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.