The Last Of Us Outbreak Day: The Most Emotional Moments From The Original Game
It's a hell of a time to be a fan of The Last Of Us. Between all the new information that's finally been revealed on the upcoming sequel, and the news that the remastered PS4 version of the first game will be a free title for PlayStation Plus subscribers in October, there's never been a better opportunity to revisit the original, generation-defining Naughty Dog classic in preparation for Part 2 in February next year.
Today (September 26) also marks Outbreak Day, the day (in-game) when the cordyceps fungus reached critical mass and transformed the majority of the population into mindless monsters, leading to the collapsed and fractured world that Joel and Ellie must navigate together in The Last of Us.
Of course, if such a horrific event had happened in real life, I doubt it would be quite so celebrated. Thankfully, mushrooms have yet to destroy the world IRL, so Naughty Dog (and fans around the world) see this day as one of jubilation. As such, I figured I'd join in on the fun and reminisce over the most emotional moments from Joel and Ellie's debut. Spoilers for the first game. Obviously.
Quite simply one of the most shocking and heartbreaking openings in any video game ever, and one that deftly established the history of the new world Naughty Dog had created for us, while showing us in incredibly bold fashion that this was unlike any previous title from the studio. Certainly, I don't think a small child would have bled out in her father's arms during the first ten minutes of Crash Bandicoot or Uncharted.
Naughty Dog cleverly put you in control of Joel's daughter Sarah for the opening moments of the game, a smart trick that, along with a brief but incredibly sweet scene, helped to endear you to the character and establish the strength of her relationship with single dad Joel. This of course only serves to make it all the more wretched when she's ultimately, violently torn from Joel.
I'll never forget this moment, specifically because it was the first (and so far only) time a video game managed to reduce me to a an actual blubbering mess. Other games have made me well up or shed a tear, to be clear, but this moment broke me. That it did this in under half an hour is a testament to the acting, writing, and direction, animation, and design.
Sam And Henry Say Farewell (Or... You Know... Tragically Die)
Having proven early on that it had no problem offing innocent youngsters to elicit an emotional gut punch, Naughty Dog then proceeded to introduce us to Sam and Henry, two brothers looking out for one another and struggling to survive in an incredibly messed up world. Working alongside them for a few hours of the game, Joel and Ellie (and you the player) develop a bond with these characters as you narrowly avoid a number of sticky deaths and get to know them better.
That Sam was also the only character we meet in the main game who's closer to Ellie's age creates a pairing that's often sweet, but mostly just heartbreaking as we see two children forced to do things no child should ever have to do. The real kick in the heart comes when we discover Sam has been infected, leaving his older brother Henry to be the one to put him out of his misery, before turning the gun on himself.
That final conversation between Sam and Ellie the night before they discover he's turned - Sam asking Ellie whether she thinks those that are infected can still think and feel - is all the more upsetting when you discover that he knows he's been infected, and likely knows he's got until the morning. Stunning stuff.
"You're Not My Daughter"
Unless you somehow missed the entire first hour of the game and have trouble picking up on themes, it's pretty clear throughout The Last Of Us that Joel spends so long rejecting Ellie because he views her as as stand-in for Sarah - something he never wanted or asked for, because he can never put himself through the pain of losing a child again.
Despite this, he can't help but bond with Ellie over the course of their adventure, which makes this iconic scene between the two main characters all the more affecting. In a moment that is just... beautifully acted by Ashley Johnson and Troy Baker, Ellie finally brings up the thorny issue of Sarah, revealing to Joel that she knows why he's been trying to keep her at arm's length and hand her off to someone else.
"Everyone I've ever cared about has either died or left me - everyone except for you," Ellie admits to Joel in a heartbreaking admission on her part that she's aware of the developing father/daughter bond between the two. "Don't tell me that I'd be safe with someone else, because the truth is I'd just be more scared."
If this was a sweeter story, this would have been the moment Joel admitted he loved and cared about Ellie too, but this is The Last Of Us. Joel loves her, we know this, but we also know that he feels he needs to get rid of Ellie for her own good, so he says the only thing he can think to say to push her away; "You're not my daughter, and I sure as hell ain't your dad," He says, clearly forcing each word to sound as cruel as it can. What. A. Scene.
Ellie Kills David
To most of us, Nolan North is the roguish treasure hunter Nathan Drake - a charming hero who always gets the win in the end. Unfortunately, such a character can't exist in The Last of Us, so Nolan had to settle for playing David - a creepy cannibal who traumitises and very nearly kills Ellie in one of the most harrowing encounters of the game.
You could be forgiven for losing sight of the fact that Ellie is just fourteen years old at this point in the game. She's spent all winter desperately trying to keep an injured Joel alive, and has single-handedly fought off clickers and cannibals alike. It all comes to a head in this shocking moment, as Ellie is pinned down and throttled by a jeering David. Of course, she manages to get the upper hand before savagely hacking David apart with a machete. She's won, but it hardly feels like a victory.
It's crucial that Joel isn't the one to show up at the last minute to save Ellie and that she's able to be the one to save herself, but the moment Joel finally does appear and pulls a quite clearly emotionally distraught Ellie into a hug, there wasn't a dry eye in my house. It's like Ellie told Joel earlier in the game; she might be able to survive just fine without Joel, but that's not why she wants him around.
After near-death experiences, brutal tribulations, and terrible losses, Naughty Dog rewarded us with one of the purest, most beautiful moments in gaming. Towards the end of Joel and Ellie's adventure, we're made to think that we're headed toward yet another threat, before the duo ultimately come across a herd of giraffe grazing in the ruins of the city, allowing Ellie an all-too rare moment to act like a kid as she excitedly hurries Joel along so they can get a better look at the creatures.
The moment Ellie tentatively approaches one of the giraffes and raises a hand up to stroke it while Joel gently encourages her it is guaranteed to warm even the coldest of hearts. It's such a truly absorbing, beautifully orchestrated moment, that you might even forget Joel and Ellie are two survivors who have done awful things to get where they need to be. Instead, in this moment, they could be nothing more than a dad and daughter enjoying a normal day at the zoo together.
Not only does this scene serve as a welcome, soothing balm to all the horrors we've experienced alongside Joel and Ellie, it's also a reminder that in spite of all the death, chaos, and carnage caused by the cordyceps outbreak, the reality of nature reclaiming the world isn't so ugly after all.
Oh man, this still gives me chills. Joel finally gets Ellie to the Fireflies so they can work on a cure, and it becomes clear to Joel that for any cure to have a shot at working, Ellie has to die - and you can bet Joel isn't prepared to lose another child.
From the beginning of the game, I think we all knew that The Last Of Us was building to a finish like this, not that that makes it any less devastating or jaw-dropping when Joel brutally tears his way through the Fireflies to "save" Ellie. The moment he bundles an unconcious Ellie in the back of the car before murdering Marlene in cold blood is the final, hard reminder that Joel was never the "good guy."
No matter how much we as players might empathise with Joel - he was always doing what he thought was right to survive in a harsh world after all - suddenly carrying out those same ruthless deeds in Ellie's name because he couldn't face losing another child was perhaps his most selfish act of all. He doesn't just betray Ellie, either, who we know would willingly have died if it meant helping others, he betrayed the memory of Tess, who literally died because she believed getting Ellie to the Fireflies was the right thing to do.
To cap it all off, the game ends with Joel lying to Ellie's face about what happened with the Fireflies. Just like that, the entire relationship that developed over the course of the game, that we were such a part of and become so invested in, is tainted - perhaps beyond repair. A trust that was always there is suddenly broken, and even if Ellie doesn't know it yet (there's some debate over whether or not she believes the lie) we as the player know Joel just lied to Ellie, and we find ourselves complicit in it.
It's an ending that leaves you feeling uncomfortable, unsure as to where you stand, and altogether uncertain for the future. In other words, it was the only way The Last Of Us could ever have ended.
Featured Image Credit: Naughty Dog