The Last of Us: My Perspective on Ambiguity (SPOILER ALERT!)

If you beat The Last of Us and you enjoyed the ending, here's a little bit of expansion on why it ended the way it did and to what extent we can really stretch ambiguity. If you haven't beaten the game yet, I'd recommend reading this afterward.
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Before I get started, let me note that this article will contain spoilers, so if you haven’t beaten The Last of Us, don’t read this yet! I don’t want to spoil anything for you!

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But I’d love it if you’d come back and read it after. 🙂

Okay, so I’m going to begin by defining the word ambiguity (I know you’re not stupid, so don’t get offended if you already know what it means; it’s just a common courtesy thing for me).

Merriam-Webster.com breaks it down this way: “1a : the quality or state of being ambiguous especially in meaning (see ambiguous); b : a word or expression that can be understood in two or more possible ways : an ambiguous word or expression; 2: uncertainty“.

The key word for me, out of all that, is uncertainty.

See, I believe there are two kinds of ambiguity: good ambiguity, like at the end of this game, and bad ambiguity, like at the end of other games such as the Tekken series (I love Tekken, don’t get me wrong…). It seems as though every time I beat the main storyline as one of the many characters on Tekken, I’d be farther and farther away from the truth.

What really happened?!

Because I’m thinking Jin is dead, and then he’s not dead. Heihachi’s dead, and then he’s engulfing the Earth in a dark blob of death (that was probably Kazuya). By the time the next game in the series comes out, my head is spinning. Nevertheless, I can’t stand bad ambiguity.

I like to be left on a good note.

At the end of The Last of Us, Joel’s carrying Ellie out of the Fireflies’ Headquarters. He walks out of the elevator only to be stopped by Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies. She’s giving Joel a whole, long spiel about why he should hand Ellie over. Joel, being the sweet, aching Daddy he’s been for the past twenty plus game years, quickly thinks it over. He knows Ellie wants to save humanity. He knows she’s the cure to everything ailing the Earth. Well, maybe not everything, but you get my point…

So what does Joel think?

Screw doing the right thing, Ellie is like my daughter, and I’m not sacrificing her for anything, not even for the salvation of all humanity. I’m fighting for her.

He told her she had to find something to fight for. Don’t just give up and die! Live on, and fight because life, no matter how crappy, is worth living.

That is so beautiful. Words to live by, I’m telling you!

Next thing we know, Joel tells Ellie the biggest, fattest video game lie I’ve ever witnessed, which basically boiled down to: they didn’t need you after all. Everything will be fine.

Let’s break this ambiguity down a bit:

Do we know for sure that there were “dozens” of immune people like Ellie?

No.

The game didn’t show us that. Sure, there was some gameplay beforehand where you played as Joel and you had to kill everyone across your path in the hospital to save Ellie. Did you see any people in any of the other patient rooms while you were playing? Can’t say I did, but then I wasn’t playing, either. I was happily watching!

Did the Fireflies really stop searching for a cure?

No.

That was a bold-faced lie on Joel’s part. He’s a good liar, though.

Was Joel justified in killing Marlene?

Not in an actual court of law, no, but in my eyes, I could see why he killed her. He was right – she’d only come after Ellie. She made the Fireflies her life’s mission. And since there was nothing left to distract her – like competing organizations or TV – Marlene would have all the time in the world to hunt Ellie down.

Makes perfect sense.

Now the question is: if you were in Joel’s shoes, living in a world that murdered your child, living in a world that’s crumbling day by day, living in a world full of diseased, crazed might-as-well-be-dead people and cannibalistic sickos…would you have let the Fireflies take Ellie’s life (after all you two had been through) in order to engineer a vaccine, or would you have shot Marlene and ran out of there like a bat out of hell, too?

Better yet, if you chose the ‘go with the Fireflies’ option, would you believe that the Fireflies’ vaccine would actually work on clickers, bloaters and runners, as far gone and mutated as they are?

Seems like Joel had a lot to think about in a short amount of time, huh?

When I watched the ending video (on The Rad Brad’s YouTube channel, of course) of The Last of Us, I almost cried. Matter of fact, I did cry. And you can blame it on hormones, females being females, whatever. But the storyline was so intense, so incredibly gripping, that I actually felt genuine emotion for Joel and Ellie. These weren’t tears of sorrow – not by a long shot! These were tears of joy.

The idea that they were able to go off and live together happily? What a strong contrast to the world around them!

The game didn’t end the way I had anticipated.

I liked that.

Unpredictability is a rare but fine quality in video games, especially when it comes to the storyline.

I’ve always been one for storylines in just about everything, especially movies, music and video games, so this game shot through the roof on my favorites this year.

What did you think of the ending of The Last of Us? Did you think Joel made the right choice for Ellie?


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PencilPusha
I'm a wife, a mother, a video game enthusiast, a lover of video game journalism and music journalism, and overall just a big kid on the inside! Writing is my life!