SPOILERS ABOUT THE ENDING OF THE LAST OF US PART II BELOW.
We recently had the chance to talk to Kurt Margenau, co-director of The Last of Us Part II. Nothing was off-limits in our chat, including absolutely anything that we came across in the game or things that played out during the story.
One of the things we were curious about most was the game’s seemingly open ending, which similarly to the first game introduces players to a new start screen. The old boat went from bobbing on the water in a blanket of fog to sitting on a beach. Just like the player, its journey over and yet, the most important detail is easy to miss.
The last time we see Abby and Lev, they’re sailing off into the abyss after Ellie’s breaking of the cycle, a rare moment of clemency in a world where forgiveness is so often an afterthought. As the credits rolled I began to wonder where they might go, I was left a tad confused by Abby’s search through Santa Barbara which led her to the radio on which she contacted the Fireflies. I originally misconstrued this as a trap sprung by the Rattlers, a savage late-game band of traffickers that deal in slave labour.
However, Kurt was quick to clear that up in our brief chat.
“That’s actually a very common question [whether Abby fell for a ruse by the Rattlers],” Kurt began. “Did you beat the game and see the new screen? An eagle-eyed viewer would note that it is actually Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, where the Firefly camp is meant to be.”
Of course, there’s still a shroud of ambiguity that surrounds this. Though we know Abby and Lev make it to the camp, it isn’t confirmed what they actually find there although Kurt noted it’s intended as a hopeful beat to end this particular story on.
“The fact that they ask Abby on the radio about who operated the Firefly base and she answers that it was her dad, for us that was the validation of that,” he explained. “It shows they’re more cautious of her and were testing her legitimacy as a Firefly. But, as I said, it’s a common question, and it’s unfortunate because it’s meant to be a hopeful beat.”
So for those without a working knowledge of southwest Los Angeles geography, it’s nice to know that it isn’t just a pretty picture and that it’s actually a sanguine note to end the game on for the game’s downtrodden, second-half leads.
After returning to her now empty farmhouse to find Dina and JJ gone, Ellie sits down for a final, contemplative strum of her guitar, though her severed digits make it an impossible task and so her last tangible link to Joel has been lost. There’s a real sense of finality to Ellie’s story with Part II, as what began as a hunt for justice ends with a drawn out, bittersweet slow-burn meditation on grief and letting go. Her final conversation with Joel—the one she recalls before she spares Abby—is one of mending and is a momentary reminder that that choice he made to save her was the tinderbox that burnt his whole world down.
His death was earned and it’s likely at the moment, seeing the lengths Abby would go to to protect Lev, that Ellie saw an inverse of Joel and herself. A watchful protector who, given the chance, would do it time and again to protect the purpose found in their lives. Just as Joel cared for Ellie and Abby came to care for Lev, Ellie’s pursuit of revenge won’t give her life meaning and what she needs to do is find that purpose. Ellie’s resting of the guitar neck against the sill, an iconic piece of The Last of Us imagery, as a beautiful potential send-off for the character and a first step to her leaving Joel behind.
When asked whether we might see Ellie again, Kurt didn’t offer up much by way of clues.
“We always try to, with all of our games, try to tell a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end,” he explained. “This is no different, we wanted to give a sense of closure. Beyond that, we’re not ready to think about the future yet.”