The Last of Us Part 2 - "Ambiguous Endings"
Article and Video Presentation by: Angelina Bonilla
To state that the Last of Us was critically and popularly acclaimed would be a massive understatement on my part. The game was widely successful, and a large part of that was because of the game’s story. It was a compelling piece about survival in a post-apocalyptic world that tugged at the heart strings of all who played it.
There was a demand for a sequel and it was recently revealed with the newest trailer for The Last of Us Part 2, which had those watching at the Playstation Experience 2016 react with glee upon its unveiling.
That's understandable of course; the game was well loved. But while watching the trailer, there was a thought creeping in the back of my mind that I couldn’t shake.
Did the Last of Us need a sequel?
Don’t get me wrong: the game was good, and I won’t dispute this or try to debate this with anyone. It deserved much of the praise it gets, but I can’t help but wondering if it needed a sequel. The story of the Last of Us was self-contained, and the closest thing to a sequel we received was the Prequel DLC that told how Ellie was infected in the first place. We hit all the story beats one would expect to hit in a pseudo zombie apocalypse storyline and built up a compelling relationship between the two leads. Throughout the game we are given character development and glimpses into how the game will end, long before the ending occurs.
Instead of allowing the doctors to kill Ellie so they may attempt to make a cure, something that they had failed at multiple times before, Joel instead decides to save Ellie. In doing so he ends up killing multiple doctors and the leader of the resistance group, The Fireflies. At the very end we see Joel and Ellie talking with a certain ambiguousness of whether or not their relationship will keep going as strong as it was prior to the Firefly hideout.
There was a layer of ambiguity to it. Things aren’t wrapped up in a little bow, and there are quite a few unanswered questions with the uncertain fates of our two lead characters. It leaves things up to the imagination, which often works in the favor of the story at large. With a sequel on the way however, it shows that the questions that were formerly up to player interpretation are now likely going to be answered. This is all fine and dandy, but a story that was formerly self-contained is going to start leaking all over the place, and whether or not it’ll work will ultimately be up to the writers.
Let’s take something like The Mist, which prior to being made into a film was a Stephen King novella by the same name. The original ending saw the group of survivors driving off into the titular Mist, leaving it unknown whether or not they survived. When the novella was turned into a film however, this ending was a little different, with the group driving off and then seeing the fate of all of those who were left behind while they were locked in the grocery store. Now, at first I was fine with this since they could still have them just drive off into the distance with a very mournful soundtrack playing. Instead, the group runs out of gas, the father takes out a gun, shoots everyone and comes out of the car to be killed by the monsters of the Mist, only to see that the army has in fact come to save everyone. Which is something the mom character said would happen at the beginning of the movie when she went out wandering into The Mist to find her kids, and we see her looking at our main character in pity as he screams at the fact he just killed multiple people when help was around the corner.
Some horror movie buffs view his ending as very brave and refreshing, but there are those who are familiar with the strength of the ambiguous ending of the novella, that just find it off putting. That they’re putting drama in a place that didn’t need it.
Driving off into the unknown was a powerful ending and, while not completely satisfying, it did give the same feel of the emptiness and vastness of The Mist with how even the main characters could be swallowed up by it.
Perhaps I’m giving movie audiences too much credit, but I do think they can handle an ending that didn’t hold their hand every step of the way, shoving in their face what’s symbolic and what’s not.
Ambiguous endings have their own strength to them because it leaves you to be the one to decide what happens. You can even slap on “they all live happily ever after” on there if you really want to, because that’s what it does; it leaves it up to you to think about what happened. It gave you the clues for you to come up with your own thoughts and conclusions.
The ending of The Last of Us leaves a lot up to interpretation of how the relationship with Joel and Ellie changes after she finds out all of what Joel did to save her. Now, with the trailer for the new game out, with Ellie singing her song and then telling Joel that she wants to kill all of them, that brings and entirely different feel to the ending from the previous game
The problem I see arising is similar to the one faced by those who wrote “The Walking Dead: Season 2.” They have to continue the story threads from the previous game to make this game a direct continuation, and they also have to answer any of the questions presented from the last game’s ending, which can be executed with mixed results. The Walking Dead: Season 2 was met with mixed reactions by fans and the writing wasn’t as strong as it was in the first season, especially in regards to all characters other than Clementine. This is where you could see the issue with trying to make lightning strike twice in the sense of trying to continue something that was borderline perfect.
We don’t know if the Last of Us: Part 2 will be as good as its predecessor, or how the writing team will handle the unease between Joel and Ellie or any of the plot threads left dangling from the previous game’s ending.
What we do know is that the first game is no longer just a self-contained piece with an ending that uses its ambiguity to its advantage; now that element is being used for a continuation of the story.
One can only hope that the writing staff over at Naughty Dog will be able to continue this story without it falling into the pitfalls countless other stories have made by taking this path.
Now it's just of matter of waiting and seeing where the Last of Us: Part 2 takes us in its post-apocalyptic, fungus-run world next.
Article and Video Presentation by: Angelina Bonilla