Abby … but she lets her live. And then, she lets her and Lev go. It’s Ellie’s moment to put vengeance aside, even when it’s right in her grasp. And it’s that moment that Ellie and Abby’s parallel stories come to a close … for now.
In the epilogue, we see Ellie, now down two fingers thanks to Abby’s powerful bite, returning to the abandoned farmhome she shared with Dina and J.J. Everything in the house is gone except for Ellie’s old things, like her journal and guitar. She plays “Future Days” on the guitar, rather poorly, owing to being two fingers shorter than she used to be. She thinks back to her last conversation with Joel. We learn that she has a heart-to-heart with him in which she tells him that she doesn’t forgive him yet, but that she wants to try to do so. In other words, Joel and Ellie parted on good terms and were just about to start making amends before he died. So while it’s tragic that Joel died the way he did, and that Ellie feels cheated for not getting to totally forgive him, at least she didn’t leave things between them forever unhealed. Things between her and Dina, however …
Ellie leaves the guitar behind as she packs up her meager possessions and heads back outside, walking towards the forest, for parts unknown…
Until The Last of Us: Part III?