Critical Examination: The Last of Us (Part 3)

The Last of UsSorry it took me so long to get back to this.  I’ve had a job and other things going on.  Not to mention stories that caught my eye and I had to respond to. But let’s get down to it.  Next up, we have the villains of the story, who also have interesting points to talk about.

Part 3. David

The first time that we see David, he’s out with a younger man named James.  He is cordial to Ellie when they meet.  A little scrawny, but it’s the post-apocalypse.  Who is a beefcake in that time and place?  The first conversation with him is almost nice.  He is trying to be amicable.  He takes an immediate liking to Ellie, who he sees as a tough girl who looks after her own.  The two end up getting caught in a battle against a horde of infected, and it looks like there might be something to this guy.  After fighting off the horde, you have some time to sit and get to know the guy.  Again, it seems like he might not seem so bad.  However, one line of dialogue is all it takes for you to realize that this guy is a threat.  Just one line, and he goes from being a potential ally to an enemy.  The way that was done was brilliant.  And, just like with Joel and Ellie, the reason that it worked is because of the voice actor – Nolan North.  While he isn’t the insane perfectionist that Troy Baker is, he is still damn good at what he does.  Even when he is in utterly-mediocre games like Deadpool, he goes the extra mile, to deliver a quality product.

When we see David again, he is capturing Ellie when the bandits are after her.  She tries to stab him, but he puts her in a choke-hold, telling her that he’s saving her life.  When the two are reunited in his camp, they have a discussion.  It’s here that we learn more about the group that David is a part of.  These people are cannibals.  He makes no effort to deny it.  But when Ellie judges him for that, he throws it right back at her, pointing out that she has a very hefty body-count.  There is no pride in his voice when he talks about what they do.  Just a cold sense of detachment, because they rationalize it as them doing whatever it is they have to do.  In a lot of ways, this is a cruel fact of life.

If you are put in a situation where there is no food, and the winter is killing your people, what are you willing to do?  What would you be willing to sacrifice to keep you and the people you care about alive?  If the person you love is starving to death, would you be willing to eat another person?  If you are so hungry that you would eat the most grisly piece of fat, just to have food in your stomach, what would you be willing to do for that?  That question is central to what makes The Last of Us so profound.  Joel made peace with the terrible things he did.  So has David.  Tess only rebelled against it when she knew that she had nothing left to lose.  The cost of living is high, even in our post-modern world of cultural ennui.  The Last of Us shows the literal cost, which in turn reflects the emotional cost that we live in today.  David does horrible things.  I’m not defending him.  But can you honestly look me in the eye and tell me that you know that you would be better?  If it’s freezing cold, and the only way you can keep the people you love alive is by killing someone else and then eating their flesh, how can you say that you are certain you wouldn’t.  There are some terrific books on survival situations, and how they went hellishly wrong.  Check those out.  It’s fascinating stuff.

After David realizes that he can’t get what he wants, the darkness takes over.  He drags Ellie out of the cell and lays her out on a table, preparing to chop her up.  She bites him, and then tells him that she’s infected.  She hints that he is infected as well.  Thus, the few strands of David’s sanity slips.  I’ve already talked about the rest of the story.  But his madness becomes another interesting point.  I’ve always found characters who lose everything fascinating.  My favorite villain in anything is Lord Darcia, from Wolf’s Rain. He only snaps after everything is taken from him.  Up to that point, his goal made sense.  But once it’s all lost, he chooses to sacrifice his humanity, to destroy a pack of wolves and their allies, just so they won’t get their happy ending either.  That’s an interesting character.  Who you are when you have nothing left, and you can only keep moving forward, is probably the most defining element of your humanity.

It makes for a nice side-by-side that, when you see the depths of David’s inhumanity, you see just how high the cost is becoming for Ellie, who is trying to retain her humanity.  She hasn’t had to make the tough calls that Joel has.  Had to go as far as he has. The correlation between these two characters is interesting.  And ominous.

Part Four: Marlene

When you first meet Marlene, she’s just a rogue element in Boston.  She’s the leader of the underground movement, The Fireflies.  Are they heroes?  Are they terrorists?  Much like everything else in this game, it’s not that simple.  They are a little of both.  And that’s Marlene.  She’s a driven woman.  Driven by a goal that has consumed her life, and gives her purpose.  Without it, as you find out by reading her journal, she loses the will to keep going, and is eager to escape.  Your introduction to her isn’t that big.  She’s wounded, and makes a deal with Joel and Tess to smuggle Ellie out, in exchange for some guns and more that were given to them by a traitorous ally of the two smugglers.  You don’t see her in the game until right in the last act.

Joel wakes up in a hospital, and there she is, sitting in a chair and waiting.  You find out from a tape recorder that she wanted to talk  to him . Part of her believes that he might understand the conflict inside of her.  You see, there’s a twist.  It seems that to extract that cure from Ellie, they have to cut the fungus right off of her brain.  Effectively killing her.  But the goal would be done.  They could make a cure, and help humanity regain its place at in the world.  She believes that Joel would get this decision.  However, he regained the part of his humanity that she was certain would give her resolve a boost.  It makes the confrontation between the two in the room that much more intense.  Marlene tries to justify killing this person, by telling him how hard it is.  Doing terrible things, while telling yourself and others that it’s for the greater good.  Where have we seen that throughout history?  Some of the darkest chapters in human history were started by people who thought they were doing the right thing, when the truth was that they were doing anything but.

You find out in the journal that Marlene felt ashamed that she had given Ellie over to Joel and Tess.  If she had kept her with their group, they might have been just fine.  But she hadn’t, and now she was reunited with old friends and filled with regret.  When she sees them looking at her, she feels the disappointment.  Eventually, she makes plans to ditch the group, before one of the group’s lookouts spots Joel and Ellie entering the city.

What does Marlene represent?  She represents the conflict that is when you are having to betray yourself in order to do what you think is right.  That’s exactly what Marlene is doing.  She is betraying her promise to Ellie’s mom, in order to give the world hope.  But is it really hope?  After all, how would they be able to mass-produce the vaccine?  How would they be able to give it to the rest of the world?  What happens when we do regain our place in the world?  There are a lot of uncomfortable questions, and that makes up the entire conflict with her character and her and Joel.

After he makes his way through the hospital and now has Ellie in tow, Marlene confronts Joel again.  She tells him that there is no hope for her.  Even if she survives today, how do they know that she’ll survive tomorrow?  What hope exists in this world?  Not much.  What’s more, she points out that it’s something Ellie would want.  That is true, but how would she know that?  There’s no way that she could.  There’s no way that he could know the extent of the demons that have been building within that girl.  So, when Marlene said that, it was still her trying to justify doing this to herself.  It’s telling that she begs for her life after Joel has shot her.  There is still a part of her that is trying to justify everything.  He was probably right when he said that she would come after the two of them.  Scary stuff.

But does that make her evil? Just like David, it’s not very clear.  She does questionable things, but her motivation does make some sense.  Let’s all admit that we have come to points in our lives where we’ve had to tell ourselves that something is for the best, even though there is a part of us that knows that it isn’t true.  People stay in bad relationships all the time for that sort of reasoning.  In the end, while David was clearly the darker of the two, Marlene has both good and bad elements.  That’s what makes Joel’s pronouncement of her that much harder.  He saw her path, and cut it short.  Heavy shit.

The Last of Us is a game about desperation.  It’s a game about what it truly means to live, because the cost of living is so damn high.  We may not be in the same situation as the people in that game, but we all still make our choices and live life as we see fit.  I didn’t even go into Tess and how she dealt with the cost, or Bill and his hiding himself away from the world, which is another topic in and of itself.  There is so much to talk about with this game, and that’s what makes it so damn good.  I love this game.  It’s my second-favorite game of all time.

Let me know what you think in the Comments.

Until next time, a quote,

“I wrestled for a long time with surviving.  You just…you keep finding something to fight for.  Now I know that that’s not what you want to hear!”  -Joel, The Last of Us

Peace out,



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