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The Morality of the Last of Us [Major Spoilers]

Jan 6, 2009
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Much has been made of the Last of Us’s conclusion and the morality surrounding it. Although this topic has already been discussed a fair bit in the Last of Us Spoilers thread, I think a thread like this is helpful in allowing a more tightly focused discussion on wider moral issues raised in the game, as well as the superlative ending itself.

The Last of Us presents a post-apocalyptic world in which the moral norms which make up society have disappeared along with any stable order. The Last of Us presents a distinctly Hobbsian view of humanity – without a clear sovereign and a situation of stability life becomes “nasty, brutish and short.” Kill or be killed replaces do unto others as you would have done to you.

The rights and liberties guaranteed to the American people under the United States Constitution have clearly been suspended or totally abandoned. People live in quarantined zones with a constant military presence. People can be subject to routine scans if it is possible they are infected. The infected are met with a quick death. Survival trumps concerns about rights and freedom. In a society where the fear of death is a constant, everyone is out for themselves or their group and the basis of social trust breaks down. The moral norms of society have changed.

Order has broken down and gangs are happy to simply kill others for anything useful they might have. Joel and Ellie are ‘jumped’ by a gang, a member of which tries to lure them into a trap by pretending to be hurt and begging them for help. The gang is using peoples basic morality (help those in distress) to ruthlessly exploit anyone they might come across. Of course, Joel isn’t fooled by the gang member, raising questions about what he has previously experienced (no doubt a similar situation) and how this has altered his morality. Here we clearly see how the survival type situation forces us to question what we would normally consider to be moral.

Beyond the general ‘survivors’ morality’ which runs through the entire game we also have the father daughter relationship present throughout. The loss of Joel’s daughter in the game’s first chapter has real emotional resonance and it’s spelt out fairly clearly that this is a) a huge loss to Joel and b) that Ellie in time comes to fulfill the ‘daughter’ role in Joel’s life.

Joel seems unable to come to terms with the loss of his daughter and is unwilling to talk about the loss of his daughter until very late in the game, and even then only briefly. Before this any mention of her is met with an immediate desire to drop the subject and to move on. Interestingly, after Ellie has run away, Joel explicitly says to her that she is not his daughter. This is fairly far into the game, and fairly notable because it is clear that Ellie is fitting very neatly into the absent role of Joel’s daughter.

By the games end though, there can be no doubt that Joel has replaced the hole created by the loss of his daughter with Ellie. We see Joel torture people in a brutal manner to find out where Ellie is, and his love for her is ultimately displayed in explaining his actions in denying humanity a potential cure. Here the player is presented with the moral contrast of the loving father daughter relationship built up over the course of the game and whether the loss of this new daughter is justified for the (potential?) cure for all humanity. This is the biggest moral question the game poses.

On a basic level it is the classic utilitarian vs individual rights dilemma. Is it right that the life on an innocent is sacrificed to save many other lives? In the games case this age old moral question is muddied by several other facts. Questions of consent (from Ellie), whether a cure was certain or not (and whether there had been other experiments) are all ambiguous?

The audiotape of the chief scientist (9:09 here) present in the penultimate ‘hospital’ chapter demonstrates the importance of the research, saying “were about to hit a milestone in human history equal to the discovery of penicillin.” This suggests that the cure is almost a certainty, as although he also mentions “past cases” Ellie is “like nothing I’ve ever seen”. Marlene says to Joel that this is what Ellie would have wanted, and Ellie’s questioning of Joel seems to suggest she would be happy to die in order to save humanity, as she explains she has already been waiting a long time to die after the death of her friend. Joel’s bold faced lie to Ellie also raises further questions about his own morality and his actions.

In the Spoilers thread, OminpotentO made the case for Joel being in the wrong:

“Throughout the game we only see Joel as sort of a nice guy but if you pay attention to some of the dialogue and certain actions you can clearly see that Joel is a fucking scumbag. Makes me question his reasons for saving Ellie at the end.

From the very beginning. Remember when he left behind that family Tommy wanted to help out during the drive sequence. When Ellie asks Joel about the ambush: "so... you kill a lot of innocent people?" then Joel just gives like a grunt/sigh and Ellie responds with "I'll take that as a yes." "take it however you want." Bill telling Joel "it's real people that scare me. You of all people should understand that."

The whole reason Tommy left Joel. Probably shortly after the outbreak: "all those goddamn years I took care of us" "that's what you call it? I got nothing but nightmares from those years." "you survived because of me!" "wasn't worth it."

How easily he tortures and murders people.

Joel is a fucking monster.”

Jest Chillin puts the opposing case:

“I don't know if Joel really is a monster. Clearly a lot of the things that he's done weigh heavily on his soul but from the beginning with he leaves that family all the way to the end when he lies to Ellie, he's suited for that world because he does whatever is necessary for those he cares for to survive. It's a clear theme throughout the game that everyone who is still alive has survived because they've put their desires first. Every grisly act committed by every character isn't done because they're inherently evil but because it's necessary to do to survive. Fireflies, Hunters, Military.. everyone. They really bring this home in Colorado when you discover that the people who attacked Joel and Ellie at the college are doing so to feed and support their loved ones in the town.”

This has to be right. There is a lot to like about Joel as well as him having disagreeable elements, and a lot of times doing what we would see as the ‘right thing’ would have ended in his and Ellie’s death. Joel is a morally grey character, this is what makes him interesting. As for Joel’s biggest moral choice, clearly some people saw going back for Ellie as the ‘right’ thing to do, humanity be damned. The ending is well done because clearly people can take sides: Team Marlene or Team Joel?

My own view is that Joel is clearly wrong, acting for understandable, but entirely selfish reasons – he wants to replace his lost daughter. Ultimately, the chance for a cure for all humanity, billions of people, is just such a large moral good, that the death of one teenage girl is in my view a very small sacrifice. Clearly others will disagree, but that’s the point.
 

Alienous

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Jan 20, 2013
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Joel is probably worse than anybody he kills. His goal, survival, permits him to commit any horrid act he wants. When Ellie isn't present, Joel is a fucking monster.

"Where?" *Gunshot* "Where?"

His choice at the end is entirely selfish. As the first quote you used says, he causes a rift between himself and Tommy because of his undefined actions over the course of the 20 years.

As for Joel's decision ... he doesn't betray mankind. A vaccination wouldn't have cured humanity, it would have just started a power play. The Fireflies would probably allow the governing bodies of the world to go un-vaccinated, and manufacturing wouldn't be cheap. The infected who remain would still exist. The true cure for humanity are the establishment's like Tommy's, who cope with the threat together and are the last refuge of civilization. You only have to look at Joel's quarantine zone to realize that whilst mankind survived the outbreak, humanity died some time ago.
 

Biff

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I made up my mind regarding the morals of it when I shot the three innocent Firefly doctors in the head.

I'm still unsure whether I could have progressed through that situation without killing them, but I did and then quickly felt that even the lives of those doctors wasn't worth saving Ellie for Joel's selfish reasons. So yeah, not morally right to save Ellie in exchange for humanity's last hope either, haha.

Great game though; I'm really happy the writers wrote it to end this way.
 

Meia

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Feb 22, 2013
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I choose to look at this as a tale of redemption, if I'm being honest.



Joel had his own child killed in his arms by someone that was supposed to "help." What do you think that would do to someone?


That person nailed it, I took what happened when the brother said that, and what Ellie said about hurting innocents and "how did you know it was an ambush" in that, for a time at least, Joel resorted to that to survive. Probably this is what his life was like shortly after losing his daughter.


His own brother eventually gets fed up, and wants nothing to do with him anymore. I take this as Joel's sort of wakeup call, to not be such a horrible human being anymore, so he takes up shop, goes to a crowded city(as crowded as they can be at this point), and tries to help the downtrodden(well, maybe). This is where we pick things up at the beginning and we meet Ellie. Over time he genuinely starts caring for her. We already have a character that will do ANYTHING for his survival, but now we have one by the end who will do anything to protect those he cares about.
 

newsguy

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I literally JUST finished the game. With the ending fresh in my mind, my wife and I concluded that the end is something of a twist. If you break it down to the most basic plot point, you realize at the end that you were actually playing the role of the man who doomed humanity. Are his reasons selfish? Absolutely. Can it be justified based on his particular circumstances? I think so. You don't give the cure for humanity (who happens to be a young girl) to a guy who lost his daughter, especially on a trek across the country. strong bonds are formed, and you give a guy who's been so deeply scarred and alone for so long that decision, he's probably gonna make the selfish one. I sympathize with Joel, because even at the end when he looks her dead in the eye and tells a bold faced lie, he still feels in his heart he's protecting her and doing what's right.
 

Replicant

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From all of the bits and pieces of dialogues, I get the impression that Joel has done what the hunters have done. Maybe not eat people but at least stopping them and then robbing them of their goods, and maybe killing them later on.

His last act was selfish but at the same time also understandable. I don't exactly have good experience with humanity in general and given the same situation as Joel, I might have done something similar. But if you asked someone who has had generally great experience with humanity, they may see his action as monstrous and that is fine too. That's the great thing about the game: it asks you to incorporate your own past experience and morals and decide if Joel is a monster or a very selfish and flawed but understandable human being.
 

Neiteio

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Of the posts I read in the spoiler thread, Cornerman analyzed the ending best:

I really kind of stop short of what implications the Fireflies might impose on people if they found a cure or even if they failed to find one and just lost Ellie during surgery. That adds more variables and basically requires me to wander too far to what ND provided us story-wise. Divorce the fact of 'whether' they actually succeed or not, the question is do you try. You never even get the option for success (you default to doom) if you never try. And its not like they're given many attempts. I'm merely saying I understand their motivations and don't deem them as bad guys.

Likewise, I completely understand Joel's motivations. Given what we know of him, it makes sense that he would do this. Its been his nature all along. And I can sympathize with him. I can't whole-heartedly say I wouldn't do it myself. I think ND's entire goal was to show everyone's motivations. That no one, with regards to the big decision, has the moral high ground, or has somewhat good intentions. We're meant to sympathize with both sides. The fireflies and Joel are two sides of the same coin as well. They're all survivors, they've all "done" things...and now they're all faced with this potential game changer...Ellie. ND, themselves, when talking about the game refer to that fact constantly...these people are just like Joel.

I think its made clear what Ellie would have wanted. Sure, she's a kid, but she's aware of the world around her. She's seen the horrors of this environment. I think its too easy to write her off as a kid. How many kids have the misfortune of being humanity's last chance at survival. Joel's survivors guilt is over making it out alive, while his daughter died. Its more of a should have been me. Ellie's guilt is knowing that the trajectory of deaths from now and in the future by way of this virus, stem directly from her still breathing. That's radically different...and child or not, a heavy burden to bear.

You say Joel does not think she could save the world. I disagree. Its the whole reason he and Tess signed up. He understands the brevity of this. He uses the words "salvation of mankind" in his plea to Tommy to take Ellie. Joel knows full well that there's a chance. He knows what it would mean for the world. Joel knows full well what Ellie wants, and would choose. Its when he realizes that she won't make it through surgery that he is unable to reconcile these facts. Yes, the fireflies were desperate and forced the operation. But its one that Ellie would have agreed to; she had already come to terms with...and Joel knew this (and we get further evidence from Marlene when dhr outs Joel in the parking garage). Joel doesn't deny it. He just can't bear to lose her. The reality is he's not her father. He loves her like a daughter. But he's not her father. In our world he wouldn't be able to make that call either way. But through the lens of ND world, its as close as you're going to get...and whoever has the upperhand sets the rules.

Joel's lie is an effort to ease her guilt, but its mostly for him. Its another survival tactic. Whatever's necessary to keep on going...he needs Ellie to stick with him, he can't have her trying to back, he can't have her turn away from him. He's done alot of things to survive...some bad things...and in case you forgot, that was the reminder. I feel as though we're meant to sympathize with him til that very moment. Their relationship has been a battle of trust; whether its giving her gun, confiding in her, relying on her, etc. He has an emotional need of her for survival...and in that moment...he can't trust her not to leave him, or turn away from him. So he does what he feels he has to survive. He feeds her whatever he needs to keep her.

She knows why he did it. She knows that he's lying. She also knows that he loves her. What she wanted from him, was that trust, but his ingrained nature to keep pushing ahead prevented him from doing so.

I don't call Joel the bad guy. His rescue of Ellie was beautifully sad. I don't fault him. Similarly, I don't think the fireflies are bad either. Both were doing what they felt was necessary to "save" someone(s). Its grey. Either way, someone loses.
We are so close in agreement, especially concerning the duality of her emotions. Wanting both to live, but being open to die. And I think you encapsulate what I mean by trust as well. I don't mean the broad surface level definition. She trusts Joel with her life, and he with her. The events leading up to the ending prove that. But there's a level deeper than that, its a kinship. In ways they are equals. They are partners. Its a unique dynamic outside just the father-daughter relationship they have as well. They've both grown emotionally, and in Ellie's case in skill. I agree with your assessment of her needs...and I think it certainly drives her complicity in his lie at the end. There's always been a wall up with Joel...he's short on words...he's low on details. He's walled up and for good reason. Its obvious how he feels about her. Through his actions, he's made that evident. When Ellie wakes up in a gown, in a car, with this flowery story by Joel. She's under no illusions. Its obviously been weighing on her and she's been thinking about how to approach him. All her body language and mannerisms suggest so. At this point, Joel has already lied to her (the flowery story).

When she confronts him on the hill, she already has her answer about whether he loves her or not. She already knows that he won't leave her behind. The fact that she's with him and not with the Fireflies (specifically Marlene) is already proof of that. She doesn't know what happened in details, and doesn't buy Joel's story. Which is why she gives him an out...a last attempt to be honest with her. After everything they've been through, will he trust her enough to be honest with her...will he treat her as a partner. Their whole journey was about reaching the Fireflies, and he's effectively left her out of the details. He's decided for her and won't really talk about it. She opens up about Riley in an effort to get him to open up. Her question to him isn't 'will you leave me too?' She's already confronted him about not wanting to be left alone. He answers that question by taking her back from Tommy...as well as sticking with her post Firefly ordeal. She asks him to swear that what he told her was true. She's looking for truth as a testament to this kinship. She doesn't want to and doesn't seem to be leaning towards leaving him. She's hurt / near anger / near tears when she asks him to tell her the truth. I agree she needs to feel that it wasn't all for nothing. But the truth is something she already kinda knows, so what does it say that she needs to actually hear it from him.

So we differ in the timing. I think your question is answered earlier, before the hill.

We deviate when it comes to what we saw in her eyes as well. Those eyes weren't of relief that she had finally found someone. To me, they showed painful realization of Joel's limitations, and the fact that she will still be "waiting her turn", or that it may never come. I think her love for Joel, the fact that she knows he won't leave her, is what makes her comply. But she's not relieved at that point. She swallows as if to hold back hurt emotions. She'll play the role, she's played throughout the game, and just go along with what he says...not as an equal or partner. Loved, but not equal.
 

Dibbz

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The way I saw it was Joel was fucked by humanity throughout. People were psychopaths in the game because it was a dog eat dog world. He probably felt he doesn't owe the world or humanity anything after everything people have taken away from him. He took the one sliver of happiness he could get and embraced it.

The rest of the world was doing the same thing throughout the game. Everything for themselves and fuck the rest. Him doing that does not make him a monster, it makes him human.
 

squidyj

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Joel is amoral, not immoral. His decisions represent a lack of recognition or consideration towards their moral content, I honestly don't believe he even thinks about, merely the practical aspect of how to get what he wants.
 

Meia

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All throughout the game Joel and Ellie are beset by hunters, cannibals, and even the short time he's with a fellow survivor he gets betrayed. Then he started off this miserable outbreak having his only child gunned down right in front of him for no reason whatsoever. Hell, I highly doubt that you fight as many, or more "humans" as you do infected wasn't a conscious decision...


A Joel at the end of this journey is given a choice: Sacrifice the one person currently he knows of who'd go through hell to save him and did, all for the sake of the "humanity" he's been struggling with since the game began, or rescue her. It's not much of a choice, let's be brutally honest here.



This wasn't a "cure". This wasn't something that they'd get, pump into the atmosphere like space magic and suddenly everyone infected goes back to normal or tips over. This is your classic zombie apocalypse scenario: you hole up in a community, keep the area safe, and don't get infected. What killing Ellie would have done was give someone bit a "chance" to survive, provided that they'd have been able to manufacture enough of this antidote to stop the change before it goes through, something we've seen takes literally a matter of a few hours. In other words, anyone infected would literally need to have a cure RIGHT THERE for it to matter. Would such a thing tip the scales in humanity's favor? Hell no.
 

iSnakeTk

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We are shitty people people Joel, it's been that for a long time - Tess
NO WE ARE SURVIVERS. - Joel

He does everything he must to survive in the shitty world he is in.
 
Jan 22, 2008
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I brought up the whole utilitarianism issue in the spoilers thread. Yes, sacrifising Ellie for a cure that could save humanity can viewed as good, but could you really let your daugther go? What if she decided she wanted to die? Does a SWAT sniper kill the hostage taker and the hostage in order to save the lives of others being held? One innocent life to save the lives of the others?

When there are no laws, humans show what they're really capable of, and it's quite nasty.
 

Showaddy

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I think in Joel's eyes he'd already lost 1 daughter for someone's interpretation of 'The Greater Good' when the soldiers began killing people to preserve the rest. Ellie gave him a reason to keep on living and he wasn't going to give that up for anything.

Also as someone who'd been out there surviving with the worst of them Joel probably didn't even consider Humanities possible salvation even worth the price at that point.
 

Neiteio

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I would've done as Joel did, saving my "daughter." But let's not ignore the larger implications of his actions. It's a total head-vs-heart situation. I think it's ridiculous to try and justify Joel's actions by saying "a cure wouldn't help" or "how would they administer a cure" or "the world is full of killers."

Remember, the whole reason everyone is fighting and killing one another in the first place is because they're fighting over limited resources. The whole reason they're fighting over limited resources is because industry has shut down. The reason industry has shut down is because civilization has collapsed. And the reason civilization has collapsed is because people are AFRAID of infection, and are split up into tiny walled communities, unable to come back together and rebuild the world.

Until a cure is produced, mankind will continue hiding behind walls. Period.

The narrative gives us no reason to doubt the Fireflies have a good idea what to do with the cure once they find it. On the contrary, the fact they're so determined to find a cure suggests they have a road map for how they would go about using it. And it's not hard to imagine, either: You start by vaccinating the nearest populated quarantine zone... From there, the newly-vaccinated can freely spread to the other "last bastions of humanity," and vaccinate them... And so it spreads: People become protected against the fungus... They come back together, find strength in numbers... And they restore law and order, rebuilding infrastructure and trade, creating abundant resources so they no longer have to fight each other.

The basics of civilization. The only thing holding them back is the lack of a cure. And Ellie was the Fireflies' one known shot at the cure. As Cornerman said, you have the possibility of a cure... The only certainly lies in what Joel did: NO cure. And so Joel robbed the world of its one shot at salvation.

But like I said at the very start... Emotionally, I understand why Joel did what he did. And it's not because some people mistreated him. It's not because he ran into a lot of dangerous people along the way. It has nothing to do with what other people aren't to him. It only has to do with what Ellie -is- to him. Ellie is, in effect, his daughter, and really his only reason for living. It's the whole notion of "love is selfish." Very human, indeed.

One other note: Joel himself believed the Fireflies were onto a cure. He told Tommy he believes they could find a cure. And speaking of Tommy, even though Tommy had parted ways with the Fireflies, he still respected them -- hence he was willing to take Ellie to the Fireflies. At the end of the day, the Fireflies are good people -- they formed to restore the original branches of government, and are patriots like the revolutionaries of 17XX, who were extreme in their own right but still had some fundamental principles in place that paved the way for democracy.

As Cornerman said, there are no real "bad guys" here. It's a grey area, wherein someone loses, no matter the outcome.
 

Alienous

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Well if he wasn't in a dog eat dog situation all the time he might drink tea and chat with the others.

It isn't a dog eat dog situation. It's a dog torture dog situation, and after Joel gets what he wants he feeds that dog chocolate.

He's merciless, and you can see the core of that when he, Tommy and Sarah are trying survive. He's a worse person than most, clearly.
 
Jan 6, 2009
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I would've done as Joel did, saving my "daughter." But let's not ignore the larger implications of his actions. It's a total head-vs-heart situation. I think it's ridiculous to try and justify Joel's actions by saying "a cure wouldn't help" or "how would they administer a cure" or "the world is full of killers."

Remember, the whole reason everyone is fighting and killing one another in the first place is because they're fighting over limited resources. The whole reason they're fighting over limited resources is because industry has shut down. The reason industry has shut down is because civilization has collapsed. And the reason civilization has collapsed is because people are AFRAID of infection, and are split up into tiny walled communities, unable to come back together and rebuild the world.

Until a cure is produced, mankind will continue hiding behind walls. Period.

The narrative gives us no reason to doubt the Fireflies have a good idea what to do with the cure once they find it. On the contrary, the fact they're so determined to find a cure suggests they have a road map for how they would go about using it. And it's not hard to imagine, either: You start by vaccinating the nearest populated quarantine zone... From there, the newly-vaccinated can freely spread to the other "last bastions of humanity," and vaccinate them... And so it spreads: People become protected against the fungus... They come back together, find strength in numbers... And they restore law and order, rebuilding infrastructure and trade, creating abundant resources so they no longer have to fight each other.

The basics of civilization. The only thing holding them back is the lack of a cure. And Ellie was the Fireflies' one known shot at the cure. As Cornerman said, you have the possibility of a cure... The only certainly lies in what Joel did: NO cure. And so Joel robbed the world of its one shot at salvation.

But like I said at the very start... Emotionally, I understand why Joel did what he did. And it's not because some people mistreated him. It's not because he ran into a lot of dangerous people along the way. It has nothing to do with what other people aren't to him. It only has to do with what Ellie -is- to him. Ellie is, in effect, his daughter, and really his only reason for living. It's the whole notion of "love is selfish." Very human, indeed.

One other note: Joel himself believed the Fireflies were onto a cure. He told Tommy he believes they could find a cure. And speaking of Tommy, even though Tommy had parted ways with the Fireflies, he still respected them -- hence he was willing to take Ellie to the Fireflies. At the end of the day, the Fireflies are good people -- they formed to restore the original branches of government, and are patriots like the revolutionaries of 17XX, who were extreme in their own right but still had some fundamental principles in place that paved the way for democracy.

As Cornerman said, there are no real "bad guys" here. It's a grey area, wherein someone loses, no matter the outcome.

Very much agree with this and the two Cornerman quotes you posted earlier.
 

Neiteio

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Yeah, I definitely didn't like the torture scene. At the same time, at least it was contextualized properly -- rather than glorifying it, we had a man who, in a bleak winter, wracked with the pain of a near-fatal wound, was driven to the breaking point trying to get back his "daughter." Joel was experiencing tunnel vision at that point. No mercy or empathy, only a mad drive to get Ellie back.

Still, I generally advise against torture scenes. Torture is the greatest evil someone can commit against someone else. Not even the worst person deserves to be tortured. It's inhumane, and shouldn't be depicted as a brisk solution to any problem. But maybe the point of the scene is inhumanity itself. What transpired during the winter was so cruel that Joel, himself, became more monster than man.

What's more interesting is how, at the beginning, when Joel, Tommy and Sarah are driving away, Tommy and Sarah want to help the hitchhiking family, but Joel tells them to keep driving. Over-protective parent with tunnel vision for his own child, or plain ol' selfishness and apathy toward others? Hard to say...
 

Whools

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From my view, Joel doesn't even have a moral compass, be it that he lost it through the struggle to survive, or that his protective instincts as a father and guardian to his daughter and later Ellie, override his moral sensibilities. I tend to go with the later, given that in the early hours of the outbreak Joel shoots his neighbour, and refuses to stop for the family, so even before his daughter is killed Joel has a mentality of himself and his party before others.

Joel doesn't give a damn about others, which is made clear through the ending, where he not only prioritises himself over humanity by taking the possible cure, but prioritises himself over Ellie, which I'm led to believe by his inflection when asking Ellie if she's sure she wants to go through with it, which is hopeful, as though curing humanity is worth less than Ellie's companionship. Then when he discovers she has to die, and I do believe he didn't know this before Marlene tells him, he kills Firefly after Firefly to get to her.

Now why is this a selfish act and not a selfless sacrifice for Ellie. Well I think it's two things, Firstly the shooting of Marlene. Marlene is possibly the only other person Ellie cares about, and the only other person that cares about Ellie, and even if Ellie didn't want to die, I doubt she would want Joel to kill Marlene in that situation. However I think Ellie is willing to sacrifice herself, which they both know, "It's what she'd want, and you know it".

The second thing is Joel's lie. He lies because he doesn't trust Ellie to stay with him if she knew the truth, He tries to remove her right to choose, to almost remove her humanity, making her in to an object, nothing more than Joel's companion rather than an independent woman. But I think Ellie see through this but decides to go with Joel, made evident through her opportunity for Joel to back out of the lie, which is a great piece of Juxtaposition against Joel's asking Ellie if she wants to back out of the sacrifice. Ellie takes the moral route, and Joel takes the immoral one. But to get back on track, Joel's fear that Ellie would abandon him is misguided, and further solidifies his position as the bad guy.

So in conclusion, while I firmly believe Joel is that bad guy, I think that's what makes The Last of Us so brilliant is how it makes us empathise with Joel, and, as it slowly becomes more apparent that he is no hero, the crushing blow that has on us as the player.

As an aside, I thought TLOU to be almost a commentary on video games that have a mass murdering protagonist, like ND's own uncharted, where Drake mows down mercenaries and unarmed museum guards like it's going out of fashion. TLOU has a a main character that slays a small army over the course of the game, but Joel is shown to be in the wrong, in a more bitter, but brilliant ending.
 

AAK

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When you break it down... Joel is like James Earl Cash, Kratos and Wander combined.

He definitely is one of gaming's biggest scum ever IMO.
 

Messypandas

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The FF prepped Ellie without even informing her of the ultimatum, without asking Joel (her guardian) consent and without giving them a moment to say goodbye. In the end, they were no better than Joel - morally righteous or not - and I didn't blame him for mowing them down.
 

Neiteio

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The FF prepped Ellie without even informing her of the ultimatum, without asking Joel (her guardian) consent and without giving them a moment to say goodbye. In the end, they were no better than Joel - morally righteous or not - and I didn't blame him for mowing them down.
To be fair, Marlene is Ellie's guardian. She raised Ellie from childbirth and tasked Joel with basically being her babysitter.

I don't agree with their methods, and I understand why Joel did what he did, but it's really a grey area. A catch-22 all around.
 

Alienous

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The FF prepped Ellie without even informing her of the ultimatum, without asking Joel (her guardian) consent and without giving them a moment to say goodbye. In the end, they were no better than Joel - morally righteous or not - and I didn't blame him for mowing them down.

Ellie would have consented. That's why Joel lies.

And Marlene was more of a legitimate guardian than Joel.
 
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Been saying it for a while, but Joel is douchebag and one of the few main characters that I've been unable to find a single redeeming ( or interesting ) thing about. I honestly didn't think that this added anything to the game and it felt like you're forced to play as a douchebag bad karma character in an WRPG.
 

Wigdogger

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I think, personally, Joel's choice is selfish, but it's ultimately more complicated than him just being "a monster." There's a very good reason Naughty Dog made the David character kind of similar to Joel -- a dark version, if you will. In another life, he could've been a protector for Ellie, just under his own warped rules. He was ultimately a reasonable guy who had become kind of crazy and misguided by a totally unprecedented situation, and he reacted with his baser instincts, but yet he tried to keep some humanity.

Joel's choice to lie to Ellie was quite rational, when you think about it, as he had something taken away from him, and he wasn't going to let it happen again. If she had gotten her wish -- to be martyred and released -- he would've been all alone, and he would've been swallowing a gun, ala Henry.

And honestly, does humankind really need to come back from that kind of insanity? People had lost their way so much that all humanity had basically been lost. To me, it's not some given that humanity would deserve to come through something like that. Moments of beauty were still capable in that decaying world, such as with the giraffes or the monkeys. And really, it would basically be the Rorschach conundrum of: how many bodies would be needed to build this new world? If that's the case, how fair is that? I think making Ellie willing to sacrifice so easily allowed Naughy Dog to avoid other questions that possibly could have been asked.

As selfish as it was, Joel was pretty much living the mantra of The Road -- looking for a good place to die -- and he, selfishly, made Ellie complicit in that. She chose to take the path of least resistance as well, believing his lie.
 

Night Hunter

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What I think a lot of people here are forgetting is, that Ellie has a serious case of survivor's guilt. So when you argue that Ellie would have sacrificed herself for humanity at least bear in mind, that the guilt could maybe cloud her judgment. I think the last conversation shortly before the lie at least hints at some kind of death wish. So saying that she would have sacrificed herself gladly for humanity, which in turn makes Joels decisions wrong, still doesn't show the whole picture.

For me it is simple. At the end of the games, Ellie, for all intents and purposes, IS Joels daughter. So dooming humanity for his daughter to survive is justified, at least from his and every parents point of view.
 

MAX PAYMENT

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Ellie would have consented. That's why Joel lies.

And Marlene was more of a legitimate guardian than Joel.
Would she have? No one ever explained the details. Why does she have to die? Is it guaranteed that a cure will be made from her?
 

katkombat

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I choose to look at this as a tale of redemption, if I'm being honest.



Joel had his own child killed in his arms by someone that was supposed to "help." What do you think that would do to someone?


That person nailed it, I took what happened when the brother said that, and what Ellie said about hurting innocents and "how did you know it was an ambush" in that, for a time at least, Joel resorted to that to survive. Probably this is what his life was like shortly after losing his daughter.


His own brother eventually gets fed up, and wants nothing to do with him anymore. I take this as Joel's sort of wakeup call, to not be such a horrible human being anymore, so he takes up shop, goes to a crowded city(as crowded as they can be at this point), and tries to help the downtrodden(well, maybe). This is where we pick things up at the beginning and we meet Ellie. Over time he genuinely starts caring for her. We already have a character that will do ANYTHING for his survival, but now we have one by the end who will do anything to protect those he cares about.

This is literally how people should view the game as a whole.

Joel is selfish, sure, but in a way, I think Ellie appreciates that.
 

AAK

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Would she have? No one ever explained the details. Why does she have to die? Is it guaranteed that a cure will be made from her?

It doesn't matter, she would have died trying. It's clearly reinforced with her spiel at the end about witnessing so many people die because of her and not wanting all that to be in vain.
 

Solo

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I asked in the spoiler thread.....but does anyone know why ND modeled David so close (both physically and character-wise in a great many ways) to Joel? Two sides of the same coin or something?
 

Zephyrus

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When you break it down... Joel is like James Earl Cash, Kratos and Wander combined.

He definitely is one of gaming's biggest scum ever IMO.

I disagree.

At first he's only doing a job with Tess. Deliver some cargo.

Tess dies and makes him promise to deliver Ellie because she might be the cure to save humanity.

He continues doing the job. Deliver some cargo.

It's not until Ellie runs away and tells him that everyone has left her, after he tells her to go the rest of the journey with Tommy, that he starts getting attached to her. He starts viewing her as replacement for his daughter and not as some cargo anymore. He distinctly knows he's getting attach to her and wants to end it by telling her to go with Tommy.

His attachment gets stronger when he almost dies and she's there for him just like he'd be there for her. She spends an entire season taking care of Joel. A little girl. He gets even more attached. It reaches a high point when he goes to search for her, badly hurt and becomes as ruthless as possible to go save her.

Joel now views her as a daughter. She HAS no one in the world except Joel and he knows that.

When Joel is about to drop her with the fireflies, he's roughed around and told to scram or he'll die. When he asks for Ellie, Marlene threatens him. This after all the experiences they had throughout a year, makes Joel decide to risk everything once again in order to save his "daughter".

When he kills Marlene, he's right. She would be back after her. So he eliminates the most potential threat. She's the only one who truly knows Ellie. With her gone out of the picture, they can go into hiding.

It basically comes down to human instinct. No one in their right mind, would give a loved one to die without a fight. He's not a monster. He's human. He's done whatever it took to survive in a cruel world, but he's human.

When Ellie asks him if what he told her was true, he knows she knows the truth. He still lies, because all he wants is her safe.


Honestly anyone that calls him a selfish monster for saving Ellie, is the real monster. They're saying they would kill a loved if it meant others could live. We're selfish by nature. No one can deny that. If you can calmly make that sort of decision and pull the trigger, you're a heartless monster.

I got sucked in the character. The last chapter made me feel as if I was really Joel and when I opened the door to where she was, I immediatly shot the three doctors who I immediatly viewed as a threat to Ellie's life. I grabbed her and ran for safety.
 
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I made up my mind regarding the morals of it when I shot the three innocent Firefly doctors in the head.

I'm still unsure whether I could have progressed through that situation without killing them, but I did and then quickly felt that even the lives of those doctors wasn't worth saving Ellie for Joel's selfish reasons. So yeah, not morally right to save Ellie in exchange for humanity's last hope either, haha.

Great game though; I'm really happy the writers wrote it to end this way.

DAMN RIGHT.

Fuck Marlene, Marlene would have told the guard to have him killed if Joel caused more trouble, after Joel risked his own life and traveled across the country to deliver Ellie to her.
 

Freshmaker

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. I sympathize with Joel, because even at the end when he looks her dead in the eye and tells a bold faced lie, he still feels in his heart he's protecting her and doing what's right.

It's a bald faced lie. (Sorry, it keeps popping up in the thread and it's slowly driving me mad.)

That aside, there have to be other Ellies out there. Seems like the immunity would eventually breed itself into the population sooner or later.

I also don't really buy the "science" of having to kill Ellie. It makes no sense.
 

Big_Al

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Ellie would have consented. That's why Joel lies.

And Marlene was more of a legitimate guardian than Joel.


I don't agree with this at all.

Not once did I ever feel like Marlene was a close motherly figure to Ellie. In fact I found it quite strange. It's obvious Ellie cares about Marlene but I never ever got the impression that they were close. Throughout the course of the game I found it quite clear that Joel became much more of a father to Ellie than Marlene ever was a mother. The bond between Joel and Ellie was so strong by the end of the game I thought of Joel to be much more of a guardian to Ellie than Marlene ever was.

I honestly thought the game was more about Joel regaining his humanity (to an extent) than him becoming a monster. I don't think he's a monster at all. Or at least no worse than anyone else. At the start of the game and at the end of the game Joel has no choice in what is going to happen, I don't blame him for doing what he did at the very end.

I also never really believed in the Fireflies. An organisation that has nearly been wiped out and somehow they're going to have a plan for making a 'maybe' cure and start spreading a vaccine ? Not a fucking chance, I don't believe it for a second. I never saw them as particularly 'good' at all. I certainly didn't care about taking them all out at the end.

But then that's why I love the ending so much and how Naughty Dog gets the player to it. I disagree with some of the interpretations yet they are all viable! It's easily one of my favourite game endings ever.
 

Remachinate

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This is literally how people should view the game as a whole.

Joel is selfish, sure, but in a way, I think Ellie appreciates that.

I'd be very careful about telling people what the "right" interpretation is, especially from a moral perspective. I'd argue the game is much more about how the need to feel redeemed can take one down a even darker path.
 

Superflat

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I think there's enough effort into these characters where you can't just point and say "he is monster" or "he is a savior" as a blanket character judgement, even when it comes to David.

So I don't see it as "He definitely wasn't thinking of Ellie's well being, only himself" in regards to the ending. Like many human motivations, it's both. And there's no reason for it not to be. After all, is that not what we would feel if our loved ones were in danger? A sense of needing them to get out of danger for their well being as well as the selfish kernel in your mind of "what would happen to my well-being if something terrible happened to this person I love?"

It's not something the audience is meant to view as "He's a completely selfish, sociopath survivor who doesn't even care about Ellie", in my opinion.

Do you not think Joel would put himself out to die if it meant Ellie would live? I personally think he would.
 

Alienous

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I don't agree with this at all.

Not once did I ever feel like Marlene was a close motherly figure to Ellie. In fact I found it quite strange. It's obvious Ellie cares about Marlene but I never ever got the impression that they were close. Throughout the course of the game I found it quite clear that Joel became much more of a father to Ellie than Marlene ever was a mother. The bond between Joel and Ellie was so strong by the end of the game I thought of Joel to be much more of a guardian to Ellie than Marlene ever was.

I honestly thought the game was more about Joel regaining his humanity (to an extent) than him becoming a monster. I don't think he's a monster at all. Or at least no worse than anyone else. At the start of the game and at the end of the game Joel has no choice in what is going to happen, I don't blame him for doing what he did at the very end.

I also never really believed in the Fireflies. An organisation that has nearly been wiped out and somehow they're going to have a plan for making a 'maybe' cure and start spreading a vaccine ? Not a fucking chance, I don't believe it for a second. I never saw them as particularly 'good' at all. I certainly didn't care about taking them all out at the end.

But then that's why I love the ending so much and how Naughty Dog gets the player to it. I disagree with some of the interpretations yet they are all viable! It's easily one of my favourite game endings ever.

Marlene, like Joel at the beginning, was probably trying to keep herself as unattached from Ellie as she could, because the reality is that she could be killed. When she gets to the hospital, and Ellie isn't there, she doesn't go "Oh, no, what have I done. Ellie's dead" she goes "Ellie probably hasn't made it". That's the reality of this world, but it doesn't mean that Marlene doesn't care.

As for the cure, I think the Fireflies certainly have a chance. 20 years of preparation. They sourced surgeons from the wreckage of the world, powered equipment. This was planned, and would probably work.

And despite you not agreeing with me, what you say doesn't contradict what I say. Other than Joel being a monster, which is clearly the case.

Would she have? No one ever explained the details. Why does she have to die? Is it guaranteed that a cure will be made from her?

As confident as I can be about anything subjective, I think it's pretty obvious she would have sacrificed herself if it came to that.
 

Mupod

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Marlene says to Joel that this is what Ellie would have wanted, and Ellie’s questioning of Joel seems to suggest she would be happy to die in order to save humanity, as she explains she has already been waiting a long time to die after the death of her friend

On the other hand, after the winter chapter I don't think she'd be too keen on sacrificing herself for a world full of people like David. It's pretty obvious that she doubts Joel in the end, and I think if she was dead set on a cure she wouldn't have accepted his answer. But she can tell that if there's a cure that at least Joel thinks it's not worth the price.

Even if it worked, who's to say the fireflies would even distribute it to everyone? They'd probably try to leverage it as a way to get more recruits in order to bring down the military. Join us, get a vaccine, btw you're going to die fighting for our cause.

In the end - there's no way the truth won't come out someday. I mean, she'll hear from someone that the firefly leader got killed by Joel or someone matching his description. I could see her changing her mind as the years go on, whether there is someone left who could even make a vaccine now that the head doctor is dead, who knows.
 

Alienous

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On the other hand, after the winter chapter I don't think she'd be too keen on sacrificing herself for a world full of people like David. It's pretty obvious that she doubts Joel in the end, and I think if she was dead set on a cure she wouldn't have accepted his answer. But she can tell that if there's a cure that at least Joel thinks it's not worth the price.

Even if it worked, who's to say the fireflies would even distribute it to everyone? They'd probably try to leverage it as a way to get more recruits in order to bring down the military. Join us, get a vaccine, btw you're going to die fighting for our cause.

In the end - there's no way the truth won't come out someday. I mean, she'll hear from someone that the firefly leader got killed by Joel or someone matching his description. I could see her changing her mind as the years go on, whether there is someone left who could even make a vaccine now that the head doctor is dead, who knows.

Ellie can't be the only person immune to the infection. We don't get a lot of her backstory, so unless she was the child of a scientist who was experimenting with a cure for the fungal infection, then a percentage of humanity must also be immune. Across the vastness of America, there'll be someone else who's immune to the infection.
 

Neiteio

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Even if it worked, who's to say the fireflies would even distribute it to everyone? They'd probably try to leverage it as a way to get more recruits in order to bring down the military. Join us, get a vaccine, btw you're going to die fighting for our cause.
This attitude is preposterous.

"Hey guys, this house is on fire but there's an open window over there, however it's dark out so maybe we shouldn't jump out of the burning house, the darkness might be over a bottomless pit or something."

Humanity is doomed to failure if they don't even try.
 

Zephyrus

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On the other hand, after the winter chapter I don't think she'd be too keen on sacrificing herself for a world full of people like David. It's pretty obvious that she doubts Joel in the end, and I think if she was dead set on a cure she wouldn't have accepted his answer. But she can tell that if there's a cure that at least Joel thinks it's not worth the price.

Even if it worked, who's to say the fireflies would even distribute it to everyone? They'd probably try to leverage it as a way to get more recruits in order to bring down the military. Join us, get a vaccine, btw you're going to die fighting for our cause.

In the end - there's no way the truth won't come out someday. I mean, she'll hear from someone that the firefly leader got killed by Joel or someone matching his description. I could see her changing her mind as the years go on, whether there is someone left who could even make a vaccine now that the head doctor is dead, who knows.

I definately agree that the fireflies aren't good guys and am pretty sure they're in for power.

The fireflies are a militia. They want the cure for leverage. There's a reason why the fireflies are in a constant fight with the current government. Both want power.
 

TimeEffect

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I think the fact that we see how Joel was before the infection and after is a reminder that all he has done was play by the rules to survive. And the rule is simply to survive.

He was very hesitant and alarmed when he had to kill his neighbour who had turned. He wasn't always a monster, but he had to be. For Tommy, and later for Ellie.

Joel 20 years in the future is someone else. He is a monster, but that is a useless label in the new world. If you get bogged down by morality, it seems that you may as well be dead.*

Live long enough to see yourself become the villain or die a hero. I think that's what I have to take from Joel. I also think Ish serves as a great* counter to Joel, someone who dies and puts himself and the ones he loves down, because survival is just not something some are cut out for. Ish's whole arc can't be in the game for nothing. Doesn't he sound like the opposite of Joel, someone who died heroically, but was ultimately incapable of making it in the reality of the new world?
 

Superflat

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As confident as I can be about anything subjective, I think it's pretty obvious she would have sacrificed herself if it came to that.

I personally think she would have as well, out of obligation and peer pressure. It's the only option left.

Also, if she said no, I wouldn't doubt for a second that the Fireflies would force her to, at any cost.

The big point is that in that final tug of war at the end, Ellie had no choice in it. She was rushed into prep to get her brain sliced open. The Fireflies made the decision for Ellie, and at that point no one was fighting for her right to live, except Joel.