And so it seems that murder's not so hard - I've eaten flesh and blood each day
And if I believe the things I write through the passing season
Then with a rifle in my hand and with a thousand reasons
I'll wait, far above the crowd in the summer sunshine
And history changes now, forever
That the things we love may remain here still
There is time to wait and there's a time to kill
From the barren land come the seeds of war
So it's a far better thing that I do than I've done before
- Far Better Thing, New Model Army
It's been a couple of days now since I finished The Last of Us, and my thoughts on the ending have changed somewhat as I thought more about it. Here's why. Oh, massive bloody spoilers obviously!
I mean it!
Huge spoilers incoming.
Don't read on if you haven't finished the game.
You will regret it!
Right, that's that out of the way. First off I should say that I loved the way the game ended right from the off. It was nothing like I expected at all. Joel and Ellie both survived, they remained together, and there was no huge boss fight (no super-mutant zombie that the Firefly lab guys had cooked up like you would get in most games).
Instead the ending was a short, quiet conversation that managed to speak volumes and nicely finished the entire storyline in a way that felt surprising but also felt completely earned and totally in line with what had gone before. I also loved the ambiguity of the ending, that it almost demands you to think things through and come to your own conclusion.
So, kudos to the developers for holding out and not doing what every other game would do.
The issue I had with the ending was more to do with the fact that I was initially surprised at Joel's actions. I don't even mean going all Rambo on the Firefly guys. That felt earned after everything that had happened before. It was completely believable by that stage that he would do absolutely anything for Ellie.
I didn't even feel too uncomfortable about his decision to potentially sacrifice the rest of humanity in order to save "his daughter" Ellie. As a parent that's something I can kind of identify with.
What I felt uncomfortable with was The Lie.
The fact that he lied so blatantly to Ellie about what had happened came across as really selfish. I'm sure it was, and with good reason. After all, this was a guy whose daughter had been murdered by those who were meant to protect her.
This was a guy who had spent the last twenty years trying to deal with Sarah's death and what the world had since become. Everyone he'd found a connection with since was dead or gone (Sarah, Tess, Tommy). He'd done terrible things in order to survive. So when his new daughter was in danger (and by this time there was no doubt that this was how he saw Ellie) he did whatever was required to save her, because she was all that was left to him. In Joel's eyes humanity didn't deserve to live, not after what it had done to Sarah, not after creating the likes of David.
So Joel's lie felt real, but it made me feel bad. I felt like his actions had not been driven by selflessly trying to help Ellie, but by selfishly wanting her so he could face living. When he reinforced that lie, despite Ellie's story of her friend Riley and the unspoken truth that she would have welcomed death if it had meant humanity could be saved, it felt even more selfish. It was like he was betraying Ellie. Joel really was the bad guy.
So I loved the ending, but it bummed me out. I felt really conflicted about it.
Then a day later I played through the ending again, and this time whilst watching the final cutscene it suddenly struck me that Ellie knows that Joel is lying to her. She knows! She knows, and that simple "Ok" before the fade-to-black means that she has accepted his lie. She's decided to be ok with it and carry on. She's given her permission to Joel to lie to her, and that simple realisation completely changed how I felt about the ending.
I wasn't bummed out any more. The ending wasn't about Joel's lie, or failing to save the world, or condemning humanity any longer. It was about two people consciously agreeing to save each other.
And that is a fucking brilliant way to end the story.