I want to start this off my by once again warning this will be a spoiler heavy blog.
With that out the way I must say "The Last of Us" is one of those rare things that I can connect with on a deep emotional level. I usually can watch or play anything and not become attached to characters at all. (I watched the Lion king when it first came out and didn't cry when Mufasa died.) But this game was different. From the intro onwards the game had it's hooks set in me deep. Even though I knew what was going to happen in the intro it was done so well. Playing as Sarah really set the feeling of helplessness in and seeing Joel doing everything he could to protect his daughter from was powerful. It's not very often you're in a game and have no true control over your own safety or making any decisions. From that moment I connected with Joel. He may have come off as brutal and cold from the start of the outbreak but I could empathize with him. Joel became merciless because he had a reason to survive.
For me Joel is what makes this game truly special. While I grew to care about Ellie, this was his story in my eyes. Joel is one of the most well rounded human characters I've ever seen. I'm so glad Naughty Dog didn't go with the typical grizzled old man with a heart of gold. Yes he's he starts grumpy and comes around. But it's believable. He wasn't always a downer, he could be likeable at times. Him and Henry looked like they would have made great friends (R.I.P. Henry). And Ellie doesn't win him over with her charming personality and wit overnight. They formed a bond over time. Truly becoming friends, master and pupil, and somewhat father and daughter. Them growing together made the finale of the game that much more poignant.
Once winter came the game went from great to incredible. With Joel possibly dead taking control of Ellie made me think of the intro with Sarah but this time I wasn't defenseless. It was a nice change of pace and the game making you face the consequences of the actions was chilling. I really hadn't taken the time to think about all the killing we did without question. Just shooting almost every stranger without a care. But seeing the group they came from was eye opening. Even though they were a fucked up group of cannibals they weren't that different from us. Joel's especially brutal torturing is just as bad as what they had been doing. I feel like this scene really showed how far Joel was willing to go for what he needed to fight for. I was almost shocked by his indifference to the gore but I understood him. Joel was not going to let anything happen to Ellie. It's that love and need to protect her that makes him one of the most interesting villains in recent memories.
When I call Joel a villain i'm not saying the sense he's truly evil. Everyone in this game is a bit evil. But what's truly evil in a world that has lost it's morals? Despite this Joel is truly the villain of this story. The road to hell is paved with good intentions and Joel just paved it the rest of Humanity. Throughout the story it's repeated many times that once you become attached to someone you're guaranteed to die. Joel fought these feelings tooth and nail. But Ellie broke through and he couldn't let his last hope of a companion die even if it meant saving the world.
When Joel went on the rampage in the hospital my jaw hit the floor. I was praying this was a "supposed to lose fight". I reluctantly went through the hospital hoping a cut scene with Joel being shot down would happen. For the first time in the story I couldn't empathize with Joel. He literally became a madman. Hell I screamed out at my TV when I knew I had to shoot the doctor. I was in shock as I escaped the hospital. At one point I allowed myself to be captured hoping it would start the ending. But alas I/Joel had doomed society for my own selfish needs. Then the ending cut scene began. That last conversation brought it all together for me. Joel needed a reason to go on. Ellie had become his reason to live. She became his new Sarah. No matter how selfish it was if she died he'd have no reason to live.
I sat there watching the credits in disbelief. I'm all for sad endings. I personally can't stand happy ending that aren't earned, but this was truly a bummer of an ending. Then I thought about it. How many people could sacrifice the most important person in the world to you for any reason? Could you sacrifice your best friend, parents, or your own child? Joel broke his own rule to save the one he loved and damned the rest. As that moment I understood everything Joel had done. He's just a loving father and couldn't let his "child" die again. The ending is beautiful in the most bleak sense. I wish games had more stories that had real characters like Joel. Ones that really act like human beings, that understand moral decisions aren't black and white, & aren't squeaky clean good guys or purely evil.