The Last Of Us Ended Perfectly, And It Doesn’t Need A Sequel [Spoilers]

The Last Of Us Ended Perfectly, And It Doesn’t Need A Sequel [Spoilers]

As the old saying goes, “Video games beget more video games.” Successful video games beget sequels. And The Last of Us seems by any available measure to be a successful video game. That being said, I hope it doesn’t get a sequel.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW FOR THE LAST OF US. The spoiler train is leaving the station. Y’all have been warned.

The ending of The Last of Us was a bit astonishing, wasn’t it? Not because it was so epic or cathartic or whatever other vague term you want to use; it knocked me out simply because it was an Ending, with a capital “E.” It took the entire 14+ hour story and wrapped it up with a conclusion that fit with everything that had preceded it.

Joel spent the better part of a year with Ellie, and the two of them came to depend upon, trust, and eventually love one another as family. In the end, Joel, who had already lost one daughter, couldn’t let himself lose another. He did something awful: he sacrificed humanity’s last known hope for a cure just so that he wouldn’t have to lose Sarah all over again. And then he did something worse: After all those months building trust, he lied to Ellie about it.

And Ellie knew, didn’t she? It was left ambiguous (three cheers for ambiguity in video games!), but in that final scene, when she told that story about her friend dying, her doubts about Joel’s hastily assembled story… Ellie knew. And she let Joel lie to her, and decided that it was OK.

Would she have felt that way if she’d known the extent of what he’d done to “save” her? If she knew he’d murdered half the Fireflies, walked into her operating room and gunned down maybe the last remaining brain surgeon on earth? That he’d maimed and tortured, that he’d murdered Marlene, her longtime protector and surrogate mother, in cold blood? Could she forgive him for all that? I don’t know. What questions for a game to leave us asking!

(This video is from a roundtable conversation I recently had with Revision 3‘s Adam Sessler and Zac Minor about The Last of Us. Starting at around 26:00, we talk about the ending.)

It sure wasn’t a satisfying ending; there was no intense final boss battle, no emotional goodbye, and no great sacrifice. In many ways, it was the opposite of the more traditional (though no less worthy or affecting) ending we saw in Telltale’s The Walking Dead game. None of the more predictable “zombie endings” that people had guessed came to pass: Joel didn’t die, he wasn’t forced to kill Ellie, nor was she forced to kill him. Despite the fact that the game was built on so many zombie-movie tropes and clichés, its ending avoided all of them.

In fact, the ending earned a lot of the tropes that came before it. In particular, the “woman in a refrigerator” from the beginning of the game. It’s a cliché as old as video games to start with a woman dying, thereby giving the male protagonist his motivation for the rest of the story. But in this case, the game earned it. The moment when Joel lost Sarah, when he called her “baby girl” and held her as she died… that one moment contained Joel and Ellie’s entire narrative, from their first meeting (that glance down at his watch!) to their reunion at the end of winter (“I’m here, baby girl, it’s me“) all the way to Joel’s final, irredeemable lie.

That’s it. The story came full circle. It ended.

So when I say I don’t want a sequel, that’s what I’m talking about — I don’t feel like I need to return to this particular post-apocalyptic world. I don’t want to hear any more stories from there. I don’t need to see what Joel and Ellie get up to now that they’re safe at Joel’s brother’s wilderness retreat. I certainly don’t need to fight off another clicker, or make my way through another hunter camp.

I felt much the same way about Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a game to which The Last of Us bears more than a passing semblance. Here’s what I wrote about that game:

Does Enslaved really need an additional chapter? Would we really have gotten more out of watching Monkey and Trip travel across another series of post-apocalyptic wastelands, meet another couple of scavengers, explore their complicated relationship further? I’m not so sure. Enslaved stands pretty well on its own.

Furthermore, without spoiling anything, I found it refreshing that Enslaved had an actual ending. It raised all sorts of questions, and it was anything but some weak cliffhanger leading into a presumed sequel.

Replace Enslaved with The Last of Us and I might as well be talking about the newer game.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we won’t get a sequel. Nothing in videogamedom can be so critically successful without at least prompting discussion of more, more, more. And, necessary or no, I wouldn’t put it past Naughty Dog to put together something fantastic for a sequel. (Title suggestion: The Last of Us 2: Turns Out There Were More of Us Than We Initially Thought.)

Of course, that doesn’t mean that we won’t *get* a sequel. Nothing in videogamedom can be so critically successful without at least prompting discussion of more, more, more.

I’ll feel even better when I see what they do with the single-player DLC, which Sony says isn’t just cut content, but all new stuff. (Maybe it’ll trace the story of Marlene as she makes her way across the country? Or perhaps Tommy’s adventures sometime in the 20 years after the fall? Or maybe we’ll get to see how Henry and Sam came to be trapped in Pittsburgh? Or something starring Tess? Hell, I’d gladly play DLC starring any of the main narrative’s supporting cast.)

Speaking with the PlayStation blog, The Last of Us writer and creative director Neil Druckmann had this to say:

I think the world is ripe for more stories, but as far as the journey Joel and Ellie goes on [sic] it ends with this game. We were very conscious that we didn’t want to leave this story dangling. If we never do a sequel we’re OK with it, because we told the story we needed to tell.

If you follow games at all, you know that “ripe for more stories” means “if this game makes money, we’ll happily make more of them.” And when Druckmann says Joel and Ellie’s journey ends with this game, that could be read a number of ways. Their journey is over, after all. But I highly doubt they won’t feature in a sequel in some way or another.

So, OK, let’s assume we’re gonna get a sequel. The worst thing Naughty Dog could do would be to have the two main characters set off again, this time looking for some other thing, crossing through some other part of America in a journey that mirrors the first game. Though given how good these guys are at telling stories, I highly doubt they’d to that.

The best thing Naughty Dog could do would be to make Ellie the star of the sequel. In my review, I wrote, “The Last of Us isn’t Joel’s game; it’s Ellie’s.” I still think that, given that she was the character I most cared for and felt the most connected to. But it’s hard to argue with Chris Suellentrop at The New York Times when he observes:

The Last of Us aspires to be an interactive, mixed-company version of “The Road,” in this case the story of the relationship between an older man and a 14-year-old girl as they try to survive in an oppressive and deadly wasteland. Almost throughout, however, it is actually the story of Joel, the older man. This is another video game by men, for men and about men.

And yet even if we accept that conclusion, I’d argue that The Last of Us is a very good video game by men, for men and about men. Furthermore, it’s noteworthy in how it shrugs off several video game storytelling conventions, among them the need for a heroic protagonist and a satisfying, unambiguous ending. How fine would it be for a sequel to up the ante and shrug off more conventions, to lose the male-centric, Daddening of Games bent of the first game and let us tell Ellie’s story?

Maybe it’s five years later, and a 19-year-old Ellie is beginning to make her way in the world. Maybe she learns of Joel’s lies and sets off on her own, or maybe…

Okay, OK, ha. Look at me, getting all excited about a possible sequel to a game I don’t even think needs one. And I really don’t. It’s so rare for a game to have the conviction to end without providing all the answers, to leave us unsure how to feel about what we just saw and, more vitally to the medium at hand, what we just did. To let us sit with it. To make us stew.

We get too much resolution in video games these days, and could do with a bit less surety. From beginning to end, The Last of Us is confidently ambiguous in a way almost unprecedented in big-budget video games. That, not its amazing graphics, well-designed combat or slick cutscenes, is its most laudable achievement.


  • Out of fear of spoilers I’ve not read the article but when it comes to games like this where the story ends perfectly, I think don’t make a sequel, make another game with different people set in the same situation but otherwise unconnected.

    Much like a lot of disaster scenario games, I can’t help but wonder how places other than America fare. Is London in ruins? Is Stockholm going unusually well? Is Wagga Wagga a dry barren wasteland with nothing to do? Trick question, Wagga is already like that.

  • I think the story of Joel and Ellie was perfect, but the way this is selling, sony is going to want a sequel. If they do a sequel I hope that it is with new characters because i can’t see where else story would go without taking back some of the emotional poignancy of the ending and the journey.

    • This particular story, these particular characters, should never be explored or mentioned again directly, due to weakening the impact of the games ending. I literally finished it five minutes ago and my stomach is in knots over the morally gut wrenching conclusion.

      I don’t see the need to return to Joel and Ellie, however, I CAN see a chance to continue the story further down the line. Twenty years? Fifty? How does the world react to Joels decision? Not mentioning him personally as per se, but we know that through his inability to let Ellie go, he’s damned the world. Picking up the story twenty or fifty years later, possibly on the opposite coast or in a different country (Europe would be highly interesting due to its varied landscapes and locales for travelling, or what about Africa?) and seeing what has happened would be great. We would start the game ‘tabula rasa’, a clean slate, new characters but following on the impact of the decision of the last one. Mayhaps the characters in this one could be forever hunting a mythological cure, the game revolving around that, revolving around the instilled madness this quest has taken on them, how they turn against friends, family and others in their journey to find a cure that may not actually exist? No immune girl, no immune people, just a vague promise that maybe a cure might exist.

      Of course, then at the end of the game you might find out that once upon a time a cure did exist… but a madman took it from everyone…

      • Honestly, that’s the LAST thing I want. I’ve spent the course of a game with these characters and, like the articles states, there are a few loose threads in there, threads that don’t really matter, but enough to make a difference if they ever resurface (though hopefuly not in the immediate sequel since that would cheapen the ending). I don’t want to spend time with another group of characters who would likely only go through the same situations if not even more clichéd ones.

        There have been enough zombie apocalypse stories about survivors dealing with the loss of humanity, the moment when they realise one of them is secretly bitten, the moment when one of them betrays the group, etc. etc.

        These characters went through the zombie apocalypse in the most original way possible, and so it would be logical then to continue the progression of the plot from their points of view.

        I don’t need another pair of characters to get to know. We’ve been through it all. We’ve seen it all. There’s nothing a new group can show us that we don’t already know or see coming. I mean, unless they decide to be a little more outlandish with the story.

        “In THE LAST OF US 2, you play as the scientists who journey across America to deliver the cure for the fungal virus that decimated humanity!”

        I think a lot of people don’t want to see Joel and Ellie again because they’re afraid ND will screw up somehow and taint the previous game, but I don’t see that as reason enough not to try. They’re ambitious storytellers. They should do what many consider challenging.

        • Alternatively, what if they take the WWZ route (the awesome book not the shit movie)? The cure is found between games and it deals with the cleanup? Which faction would be ‘cleaning up’? Who is in ‘control’?

          • That’s interesting.

            But I’d still want to follow those events from Joel and Ellie’s (Jellie’s?) perspectives. We’ve established who they are, we recognise their attitudes, their world views, which would undoubtedly mean a more layered thoughts about the cure, versus following a bunch of new characters going through the resurgence of humanity and the audience not being able to relate as much because of the unfamiliarity.

          • No way, Joel and Ellie are done. It would undermine the meaning of the last part of the story. Joel and Ellies future is now reliant upon a lie. Joel is ‘the badguy’ for all intents and purposes at the end, having doomed humanity possibly. The world will move on beyond them, it will eventually recover, it may take a long time but it likely would. What if it say, switched sides and you ended up as a survivor from Davids camp? O_o After all, they were only ‘bad’ from a point of view.

          • They can leave The Lie where it is if feel they don’t need to bring it up again, but again, any future game without these two will just be a retread or a story that didn’t need to happen. Like your suggestion to feature David’s people.

            Really, who cares? David’s dead. It’s done. I have no inclination to see what happens to them because it’s been established that they’re bad people, generally speaking.

            I think the idea of, ‘Hey, they had their reasons’ or ‘they’re just trying to survive like everybody else’ was already conveyed by David himself after he and Ellie parted ways initially.

            Like I said, there is no character you can follow that will be more interesting to the audience at large than the two leads. Bill? Tess? Sam and Henry? Frank? Ish? Yeah, they’re great characters and I wouldn’t rule them out of a DLC side adventure. But a full game?

            Won’t happen. I’m willing to bet 6 girraffes it won’t happen.

          • Are Davids people bad though? That’s the question, when you look at what they did, they were an organised group, trying to survive. A bunch of them, when you creep through the shops and listen to them, vehemently speak out against David and his ‘play things’. Granted inaction on their parts speaks volumes about their own guilt in the capture of a little girl (as dangerous as she is), but David was clearly the motivating evil factor in that group, without him, I get the feeling they probably would’ve been a normal lot of people. One bad egg as such. Maybe not a sequel, but definitely would like to see something explored in terms of DLC.

            Bill was a crackup I thought, laughed at his lines so much, not especially out of humor, but the situation he found himself in, the holing up of his own town etc. There was something bittersweet about it, as much as he fortifies it, you just know he’s going to come to a bad end…

            And those giraffes, damn. I was stunned at how realistic they seemed.

          • @weresmurf

            Are Davids people bad? Again, from a general standpoint from which I ultimate defer to, yeah. But on the other hand if you want to get more nuanced, of course they’re not bad people. They’re just trying to survive like you said. The argument could also be made that they were reluctant cannibals because David actually wanted to bargain with Ellie for the Deer.

            I have the opposite reaction to David than you do apparently, because I feel he was the good one; the good man who’s trying to keep everyone’s morals in check (but clearly failing to lead with any success). In fact, i know this to be true because he sent his men to retrieve Ellie alive but they decided to kill her. He struck me as a man who recognised why Ellie and Joel were quick to kill his men but didn’t hold that against them. Otherwise he would have raped her and be done with it. He spent a lot of effort and patience trying to get her to see his side of things, but I think her attitude quickly soured what nobility/sanity he had left.

            I loved Bill as well, and was really happy to see him survive. At one point it had crossed my mind that maybe once Joel delivered Ellie, he was going to go back to Bill and partner up with him, they seemed to get along well enough. I’m still wondering though, Bill’s story made him seem selfish: he’s holed up in his own town, he thinks partnering up with others is a bad idea… and yet, he delivers a large amount of supplies to Tess every month or so. It’d be interesting to know what their histories are, which might then clue in why Joel didn’t bring up Tess’ death.

        • On a completely unrelated note, I hope there’s at least one DLC for the game that depicts the events of the night everything went to shit from the point of view of the President of the United States.

          You’re in the Oval Office and suddenly your advisors start streaming into the office left and right to clue in the President and then packs of runners start tearing into the building outside. Realistically, they wouldn’t make it very far because this won’t be like those terrible Hollywood action movies where the Secret Service easily gets taken out by zombies. But nevertheless, they don’t know much about this fungus so the president needs to be escorted to the presidential bunker.

          The whole time the SS protect you as you are escorted to the helipad on top of the building and the entire time this is happening we are learning as much about the infected as possible. Of course, we won’t find out everything, but perhaps there are little details that point to things we see in the main campaign about Clickers and Bloaters, like,

          “Is this Al’Qaeda?”

          “No sir, there are numerous reports in Africa of people sprouting unusual growths, killing people.”

          And maybe a little bit about how the fungus is affecting other countries:

          “What about China? What’s their status?”

          “China’s gone dark, sir…” etc., etc…

          It’d also be cool to use the opportunity to tease new types of infected for future games by verbally mentioning, but not showing them.

          The DLC should run about 5 hours and details how the President’s helicopter went down and how his protectors quickly die one by one, until it’s just him and his family. Just spitballing ideas here, but under Neil Druckmann’s hand, it could definitely work.

          • The only thing I could think when reading this, was “No.”

            This game doesn’t need to turn into a First Person Shooter. With constant shooting, and an explosion from the helicopter.

          • Firstly, you’d be playing as the US President, so no, it’s not gonna be anything like a FPS.

            And second, this isn’t an FPS.

  • Almost throughout, however, it is actually the story of Joel, the older man. This is another video game by men, for men and about men.

    For the love of god no one tell Hernandez.

    • God, I lol’d so much lol. But I disagree with that quote, my sister walked in and immediately became fascinated with it, how they interact so realistically. She wants to buy it now. Woot!

  • Dunno about you, but I only killed one of the surgeons. The other two mightve been nurses. But i left them. I played that game killing only when I had to, to save ammo for when I’d need it

    • Same here – I didn’t want to risk a bullet (or, indeed, 2 bullets) shooting those 2 nurses, justin case I needed those bullets later.

      So I beat them to death instead.

  • Holy shit, there was a choice of how many surgeons to kill? I killed all 3, the surgeon with his own scalpel, the other 2 with my bare hands without even a second thought.

  • Sure, you could end The Last of Us there, at least that’ll entitle you to the obligatory Kotaku Alternate Viewpoint (KAV). Though, it’s not entirely something that DOESN’T demand a sequel now is it? Maybe (maybe? lol) gamers could learn a lesson in storytelling about why ambiguity isn’t always the cancerous leech latching on to your choice-driven tales and shitting in your cereal. Maybe they’ll learn that ambiguity and a look towards an uncertain future doesn’t actually destroy your last 100 hours of gameplay. But then again, I want Generation: Thought-By-Mob to suffer more. I want the people who think they know enough about writing to call for a change to everyone’s game and another’s creative work to get to the end of the story and find Joel waking up on his couch, staring at his daughter, checking the time on his new watch to see that he slept through the night.

    Nothing would make me happier.

  • You know at the end, they don’t go back to Joel’s brother camp, they go back to Texas…

    I’ve always hated people who get attached to virtual characters, cause I’m like “C’mon they’re not even real, but this game man, it just made me want to get in the game, hug ellie and tell her everything was going to be alright, I want a sequel man, I died inside a bit when it endded”

  • *snip* ’cause Kotaku sucks and didn’t make my comment a reply even though I clicked reply.

  • Don’t mind a sequel, I like to see if the survivors (uninfected, hunters, Fireflies n etc) will recover going back living normal once they do find a vaccine or some anti-fungal weapon to fight back.
    The actors who did the characters for the game really did a great job and don’t like to see the go.

  • I shot the surgeon in the leg and he keeled over and seemingly died. His enchanted shin, the source of his power.

    I think Joel and Ellie’s current story is done.

    Any sort of sequel or DLC should either contain different characters with their own problems, or be set 20 years later. Maybe it can have a grown up Ellie travelling with her son who has inherited her immunity and they are on the run from people after them for a cure – which would conveniently let Ellie come to understand Joel’s reasons for protecting her.

  • please do make another, it’s epic! – just make it with different ‘everything’. Final Fantasy style before they started ruining it.. fantastic storied games but completely unrelated

  • *SPOILER*** idk why people think that having a sequel can ruin a game. So you think The Last of Us was great, how would a sequel ruin it? I don’t think the ending a was a perfect ending, I think it leaves it open for a sequel. It seemed more like a cliff hanger to me. Why have Ellie ask about the Fireflies and have Joel completely lie to her? Also, there was a part earlier in the game when Ellie is going over the comic book and says how she hates cliffhangers, to be continued.

  • I have to say, I really disagree. I want Joel and Ellie to come back- but maybe in a different way. Everyone’s talking about setting it in the future but the game skipped sooo much from the 20 years. How Joel met Tess, what happened to Ellie’s parents, all of that was missed. And what if they use Joel and Ellie again- they definitely aren’t stupid enough to wing it and produce a twin of the first. There’s other stuff in the future- what if Ellie meets a guy? What if Sarah never really died? Yeah, I know it’s far fetched, but I would really enjoy that, and I’m sure others would too.
    And for the record, I’m a girl and I played it. It’s enjoyable across both genders, it just depends what you’re into.

  • ***This reponse contains spoilers***

    Joel and Ellie’s stories are done, and as much as I love the characters, I say leave it at that. But there’s plenty more to be had with what ND has started here. Any of the surviving secondary characters could star in a title of their own. To mind, Bill would make a very interesting protagonist, not to mention giving some attention to LGBT in gaming. Also, learning more about Ish and what happened to him and the remainder of his group after they left the sewers is something I’ve been dieing to know, though I have a sneaking suspicion he may end up being the star of the SP DLC.

    You can go further afield though. What about characters in a different part of the country? A different part of the world? What about a game about 2 mates trying to survive in Australia? Or someone looking for a lost relative in London? Or even more further afield: why not try a survival story from a completely different angle? Joel’s philosophy is the philosophy of the game (be hard, be ruthless if you want to survive), but what about showing someone getting by on compassion and decency? Hell, ND could have him or her die in the end if they really want to ram the message of the original game home, but it would be a different side of human nature, which to my mind is what The Last of Us is really about.

    Thinking about it, if human nature *is* what the game is about, even the setting is expendable. Switch things up, and throw a sequel into the far future where a mother and her daughter are trying to travel through alien space to a human settlement. Send it into the past and show us how a cro-magnon human chief protects his tribe from a robot invasion from the future. As long as the overall message remains the same (survival means no morals), then it could work.

    So I guess the moral of the story is… I really loved this game and I have too much time on my hands 😛

  • I agree that the end was perfect and should of been THE end of the Joel and Ellie story. I do think a sequel can ruin the game as being a unique gaming experience to a generic game that goes down the route uncharted did or the AC franchise. I do think and this is my opinion as prequels tend to break games for me but at one point of the game when your in Bills hideout (my favorite character) he says to Joel that he should give up his mission and set Ellie on her way, then he goes on to tell Joel that one time he had a partner that he felt he had to look after but he decided that would get him killed so he set him/her on their way. So that’d be interesting, and it seemed he was the guy to go to if you wanted survival bombs and weaponry, so naughty dog can even make new bombs and gear. Plus in the game they never really get into how he single handedly held the town for however long he did nor what happened to him after Joel left town. Did he die and get raided by bandits? Did clickers finally get him? One doesn’t know, unless I missed something u all didn’t.

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