*THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE GAME THE LAST OF US PART II*
In June of this year, after weeks of long delays, Naughty Dog’s fans were finally able to breathe a sigh of long-awaited relief as The Last of Us Part II was released. The painful seven-year-long wait naturally left myself and many others feeling impatient and agitated – but it was worth it.
With a multitude of new characters introduced to us and a reuniting of old and beloved ones, Naughty Dog created an extremely visceral and deeply emotional game in which we were encouraged to question the actions of those we had already fallen in love with, and to open our hearts and find a sense of humanity in those deemed immoral and unlovable.
Ellie and Abby are both equally as dynamic in terms of how the characters change and develop throughout the game. Alongside this, and many other ways, the two are essentially the same character; both driven by courage, an immense heart, and the desire to avenge a loved one. In a way, they are analogous and thus, many parallels exist between the two.
The Parallels of Abby and Ellie
In The Last of Us Part II Neil Druckmann and Halley Gross, writers of this inspired masterpiece, introduced the players to the most controversial character of the whole series: Abby – a broad-shouldered and impressively muscular member of the WLF (Washington Liberation Front).
Abby understandably wants revenge for what Joel did to her father (the Firefly surgeon who was to operate on Ellie) and does whatever she has to do in order to get it. The same can be said for Ellie and the lengths she goes to to avenge Joel. There’s pain behind both of their actions and many of their decisions lead back to Joel’s ultimate decision at the end of the first game.
Initially, there’s anger and frustration felt as we are forced to play as the protagonist who ends the life of Ellie’s father figure, Joel, so unceremoniously, but from Abby’s point of view it was justified. We know she is not in the right, but as time goes on we can understand why she thought she was. It is from this point on that the player can also begin to see how wrong Ellie is in the decisions she makes. Abby is a vital perspective in order to understand this and is key to the emotional weight of the game.
Abby’s character and her redemption arc is a perfect example of the visceral nature of the game. And let’s not forget that without her we wouldn’t have experienced what I believe to be some of the most intense, but masterfully created stretches of gameplay: the terrifying highs of the sky bridges and the horrors of the hospital’s lower levels.
It was because of these parts (amongst others) that we could begin to find a sense of humanity in Abby. For instance, her very real fear of heights was so profound that I found myself feeling truly scared for her in certain situations and relieved once she’d overcome them. Additionally, through the characters of Lev and Yara and the reckless journey she undertakes with them, it became clear to me that she is, in fact, capable of love. It also became increasingly difficult to avoid caring and empathizing with this “villain” of the story.
Both Ellie and Abby deal with major trauma in their lives. Ellie’s trauma exists not only in the form of Joel’s death, but in the fact that her process for forgiving him has been cut short prematurely and this inevitably leads her to violence as her coping method.
The only solution to the trauma and PTSD that grows increasingly worse throughout the game is to forgive Abby and spare her life, thus finally forgiving Joel. For me, this was further emphasised in the very last scene of the game when she leaves the guitar that Joel gifted her behind and disappears into the forest, never looking back.
Significantly, this is parallel to Abby’s trauma and how she overcomes it. It’s only through love and forgiveness that her pain can also be healed – by risking her life to save Yara and Lev and forming a similar connection to them of that which Joel formed with Ellie.
Just as we witness Ellie having painful flashbacks of Joel’s “open skin” and “slack jaw” – words she wrote in page seven of her journal – Abby has recurring bad dreams of finding her dead father in the operating room of the hospital. However, after Abby saves Yara and Lev’s life and brings them into the safety of the aquarium, it’s clear how significant they both are to Abby’s path in finding peace and closure with her father’s death. This was perfectly illustrated through a dream Abby has shortly after in which she finds her father shining brightly in a serene manner. After the dream she wakes up peacefully for the first time in the game.
The Controversial Ending
There were many people who understandably felt cheated by the outcome of the concluding fight between Abby and Ellie. Throughout most of the game Ellie’s one and only goal is to end Abby’s life and avenge Joel, removing anyone that stands in her way, literally.
This overwhelming desire for blood seemingly pushes Dina and JJ away by the end of the game, but despite all she loses in the process – friends, family and fingers – Ellie decides to spare Abby’s life. Like, seriously, Ellie? C’mon!
Although, it’s important to remember that Abby had already spared Ellie’s life twice prior to this – including Dina who was pregnant at the time – despite Ellie destroying the lives of everyone Abby cared for in her WLF family.
It could be perceived that the final fight between them is the perfect representation of the seemingly unbreakable cycle of violence, which is courageously vanquished by Ellie when she decides to let Abby live.
Both the first and the second game is about dealing with the consequences of one’s actions: firstly, the lengths one goes to in order to protect; secondly, the lengths one goes to in order to avenge. By the end of The Last of Us Part II Abby and Ellie find redemption and closure and are finally provided with the opportunity to properly move on, having successfully overcome not only their mental demons, but their human counterparts.
Words by Kath Morris