I imagine that a lot of people clicked on this article out of anger, and I sort of get it. Laura Bailey‘s Abby Anderson is not the most universally loved character in the history of video games. Even if a lot of that hate comes from less-than-desirable places. For a lot of fans, she is the person who killed Troy Baker‘s soulful southern brute, Joel. She brought out the worst in everyone’s favorite protagonist, Ashley Johnson‘s Ellie. And yet, despite all of this, she may be the franchise’s best shot at an actual happy ending. In fact, it almost feels like the most recent game went out of its way to set her up as the heart of a hypothetical third installment.
Let’s get this out of the way early. Ellie Williams, as Japanese gaming manuals like to call her, was not the hero of The Last of Us Part II. If someone wanted to do a little psychological digging, this fact is probably part of the reason so many gamers took issue with Abby’s role in the first place. She provided players with a viewpoint that allowed them to see the atrocities Ellie was committing. When we follow the events of the game through Ellie’s eyes, we feel her pain, and we want Joel’s killers to meet their end just as badly as she does.
Yet, when the game switches perspectives, Abby’s experiences suddenly show us our protagonist murdering relatively innocent people, including a pregnant woman. Players witness the true consequences of Joel’s killing spree at the end of the first game. It’s a hard pill to swallow, and one that left a lot of emotionally invested fans feeling understandably drained.
Ellie has been the core of The Last of Us from the very beginning. Even with early advertising propping up Joel as the story’s leading man, fans could tell that it was the young Elliot Page look-alike, doing battle against fungal beasts, that would steal the show. Franchise creator Neil Druckmann has even stated that, despite her supporting role in the game, he often viewed The Last of Us as Ellie’s coming-of-age story. It was perhaps this focus, and Johnson‘s likability, that blinded most of us from the path Ellie had been set on.
The true twist of Part II is that like Joel before her, Ellie is not able to overcome her darkest emotions when it truly matters. By the time she comes around, she’s lost her family, her ability to play music, and her sense of purpose in life. There is not an obvious driving force compelling her forward into another adventure. It’s mostly just a sense of regret and emptiness. On the other hand, a seen-better-days Abby closes Part II having let go of her hatred. She even has a goal in mind. Alongside the arrow-savvy Lev, she is going to find the Fireflies and help repair humanity. Her actions embody the philosophy of the franchise: “life goes on.”
The paramount scene of the original game was not the heartbreaking choice made at the hospital. It was, as we all felt, the overwhelmingly tender moment in which Joel and Ellie saw giraffes. After hours of playing through extreme violence and seeing the world at its very worst, we still manage to be awe-struck by the beauty of a loving long-necked mammal. That is what The Last of Us is really all about. It’s about reaching your lowest point, scraping the bottoms of the filthiest barrels, and coming back from it all with a new lease on life. Abby has seemingly done this, we meet her at her lowest and watch her develop beyond that point, but Ellie has just hit rock bottom. To conclude the trilogy on a more positive note, a third game should feature Ellie’s climb back to the top.
She may have drawn initial criticism from certain sects of the fandom, but whether they like it or not, it feels like Ellie’s happy ending is tied to whatever Abby does next. I won’t propose a full-blown plot for The Last of Us Part III, but if Druckmann and company want to go full circle, they could do a lot worse than having Ellie seek out the Fireflies one last time. Perhaps this time, she can do it on her own terms, with a mindless clouded by aggression. Abby, Lev, and their Fireflies will be the light at the end of her long, weary tunnel. They will be her giraffes, and maybe she can find the peace she’s never been comfortable having.