The Last of Us was the House of Cards of video games: with some of the finest writing, acting, and elicited emotions seen in gaming. Naughty Dog is excellent in crafting believable characters that we actually care about. Joel was not your stereotypical Hollywood video game character: he is not good-looking, he lacks an attractive physique and he is not a hero. At least, not at the beginning of the game, where he just wants to go away. He wants to leave Ellie alone, and potentially let her die in this hostile world. We have now seen the first scenes of The Last of Us: Part 2 and the fascination is still there: these are not heroes, they are ordinary people like you and me – performing questionable actions in a cruel world.
The entire cast is brilliant: last time we got Annie Wershing of 24 fame who I loved as FBI agent Renee Walker. Now, we get another super talented actress in the form of Shannon Woodward who you all know as Elsie Hughes from last year’s critically acclaimed Westworld. While we don’t know much about her role in this just yet, we’ve seen bits of the game in the intro and boy, is this a massacre. I mean, we kind of expect a brutal introduction sequence, but not this: an entire apartment, filled with dead bodies. The camera zooms in, puts the focus on a hand where the artery is slit; the blood is still fresh, running around the arm, dripping on the floor. What’s going on?
Ellie is the new Punisher and she killed them all. But why?
While the camera wanders around and takes a peak into the bathroom, the whole scenario looks like a slaughterhouse. A human being was potentially killed with a shotgun, otherwise there wouldn’t be blood all over the walls and window. The entire bath tub is spilled over with Firefly blood. Viewers encountered a much more matured Ellie in rage mode. Ellie knows how to kill, she has been doing this since her teenage years from Joel’s teachings. However, even she cannot handle what she has done at that moment; she is just sitting on a bed, her hands shaking and trying to calm herself down with a beautiful, deeply sad song. It’s called “Through the Valley:”
I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
And I’ll fear no evil because I’m blind to it all
And my mind and my gun they comfort me
Because I know I’ll kill my enemies when they come
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life
And I will dwell on this earth forevermore
Still I walk beside the still waters and they restore my soul
But I can’t walk on the path of the right because I’m wrong
Well I came upon a man at the top of a hill
Called himself the savior of the human race
Said he come to save the world from destruction and pain
But I said how can you save the world from itself
‘Cause I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
And I’ll fear no evil ’cause I’m blind
And I walk beside the still waters and they restore my soul
But I know when I die my soul is damned.
What happened? Is Ellie infected?
The first few seconds of the game show Ellie in an apathetic mood and her hands are shaking: “I will find and kill them all. Every single one of them…” We really don’t know what happened here, but it’s quite apparent that it has to do with the faction of the Fireflies, because there is a sign mentioning them. Is this some sort of headquarters? Or maybe it’s Ellie’s old home, because this looks more like the room of a girl than a militarized headquarters. This is speculative, but the Fireflies themselves are showing off another strength of Naughty Dog: terrifically nuanced characters. The Fireflies are not just evil, they have a goal that makes sense – developing an antivirus. If you have played The Last of Us (and if you haven’t you need to, because this is one of the three best digital narrative experiences of all time) you know what’s going on, but let’s be honest here. If we were to be in their shoes, we would have also done whatever is necessary to save the human race. That also means the zombies are still hanging around looking for some brain snacks. When we talk about Ellie, there are different theories about her shaking hand: is she just nervous because of the killing and blood is too much for her to handle? Or, she is partially infected because the disease typically starts with losing control of your body movements.
The Creative Director’s Input
The development process for The Last of Us 2 started in 2015. I still remember March 2015, at the BAFTA Award ceremony with Troy Baker (the voice of Joel). We were sitting at a bar, sipping a drink, and Neil is telling us about this idea of doing another one. It was amazing to get back into these characters because for us, Ellie and Joel are not just some polygon models with a name, they felt like human beings with realistic goals and flaws. Clearly they were not, but they were written in that way and because we know them so well, Neil would continuously ask us: “What would Ellie say? How would Joel react? This is a piece of art made with love, that’s what I can tell you.“ Neil Druckmann, creative genius and the mastermind who just recently brought us the story of Uncharted 4, is writing The Last of Us Part Two right now and he had some interesting thoughts about the development of the game.
“It’s going to play different. Some will be an evolution, some will be completely new. It is very important for me to let go of this fear of, okay, we need the draft moment, we need the winter scene, we need David. And I’ve definitely felt that and I don’t know if this scene I am writing right now is as good as the other one in the first game. But really, you have to ignore all of that because these are the moments for this story and the characters now are very different than the characters were in the first one. And I want to just honor that; for instance, there might not be a draft scene. There might not be a David, but there will be different crucial moments and hopefully it will resonate as much as the ones from our first game.”
Well, you are Naughty Dog, one of the best studios on this planet, so I’m excited to see what happens in the next chapter.