Where 'The Last of Us Part 2' Ending Goes Wrong

There’s probably a version of The Last of Us Part 2 that I would have loved. One where I would have shared the joy so many other people are finding with the game’s characters and their lovingly detailed relationships. That game would likely be shorter, and Part 2’s padded-out story is definitely one reason why I was heartily sick of it by the end of my 28 hour playthrough. But it’s the game’s ultimate destination that made the entire journey feel like a waste of time.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/jgxjxx/problems-with-last-of-us-part-2-ending
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Last of Us 2 just becomes a thoroughly less interesting game than the first one thanks to its ending.

Basically gotta spoiler all of this to talk here:

Dina abandoning Ellie at the end was one part of this game that felt especially sour to me. Ellie is a person with a diagnosable illness, PTSD. As suicidal and self-destructive Ellie is, it’s a horrible response to somebody in that state to just leave them to their worst impulses. Gaming loves to leave all decisions done to personal responsibility. But Ellie is out of control of herself at this point. It’s gross on a certain level to damn her eternally for this.

Plus, Dina just packing up and leaving Ellie in one scene is a pretty wretch response to that kind of pain. And it really shows that they never quite finished this relationship, since Ellie and Dina are separated by the hacky pregnancy reveal twist in the first act of the game and never get to connect again. There was a whole game to build up to Dina and Ellie breaking apart, and they just did not write that story beat well.

Meanwhile, I might have forgiven most of what I hated about Last of Us 2 if it had chosen to end a few hours earlier. I know the exact beat where this story needed to close. That’s Ellie in the barn, haunted by her demons. You have just enough juxtaposition between her absurdly perfect Thomas Kincade farmhouse and the brutal reality of what she did. It leaves at least some ambiguity to argue over her actions in the game where there is none in the final product, she is just 100% monster. You can at least argue whether Ellie deserves a happy ending, where the game decides, no, she doesn’t. And you can speculate whether Ellie and Dina will even last as a couple, where now we know, no, they won’t.

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It’s a mix of a poor narrative excuse for forward momentum, and what would be a movie-length story stretched to the breaking point of a game length longer than almost any other medium save reading the entirety of War and Peace. If Druckmann et al believes they’re making high art, why is he still adherent to the consumerist demand of bang-for-your-buck length?

All the small moments in of relationship-building in act 1 between Ellie and Dina to occupy the space where nothing is happening in the story (even a long novel would be hesitant to portray the plot beat of “the characters go to a synagogue to find gasoline so they can open a gate”) are such a massive friction against what is supposed to be a grim story of obsessive revenge. I cannot believe people with this much in their lives would go to this extent for a pointless retribution.

It’s a poorly written story given unnecessary gravity by the prestige TV presentation and staggering scale of asset quality.

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I do find this curious as well, just by virtue of the fact that Naughty Dog is first party. You’d think with the stability of a platform holder behind you there would be less pressure to make the game “worth” $60 in exchange for bringing prestige to the platform. But I suppose with TLoU 2 breaking sales records neither Sony or Naughty Dog would be too concerned.

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I just got to the last chapter of this game and I’m so fucking mad.

I was like, oh, this is going to be happy ending! Baby! I love baby! I love Dina! They made it out! Life is beautiful! The cycle of violence has ended! Then Tommy does this weird 180 personality-wise (imo) and Ellie decides to leave a lovely stable situation behind for the most ridiculous reasons. Killing Abby will somehow CURE your PTSD? Fuck off. Ugh.

I don’t even know if I’ll finish it at this point.

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You got like 90 minutes left so might as well finish.

I understand where you’re coming from, but I sort of interpreted it a different way.

Ellie doesn’t know what will or won’t help her PTSD. She has tried to move on and live a happy peaceful existence with Dina at the ranch and has continued to experience horrific flashbacks. Dina nods to that by saying that her flash back was “the first one in awhile.” My interpretation is that Ellie thinks that killing Abby will somehow “cure” herself. Sort of like, “moving on hasn’t helped, so maybe this will,” y’know? And, in a way, the trip did help (by giving Ellie the chance to forgive Abby and, by turn, herself). Not saying that does or does not make for a good story, but that was just my read on it.

I’d love to hear your response, though!

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I’ve been thinking a lot about TLoU2, about Ellie, Abby, and especially about the people they surround themselves with. I’ve seen many takes that basically boil down to: “Wow, with all that flash-back context, I think that Abby is actually the ‘good guy’ and Ellie is a completely evil monster.”

Firstly, I don’t care for this reading because it flattens much of the nuance in favor of clearly understanding “who is justified” and “who got what they deserved.” I’ve never, ever been a fan of the whole logic of “well this person deserves to die, preferably an agonizing death.” Personally, I find justifying Abby’s (or Joel’s or Ellie’s) actions a sort of sick.

But recently, I’ve been thinking a lot more about the people surrounding Ellie and Abby, and what they’re presence has to say about the cycle of violence. I haven’t seen much discussion about the side characters (except for BlueHighwind above) and it’s not hard to see why.

We play as Abby and Ellie, the story is propelled by their motivations and experiences, they’re the ones who take the most decisive action. It’s natural for commenters to note: “well, Abby did this for that reason, and I agree with her (my) action” or “darn, I don’t like what Ellie (myself) did, I think that was messed up” and so on. Action is the soul of any story and players commit many actions (murder) themselves, it’s natural that we want to discuss the actions of the main characters. But these observations only shows part of the story, which is kind of the whole point of this game funnily enough.

What we often miss is who our main characters are hanging around with and what that says about them. For instance, when Abby’s group gets to Joel and Tommy, Abby brutally murders Joel in front of Ellie. What’s easy to forget here is that Abby’s friends must also be okay enough with brutal revenge murder that they’re willing to travel across the country to track Joel down. Then, after Abby kills him, several of Abby’s group suggests they should also kill Ellie and Tommy. It seems clear that Abby’s friends can be very pragmatic in the most violent ways, as leaving loose ends could be (and is) dangerous. Later, we see that the WLF are no strangers to constant warfare, and it’s all but confirmed that Abby and the others have probably tortured Scars as well as frequently gunned them down. Lastly, there’s a moment when Mel and Abby are talking about the killing of Joel, and Mel explicitly states “killing him for justice doesn’t bother me, in fact he deserved worse.” Now I’m not saying all this to claim that Joel was wonderful and that Abby is evil, as I mentioned earlier it’s a lot more complicated than that. What I am trying to say is that if this game is supposed to be about overcoming the cycle of violence, these friends aren’t really helping, they’re actively making things worse for Abby. However, this isn’t just a story about the cycle of violence, it’s also about working through your grief. Again, these friends are either standing by and not helping Abby or outright making things more difficult for her.

And as mentioned above, Dina doesn’t seem to be helping Ellie process her grief either. Rather, Dina joins Ellie on her quest for revenge. She even sympathizes with the whole idea of revenge as she explicitly states: “if the WLF had done that to my sister, I’d do worse.” Jesse eventually tries to tell Ellie that we should try to find Tommy instead of going on revenge/suicide missions, but this isn’t anywhere close to trying to help Ellie process her grief. Then Tommy shows up on the farm late in the story to guilt Ellie into getting revenge, and she falls for it!

Basically, I know we have to be accountable for our own actions, but we also don’t live in a vacuum. Our lives are molded by those around us, and one of the most important parts of healing is knowing who is in your life and how they’re affecting you. I doubt this was an intentional take-away that Naughty Dog planned all along, but it’s still worth remembering in our own lives. It’s just so frustrating that this game desperately wants to be brave and convey real human emotion in all the most technically astonishing ways, yet we have so few moments of characters doing the hard work of reconciliation or any form of healing. It’s mostly just blood.

So yeah, Lev is the only good person in this game. Rant over.

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I’m not sure I could disagree with Rob’s assessment more. I think the final section is key to closing this chapter of Ellie’s story.

Joel’s great betrayal of Ellie was in taking away her choice, the “meaning” for her surviving when Riley didn’t, when Tess didn’t, when Sam and Henry didn’t. Regardless of whether you agree with Joel’s decision or not, Ellie never got to make one.

When Abby enacts her vengeance upon Joel, Ellie is forced to watch as she can do nothing to stop it, pinned to the ground and begging for it to stop.

Fast forward to after the theatre fight, Ellie is left helpless once again. At least one other person she cares about is dead, someone she loves is at the mercy of someone she hates and, again, there’s nothing she can do about it. “Don’t let me see you again”, commands Abby.

The farmhouse isn’t a resolution for Ellie. It’s Dina’s dream, not hers, so whilst she loves her partner and JJ – and no doubt does find some moments of joy in her new life – in a sense neither the house nor the baby were her choice. She knows she should be happy but isn’t because she’s deeply traumatised and depressed. Unlike Dina she is not talking about or dealing with it in any way; as Joel couldn’t talk about Sarah, she doesn’t talk about Joel. Ellie doesn’t sleep. She gets flashbacks that put her family at risk. She secludes herself away for hours at a time. Nothing is fixed for her, in fact things are worse. And then Tommy shows up – himself twisted by a newfound lack of agency, relying on Ellie as his proxy for catharsis – with what feels like a chance to change something. It almost doesn’t matter if this change is for the better, as Ellie isn’t happy in her supposedly idyllic life; this only adds to the guilt weighing upon her.

Once Ellie discovers Abby in Santa Barbra, an emaciated shadow that she barely recognises, she doesn’t know how to react. Ellie’s been pushing herself forward fuelled by mantras of vengeance, but the monster she’s been psyching herself up to deal with is… reduced. Abby doesn’t lash out or resist, her first act after being cut down is one of compassion for Lev. Ellie’s pretence of revenge and hatred is doused, but still she knows she can’t let this go. Yet she doesn’t go for the easy kill, she forces Abby into a fight; it isn’t about killing Abby, she wants to beat her.

Only when Ellie has Abby at her mercy, once she’s back in a position of agency, does she appreciate that killing wouldn’t change anything, wouldn’t give her survival meaning. Much as Abby’s troubled dreams weren’t vanquished by her killing Joel – itself a violent display of retaking control, refusing to let him die until she allowed it – but were soothed by finding new meaning in helping Lev, Ellie now has to find her own way forward.

I don’t think Ellie’s story was ever really about revenge. She flies under its flag but she doesn’t have the same remorseless conviction in her actions displayed by Joel or Abby: she talks the talk and commits terrible acts whilst going through the motions, but the toll it’s taking on her is obvious, her internal conflict evident in both her cinematic portrayal and the one emotional outlet she allows herself, her journal.

Abby’s revenge was fuelled by a hatred of Joel. Ellie’s was driven by a hatred of herself.

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This is really dismissive of what Dina actually says.

First, Dina doesn’t say “how hard it is for me to deal with you.” After Ellie tells Dina, “I’m not like you,” she says, “You think this is easy? For you and for him, I deal with it.” Ellie insults Dina by implying she doesn’t feel anything and Dina calls her on that bullshit. I suppose it’s possible to infer that she’s calling Ellie a burden, but there is nothing else at any point in the text to support that reading. She is saying Ellie is the reason she fights through her own issues.

Second, she doesn’t say “you have an obligation to this family,” she says “We’ve got a family. She [Abby] doesn’t get to be more important than that.” She isn’t trying to guilt Ellie through a sense of obligation. She knows Ellie has made up her mind, and she is desperately trying to break through her single-mindedness, to recognize what she has. To consider (as @jhan2294 noted) for once in this entire game, the impact of her decisions on the people around her. This is seriously one of the most powerful lines of the game.

This conversation takes about three minutes in game. I really want to know how that counts as a conversation that “doesn’t happen” but “I don’t know if I can forgive you but I want to try,” mere hours before Joel is brutally murdered right in front of her is unadulterated, life-altering closure.

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100% agree. Both these moments in the game reveal so much about Ellie and Dina. These moments aren’t nearly enough to justify the unfathomable magnitude of violence committed in the game (this is a AAA game after all), but they’re at least something approaching actual healing. It also frustrated me how Rob seemed to outright dismiss this moment with Dina, while completely overselling Ellie’s healing with Joel.

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Honestly I think how PTSD is used in this game is nearly as bad as Kojima’s most exploitative bad things in real life moments (ala MGS Ground Zeroes and the infamous tape). Now that I can actually view these scenes online, I feel safe in at least judging the narrative and it could have been solid to great if they just picked an angle and stuck with it. That entire epilogue is pretty bad and I’m amazed they never bothered to use that ridiculous runtime to actually expand on the stuff that needed to be explored the most (mainly Dina, who feels like she’s here so Druckmann can get brownie points for having another queer character in the cast without actually doing much with her).

That said, the twist where you shift to Abby’s viewpoint was handled way better than the leaks suggested, and I would probably like this story fairly okay if it ended without that epilogue, leave things more open ended and detached from Ellie’s perspective. There’s still a lot of padding that would need to be cut and is probably a large reason why people had their lives ruined by terrible management and endless excess, but I could at least respect the artistic intent, especially if they left out Ellie knowing what Joel did as revealed at the very end. I just do not agree with the extremely murky thesis statement being laid out here, it’s the most bog standard cycle of violence stuff I’ve seen in awhile. I think the idea is to show her going down Joel’s footsteps and that was a really hacky, bad idea.

I also still hate the really obviously manipulative moments. Like I know all fiction is a manipulation, but you have to hide the manipulation for it to work, and the press square to be a participant in this act of murder or weird moments like Ellie killing someone and being upset by what she just did after hours of killing people that exact same way in gameplay shows not everything was thought out. People say Kojima would rather make movies over games and ignores the game part, but I think that’s a more appropriate critique for what Druckmann did here.

If anything, this bloated mess makes me appreciate how much better the original game used its time and how strong it ended. I don’t think that game is particularly special, fairly run of the mill zombie fiction, but it understood how to structure itself much better, far less lore for lore and more segmented, focused stories.

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i think it’s really progressive that naughty dog lets queer characters play the role of revengeful sad dad… really makes you think

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As Rob put it on the podcast a few weeks ago (slight paraphrase as this is from memory): “Finally, the representation we’ve been waiting for: Queer characters that can be just as reprehensible and awful as every other video game protagonist!”

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I actually don’t mind a queer character being heavily flawed, but I do draw issue with them just having the exact same flaws as a straight cis white guy game protag. It really shows how limited the writing staff’s understanding of queer culture was.

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I finished it and I’m still mad. There are plenty of missteps leading up to that last chapter, but then the end just feels completely pointless. Still putting my thoughts together, but…ugh.

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If they had left out the last 2 hours I feel like it would have been salvageable, or at least it would have been a case of your mileage may vary. It really goes off the rails grindhouse videogames nonsense on top off the writing decisions that I don’t agree with.

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I finished TLoU2 today and I’m kind of on ambivalent about it. There were a bunch of character moments and set pieces that I enjoyed, but taken as a whole the game left me a little cold. A lot of my problems connecting with the story center around one core issue: Druckmann and Co. used the ending of TLoU part 1 only to provide context for part two’s plot, not to add any meaning to the characters’ actions.

When Joel broke out of the firefly hospital with Ellie he completely upended Abby’s life. He killed her dad, effectively crushed the organization she was a part of, and forced her and her remaining friends to abandon a comfortable life (comfortable for the apocalypse anyway) and relocate to a war-torn police state. Now, years later, Abby has finally tracked Joel down and wants revenge. Cool. Checks out. But how would the story told in this game be any different if Abby hadn’t been connected to the event at the hospital? What if Abby was simply the friend or partner or sister of one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of other people Joel had murdered or otherwise wronged? Does anything change?

The events at the Salt Lake Hospital don’t matter for Ellie’s story. Ellie’s relationship with Joel and the ways it was affected by his decisions are explored in the flashbacks, but there’s nothing done to connect those feelings to her actions in the present day. Ellie doesn’t weigh her anger at Joel’s betrayal against the relationships she’s made in Jackson since; she doesn’t look at the zombies in Seattle and wonder how many of them might have been saved by her vaccine; she doesn’t reckon with the possibility that maybe a 14 year old racked with intense survivor’s guilt deciding to sacrifice herself for a hail-mary attempt at a cure was making a bad decision in the first place. The only thing that matters is that someone killed Joel. That’s why Ellie goes on her revenge quest. She leaves for Seattle before even knowing why Abby did what she did, and never really bothers to figure it out.

The events at hospital don’t matter for Abby’s story either. We don’t even really know what she was getting revenge for specifically. Killing her dad? Ruining the vaccine project? Destroying her chapter of the fireflies? While the framing of the story makes it seem like Abby’s mostly upset about Joel killing her dad, the rest of the Salt Lake crew are invested in it too, which suggests the issue was pitched to them as a means of broader justice. Was Abby using her friends’ anger to subsidize her own more personal revenge quest? We don’t know, the story doesn’t say. Does Abby feel anything about working to destroy the Seraphite community after her own Salt Lake community was destroyed? We don’t know. The story doesn’t say. Does Abby feel anything about moving from a community that purported to save humanity to one which is engaged in a zero-sum fight over the scraps of a broken world? We don’t know. The story doesn’t say. We know Abby wanted revenge on Joel, that’s it.

The result of all this is a weird story where the two main characters do not interact or engage with the shared history that brought them together in the first place. Instead, Abby and Ellie are each stars of their own natural disaster movies in which the other character plays the hurricane.

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I cannot overstate how fucking dumb the last two hours of videogame before the final confrontation are. It’s another weapons-loud firefight like the last game but they managed to get some Snyder edge in there before the end. Hilarious dogshit. I wish I didn’t enjoy the moment-to-moment of this game so much because it really is a failure in the narrative arena that ND care so much about.

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CW animal violence: letting me play with the dog who I accidentally blew up with an explosive arrow two hours earlier is one of the most ghoulish things I’ve ever seen in a game, thanks Naughty Dog.

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