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Note: discusses a major plot point in The Last of Us


So I’ve been playing games a long assed time so it’s very rare that I just plain do not see something coming, but, as I am now Ellie hunting a deer, I did NOT see that coming. Is Joel dead? What? That was….. a great scene. I’m still pondering whatever (if anything) it may mean, and I have some thoughts, but that was long (I kept saying “Am I done? I have to be done soon!”), harrowing, interesting (Ellie does more and more and more as you do less and less), and then I truly believed that was it, it was over, I was ok, and nope. All that player relief one gets, thrown out. (There I am saying “I was ok.”)

Fascinating scene. Much to say, but still percolating.

Is he dead?


I’ll never tell.

It does weigh on one, doesn’t it? Very interesting twist.


And well done. I mean, there’s certainly a ton of adolescent imagery, re kids and parents and failure. I mean, while you’re messed up and she’s saving you, it’s this montage of 1) you telling her to move, and her not getting it, before you shoot two people coming for you, 2) you killing a dude together as she starts and you finish and 3) you blacking out, pushing buttons/sticks impotently (at least I did) as SHE kills five or six dudes and you can do nothing. Which brings forth both pride and this awful “Oh God, she’s become such a killer” feeling. Parenting. Ain’t it grand? And it all happens at a college. No way that’s a mistake.

Add to that the fact that, if you look in your backpack right after you are Ellie, she has a motley assortment of relics from her childhood past (joke books, Sam’s robot, etc.) that mostly fill her with regret (I should have said something different to Sam’s robot, I should have given him this re Joel’s picture) or stalwart pride (I’m trying to make you proud, mom, re the letter from her mom). 

No way he’s dead. But it HAS been three months……


Yes, the helpless button-pushing, stick-moving moments were well done. “Move, move, I have to do something!…I can’t do anything but watch…maybe if I try now! Nope…”

As you mentioned in a previous installment, this sense of helplessness is particularly acute in a game, providing an effect that storytelling in another medium couldn’t replicate since we’re not accustomed to being able to do anything but watch in those cases.

And yes, she comes into her own, in a sense, at a college, after her ‘parent’ is effectively out of the picture, which is an interesting touch. College: still a good place to leave your kids to grow up, even after the zombocalypse! [Still working on a catchy name]


Yup. And it was vague, in a good way, as there WERE times you had to do something, which weren’t really indicated, so you had this “Should I? Am I doing it wrong?” feeling throughout.

I’ll let you fill in the blanks here as I say I felt helpless, asking “am I doing it wrong?” as the metaphorical kid grew up in front of me.

I also said, early on in this game, that it might work better as a movie, as so much of the first bits were pretty passive. I take it back. Well, certainly from the point one goes into the sewers until now I take it back. That’s certainly where the game hit its narrative stride as a game.


Kids. Growing up in front of you. You knowing you probably did it wrong.

And yet, in this instance, Joel DIDN’T fail the child even while he was failing her: that is, even though he’s literally failing in the sense that he’s collapsed and unable to lift a finger to help her or protect her, it turns out he trained/encouraged/supported her enough that she was able to handle the challenges of adulthood on her own.

He protected her long enough and well enough that he could leave her at college and have her be OK on her own. All parents should be so lucky, right?


Indeed, SHE saves HIM. And the game kinda foreshadows it, even when you’re still holding the controller. You have to fight your way out of the room with the dead guy, and TWICE I got jumped by dudes with axes and both times Ellie jumped them, and held onto them until I could whack them. Which didn’t register at the time, because I was not aware I was in a metaphor. They snuck that in. She’s ALREADY ready, and you don’t notice until you have to.

Curious to see where this goes.

Dunno. As I watch my own kid handle the first real adversity he’s faced, (granted his issues aren’t really on par with the zombie apocalypse), and handle it about ten million times better than I thought he would, all this seems a bit timely. We don’t give them enough credit.

Of course, when I leave my kids at college and have them be ok on their own, let’s hope I don’t wind up impaled on a rusty spike. We can do without that bit.


Good point. She was already capable of more than he thought, but he didn’t realize it until he had to. Kids can handle more than we think.

I dunno, though…would you really be SURE he could handle it, without you being impaled on a rusty spike? I mean, the rusty spike is kind of the real test. Otherwise, you’d always be wondering. “He SEEMS to be doing OK, but is that just because he assumes I’ll be here to help? If he had to drag my bleeding body off campus, could he manage?” You’ll never be completely confident until you check that out.


And it was done in a wonderfully subtle way. There wasn’t some Bioshock Infinite sort of moment where your sidekick announces with great fanfare that she is capable of X. She just sort of does things without it really registering that “hey, she can do that.” Another nice touch? When she jumped on those two guys, there wasn’t the red cross “help this person” sign. It took me a second to realize that she was there, because the game wasn’t telling me to help. Nice.

As for impaling a parent as a test of a kid’s maturity…there is that. Maybe that’s where some of our adult insecurities come from. “Why didn’t my parents trust me enough to impale themselves on spikes?”


OH MY GOD YES. That revelation is worth 10 years of therapy.

Now that I think about it, SO MANY of my problems come from the fact that my parents, even to this day, do not trust me enough to impale themselves on spikes. Sure, they sent me off to college, but with this huge question mark hovering over everything I did there, and everything I’ve ever done since. It’s like they’re telling me, every single day, “we expect you to fail.” How can you expect a person to thrive, to step up, to really CLAIM their place as an adult, under that kind of pressure?

I give TLOU major props for being able to really highlight not only the way in which we, individually and as a society, fail our children, but also the ways in which we were ourselves failed by our parents. With the kinds of deep wounds our parents’ lack of trust in our capability leaves in us, is it any wonder we can’t ourselves be adult enough to properly protect our own children? We’re onto something here. Something deep.


You can’t–you can’t expect a person to grow up under these circumstances. I’ll face them down tonight. Why, Parents? Why no spikes?

It would open so many doors. The confidence, the maturity, the inheritance.

We’ve been looking at this all wrong. We’ve been looking at it as adults, as parents ourselves, feeling all this guilt. No way. Now that I’m at the point where I’m Ellie, I so get it. I do. It’s liberating.


Demand answers! Demand that your parents respect you, fully, as the mature adult you are! I’m sure it’s hard for them to let go, but they have to realize that you can’t be their helpless little boy forever. They need to set you free to soar…over their spike-impaled and bleeding bodies. It’s the only way.


Yes! Yes! Yes!

Or I can be content that they bring whiskey over and watch the kids and hope that my kids never want to see me impaled. 


I suppose you could go that route, too. Rather than trying to right the wrongs of the past, accept the injuries that were done and rebuild your life going forward? Make peace with the past?

Much as the characters in TLOU must do: they can’t confront the people responsible for the disaster, if anyone is, since they’re all fungused, so they have to accept that the world has changed, and make the best of it moving forward.

Hmm…this game is wise indeed. It provides valuable life lessons no matter which way we want to read it! I shall write a textbook on its uses as a psychotherapeutic tool.


Ergo the whiskey. Makes accepting injuries so much easier. I am at peace. Or will be once I open the whiskey.