The Last of Us screenshot
The Last of Us screenshot


If you've reached the end of The Last of Us, hopefully it'll have impacted you as much as it did me. Although a few people I've chatted to have expressed slight disappointment with how Naughty Dog's latest concludes, I genuinely believe it to be one the finest endings to a game in some time.

If anything, other people's dissatisfaction is directly linked to the events that take place as The Last of Us reaches its final beats. Genuinely brave, Naughty Dog finishes a game that's deliberately harrowing, depressing and downbeat by ending on a sour note. Many believed either Ellie or Joel would be killed. Some put stock in mankind being saved before every cliché that exists was dragged out in order to give you an iota of hope as the credits roll. That doesn't happen, though. Instead, Joel – a man whose character is disgustingly well expanded over the game's running time – lies to a girl who has just enough innocence left to believe it*. It's a powerful moment.

Aside from going in an opposite direction to most of its competitors, though, it's what it teaches us about the environment we've just spent 15+ hours in that really hits home. Despite being in control of Joel, the player is never actually able to influence his narrative choices. While other titles explore such possibilities, the fact Naughty Dog doesn't is paramount to the story as a whole. As much as I had warmed to Ellie throughout and didn't want to see her die, I was was uneasy with the thought of Joel essentially kidnapping and stopping her from becoming the saviour of mankind. The gravitas of that decision was one I didn't feel comfortable being taken out of my hands to the point of replaying the ending assuming I could simply walk away from the hospital room where she was being kept. I wanted to make that sacrifice.

This got worse during the game's final scene, where Joel lies to Ellie simply to appease both his and her conscience. As well as proving to be exceptionally hard-hitting – I cannot think of another game that dares to end on a single word – it's another instance where Joel acts independently, underlining who he is as a human being.

It's at these junctures where Naughty Dog manages to shine. The majority of video game 'heroes' more or less do the right thing and take the moral path – unless they're supposed to be an out-and-out asshole – but that's just not the case here. Even though the world he finds himself in is a living nightmare, Joel doesn't come across as inherently evil. We're sympathetic towards him almost instantly as his daughter dies in a way that no father would ever be able to understand. Although we've experienced it too, and there's plenty of hints throughout, it's not until the game's closing minutes where you genuinely understand the impact this had on him. More importantly, it highlights that he was never truly able to move on. Choosing his own sanity and survival over the entire population's is evidence enough, but it's his comment about 'surviving' that go even deeper.

The Last of Us screenshot

The context Joel gives towards the end of The Last of Us is indicative of his mental state. “I struggled a long time with surviving... No matter what, you keep finding something to fight for.” Almost like The Shawshank Redemption, where Red describes Brooks' inability to deal with the 'outside' as his actual prison, the virus is Joel's own way of being institutionalised. With it, he's forced to find something to continually keep him going. Without it, he has no choice but to face up to the death of his daughter, an incident he has obviously never been able to overcome. Furthermore, in the world he currently lives in, Ellie is there to fill that void.

It's not like Joel is unaware of his grief either. Actively trying to push Ellie onto his brother at one point, it's as if he knows what his intentions are. That, or the fear of losing someone who could potentially take the place of his daughter is too much to bear.

To look at the conclusion of The Last of Us without seeing all the foreshadowing that comes before it is doing it a great disservice. Naughty Dog may have created two of the most 'real' characters in all of video games, never straying away from what motivates them, right up to the bitterly sad finale. For it to end in any other way just wouldn't have seemed right, and the fact that the brains behind Uncharted decided to see that through, regardless of what that meant, deserves a tremendous amount of credit.

In the same way as the opening hits you hard and leaves you reeling for a few minutes as you take it all in, so does the end. Mimicking the start almost verbatim – with Ellie taking the place of Sarah in Joel's arms - Marlene could be seen (if you want to get really preposterous) to represent the soldier who committed the act during the final few seconds of the prologue. Standing in Joel's way, the change he has gone through over the past 21 years is evident: he shoots an innocent woman in the face to get what he needs.

There are only a handful of games that I've finished that have made me want to talk about what had happened (BioShock Infinite would be another recent example) but The Last Of Us' had me desperate to do so instantly. It's a fitting end for what I consider to be one of the stand-out titles of this generation.

* After reading this it was brought to my attention that maybe Ellie actually knows Joel is lying but has no choice but to accept it. If true, that would make the ending even more heartbreaking. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.

Get involved even more with The Last of Us by listening to the spoilerific podcast, literally below this text for your listening pleasure:

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User Comments

VeRyCoNfUsEd's Avatar


I don't if you, Simon Miller, will see this response (as it is on an old article), but I'd like to let you know there is a way to get passed the three guards at the end of the game. If you have managed to sneak your way through the area and arrive at the end, you could throw a nail bomb over the counter, in between the three men. They'll walk over to it to investigate and BOOM! Climb over the counter before the rest of the group searches and finds the bodies and you are good to go.

I first saw the video on IGN. I'll post the link. Maybe you've already seen it.
Posted 09:58 on 06 December 2013
Haloz's Avatar


I think this is a great review and I think this is a perfect ending to a great game. But I do have to disagree. I think that this ending isnt sad at all, in my mind this is a truly happy ending. This game made you feel so much for Ellie and Joel that I couldn't bare to see either one of them die.
Joel does what I wanted him to do in saving Ellie even if that meant there would be no cure. Joel needs Ellie and Ellie needs Joel, there is a good chance that Ellie knew Joel was lying to her, but the fact is that they couldnt go on without each other, and as a player neither could I.
Posted 22:05 on 22 July 2013
Los_VALOS's Avatar


You guys mentioned in the podcast how there were no female bandits.. No enemies at least, but both David and a conversation you can hear between the bandits in "winter" clearly say they have women and children in their camp. Which was pretty great I thought, fleshing out the bandits.
Seeing some of the stuff joel does to bandits, it might've been smart of ND to play it safe with violence on females, though it's an annoying double standard.
Posted 03:10 on 29 June 2013
mrszonie's Avatar


I think Ellie provides more value to mankind alive instead of as a sacrificial lamb. If anyone deserves a chance at happiness it's her. Joel saw that in her, like she was a beacon in a world of darkness. A world with ills that there is no vaccine for - cannibalism, murder, rape, and she kept shining through. Imagine what her influence would be like in Tommy's place. Moreover, what if she can produce children that are immune? Isn't that more valuable in the long run? Also, who knows for sure if her sacrifice would have guaranteed a cure? I found this story as engaging as a novel, except I got to immerse myself in in for a few days. A game has never affected me like this.
Posted 08:10 on 26 June 2013
ivandrago35's Avatar


The last of us is about survival and about the lies or truths we tell ourselves in order to survive/justify survival. The ending is all about the conflict between Joel’s reason for surviving and Ellie’s. Ellie has a purpose, she needs to survive so that a cure can be synthesized and all the pain and death and violence will have been worthwhile. But Joel can’t endure the death of another daughter and so rather than allow his ‘child’ to ‘leave his parental protection’ and make her mark on the world, he selfishly takes away her purpose. Ellie instinctively understands what happened (she turns away from Joel when he lies to her in the car). She is also significantly deflated in the final scene, lagging behind and somewhat lethargic. She basically asks Joel to share the survivor's guilt with her and then accepts Joel’s lie rather than face a truth that would destroy her (the lies we tell ourselves to survive).
Posted 06:07 on 26 June 2013


It's funny that a lot of comments I've read suggest people reallyidentified with Joel at the end, and felt justified in killing the fireflies. But what they can't abide is that he lied to Ellie.
Posted 18:20 on 25 June 2013


Superb ending to a superb game. Never have I felt so engaged, so moved, and so utterly immersed in a video game in my 25 years of gaming.....except perhaps Horace Goes Skiing, I mean come on, that was legendary!

As a father, I really identified with what Joel was going through, and I was actually glad the decision was taken out of my hands. I thought about the ending for a good hour or so in bed last night...what would I have done? Surely I'd have done the "right" thing and sacrificed one to save many...but actually if I was there, and it was my daughter (or daughter figure in Joel's case), would I? Would I?...damn who knows.
Posted 12:30 on 24 June 2013
FrostySphincter's Avatar


I have mixed feelings on the ending, but I can say that Joel did the wrong thing, if only because, even if things work out of them at the dam (or wherever they moved to, if they did move that is) eventually he will die, and then Ellie will be alone. Which is something she clearly didn't want.
Posted 23:51 on 23 June 2013

SelfSuicide@ Syme

To your point about should Joel trust the Fireflies to begin with; it never really delves into why Tommy left the Fireflies; he's probably the most morally sound character you come across, so why would he feel it necessary to leave the perceived 'good guys'.
Posted 20:42 on 21 June 2013


I took it as she knew he was lying but had finally found someone she had connected with (her confession to Sam of having fears of being alone). I had expected it to go down the lines of the "Children of Men" ending; for which I'm glad it didn't. The 'Giraffe' part of Salt Lake city is definitely my top highlight of any game for me; without it the ending wouldn't mean half as much. I appreciated how it gave you control of Ellie again for the final scene so you judged Joel from her perspective and the choice he made plagued my mind to such an extent that I couldn't get to sleep afterwards. I also thought it was clever of them to avoid putting Ellie in a situation of having to shoot another human after the David predicament/trauma and her stating "Everything I've done can't be for nothing" (to avoid the criticism that Tomb Raider had).
Posted 20:17 on 21 June 2013


There's some discussion of the last line here

The actresses interpretation was that Ellie knows Joel is lying, although I wouldn't say "she has no choice but to accept it" I think she just doesn't mind. I think she's disappointed that he feels the need to lie to her but also understands that he might have his reasons for doing so.

I wasn't sure about the ending first, but the more I've thought about it, the more I like it. I wasn't comfortable playing through that last sequence because for the first time in the game, I didn't want to be killing these people; I didn't think they deserved it. But now I think I was supposed to be feeling that way, so I respect it a lot more for that. The more I played the more it seemed inevitable that one of them would die at the end so I'm happy that it went a route I didn't predict.

I would also say, even though it doesn't justify Joel's actions, I don't know how much you can really trust the fireflies and we don't really know if sacrificing Ellie would have saved mankind anyway. Even with a vaccine that makes people immune to bites and spores, it's still not going to make you immune to a clicker eating your face off. Also do we even know if the fireflies would have shared this immunity with the world? They might have just kept it to themselves, from what the game shows us; they don't come across as the noblest of people to me. Even though Ellie probably would have willingly sacrificed herself, it's messed up that they don't even give her a choice in the matter.

It also might not have been that easy to replicate the vaccine so that everyone in the world could have it anyway, with all that's happened, would mankind still even be able to rebuild things after that? It still wouldn't necessarily solve everything.

And the strange thing is, even though I wouldn't have done what Joel did, I do feel happier knowing both those characters are alive than I would have done if one of them had died but the world was saved.

Hmm I didn’t mean to make a post this long when I started writing it.
Posted 20:04 on 21 June 2013
manners18's Avatar


The tale is one of those that is so beautifully written that a number of different interpretations to its conclusion can be equally justifiable. I think that Ellie does know that Joel is lying but due to her previously mentioned fear of being alone, as well as Joel being the only person left that she cares about that hasn't left her yet, she is willing to deny the truth so she can live her life with a true connection with someone she loves. Both her and Joel are willing to sacrifice the whole of mankind for their relationship, and their relationship is now the reason that both of them will strive to survive in this world.
Posted 19:53 on 21 June 2013
Latenius's Avatar


I finished the game today and I must say, I am really impressed. In the beginning I was shown the quarantine zone, the army and overall how *****ty things are. Based on that I expected the ending to be somehow a really epic setpiece that would blow my mind.
About 2/3 through the game I realized that's not the case.

The story isn't about the whole humankind, it isn't about the cure, it's about Joel...and Ellie. The ending was so shocking and at the same time just perfect.
After the credits rolled, I couldn't get it out of my head and still I'm looking at articles like these.

From the beginning of the "hospital section" my mind was racing as I tried to decide what I would do, or what Joel would do. Save the girl, or save everyone else (potentially)? Then, BAM, right at the end Ellie told her story and asked something like "when is it going to be my turn" I realized that this girl would've happily sacrificed herself for the good of everyone else, and that somehow took out the whole "good" purpose of Joel's actions.
Posted 19:14 on 21 June 2013
mostunfurrowed's Avatar


I don't even think it's as black or white as Ellie knowing or not, I don't even think she knows if she believes Joel or not. Also, I read the ending slightly differently. I didn't see it as Joel not be able to come to terms with Sarah's death, during that astoundingly lovely bit with the giraffes he quite candidly talks to Ellie about it. He just wouldn't be able to cope with it again, regardless of the greater good. If she was gone he'd no longer have anything to fight for.
Posted 19:13 on 21 June 2013

Game Stats

Release Date: 14/06/2013
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Genre: Action
Rating: PEGI 18+
Site Rank: 207 11
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