Joel and Ellie Made The Last of Us a Success

The relationship between Joel and Ellie was the key to the success of The Last of Us.

Over the next couple months I’ll be writing about The Last of Us in some way, shape, or form once a week. I still love talking about it, I still love thinking about it, and it’s still a story that blows me away every time. 

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This is probably a good time to mention that this article will be extremely spoiler heavy, so if you haven’t played the game, I want you to go out right now and find a way to play it. Buy the game, borrow it from a friend, or borrow a PS3 from someone if you have to. You simply must play this game. It is on my list as a “Game of the Year” contender, and you better believe it will be on many others’ as well. So stop messing around, go out and get this game today.

So with that said, let’s talk about what made this game so great: Joel and Ellie.

A Helping Hand

If you’ve played the game for more than 15 minutes you know that Joel loses his daughter early in the game. It’s an unfortunate event that really sets the stage for the events that unfold later.

After flashing forward to “present day”, we see an older, more haggard Joel. He even appears to have almost completely given up on life. If it wasn’t for Tess (his partner/friend/love interest), he may have left this world a long time ago. And who could blame him? With all the infected monsters out there like runners, clickers, and bloaters, it’s easy to see how a person who has already lost everything would just check out.

But as the story unfolds, we learn Joel is given another reason to live, even if he doesn’t know it yet: Ellie. More grown up than she should be, this 14-year-old girl needs a hand getting across the country, and maybe more importantly, needs a family. Joel and Tess agree to escort her, but after Tess goes down, it comes down squarely on Joel’s shoulders.

Joel definitely is not up to this task mentally, but honoring his commitment, he forges on anyway. As he and Ellie travel the country, they learn more about each other, share stories from their personal lives, and begin to grow fond of one another. 

Matters of the Heart

Over time, it becomes clear that Joel has become a father figure to Ellie, and vice versa, Ellie has essentially become Joel’s adopted daughter. He may not admit it until closer to the end of the game, but he would do anything for her and probably even give his own life if it meant saving her. By the time the game wraps up, it’s clear that Joel and Ellie are a family, even if there are few secrets that must be kept in order to protect it…

After I finished the game, I read a lot of player and critic feedback saying Joel ended up being the bad guy, and I couldn’t disagree more. The argument was that he saved Ellie’s life, which is great and all, but at the expense of humanity. To me, this is a boneheaded argument.

Can we all agree Joel viewed Ellie as his own daughter at this point? That’s a fair assessment, correct? Maybe all of the people naming Joel as the bad guy don’t have kids, because as a father, I would argue he made the ONLY correct decision.

If I were in Joel’s shoes I would have made the same choice he did in the hospital. I would have ripped Ellie off the table and escaped into the world, despite the urging that doing so would doom all of humanity. And I wouldn’t have felt bad about it, either.

First of all, I don’t care what the cost, as a dad, you always save your daughter. Secondly, there was no guarantee the procedure they were preparing to put Ellie through, which was one she would not survive, would have actually worked. Never did the game say it was a guaranteed cure for the Cordyceps infection, referring to it merely as a strong possibility. Sorry, but as a father, that’s not enough for me to let you cut open my daughter.

Playing the Role of the Hero

To put it quite frankly, Joel and Ellie are family and only have each other to rely on. Joel made the right decision, and to me, was the hero in this game. Sometimes as a parent you have to make decisions for your family that your kids don’t know about or understand. And Joel has been judged unfairly for doing what any father would have done.

I love everything about The Last of Us. The game’s combat wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough to work with the amazing story and graphics that were presented. It’s a game I will go back and play at least once a year for as long as my PS3 works, and it’s one you need to make sure you experience.

The relationship between Joel and Ellie is an inspiration to me as a father, as it reminds me of the responsibilities I have towards my daughters. No matter the cost, it is my duty to protect them and give them every opportunity to be happy and successful in life. And if that means defying doctors who want to perform experimental surgeries for the benefit of others and fighting off blind zombies that want nothing more than to bite my head off, then so be it.


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Author
Brian Armstrong
Proud gamer parent and freelance journalist (and fundraiser). I cover anything and everything that's interesting about the gaming industry, and even some stuff that isn't so interesting.