The human capacity for evil is something that should never be underestimated, something which can go far beyond, or should we say, stoop way lower than the imagination of the creator of the proverbial evil entities. In the first episode of HBO’s “The Last of Us,” Abe, the tower caller in Boston QZ, warns Joel when he decides to traverse through open country to Wyoming to search for his brother Tommy, that there are threats in the outside world which are way worse than the Cordyceps contaminated Infected. In the worst of times, newer threats emerge in the form of opportunists, but the truly menacing kinds are the driven ones who are beyond reason and condemn the world to doom alongside themselves. Kathleen, the leader of the insurgents in Kansas City, is one such figure that tries to bend the rules of a post-apocalyptic world in her own way, and her futile attempt drags her entire troop to their demise. Let’s have a look at the character’s motivation and background to understand the causality.
Kathleen And Her Past And Her Fears
The fifth episode of “The Last of Us” sheds light on Kathleen’s past and, to some extent, her psyche. After ordering her troops to eliminate the gathered collaborators, Kathleen goes to the room she and her brother, Michael, grew up in. Her right-hand man, Perry, goes to check up on her, and she shares one of her childhood memories. She states that as a child, she used to be afraid of thunder. During storms, her brother Michael told her that their room was an impregnable wooden box that would remain unaffected by any sort of external threats like thunder or gunfire. He used to say to his sister that as long as they stayed together, they would be safe. From Kathleen and Henry’s accounts, it can be said with certainty that Michael was an admirable person who changed others’ lives for the better, and he had a strong presence in the life of Kathleen who held him in high regard. Michael went on to lead the resistance movement against the especially oppressive sect of FEDRA in Kansas City. Unfortunately, after Henry sells Michael out to FEDRA, he meets his tragic end by getting beaten to death in imprisonment.
The wooden box incident suggests what Kathleen was really afraid of was being vulnerable. The room, like a wooden box, along with Michael’s presence, ensured her safety in closed spaces. For her, it was a fortress for the two of them that wouldn’t let the world harm her emotionally, and later Michael became the fortress himself. If the outbreak had never happened, she probably would have taken a very measured and gentle approach toward her life, as her conversation with Doctor Edelstein suggests, a far cry from her current manipulative, brutal self. Kathleen’s life takes an abysmal turn after Michael gets caught and later killed by FEDRA. The fortress gets taken away, leaving a void and a world to blame for it. While in captivity, Michael asked Kathleen to forgive the person responsible for his predicament. However, for Kathleen, it makes her feel bewildered that someone like her brother could meet such a disheartening end. She asks for justice in a world that no longer recognizes humanity and remains unheard. She arms herself with an insatiable thirst for revenge and the apathy of a broken person and wages war with the world.
There is an interesting parallel between Kathleen and Joel, who, although never exchanging any dialogue, are connected with a vital theme of the series. Showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann had previously stated that in the game and the series, too, love drives people to do beautiful and occasionally terrible things. The tragedy of losing someone close to them connects these two characters, as both Kathleen and Joel lose touch with their humanity afterward. For Joel, Ellie became a savior, and she was the one who also helped him open up emotionally since the death of Sarah. On the other hand, without Michael, Kathleen is truly alone, and despite having a loyal bunch of followers, she can’t be taken back to her safe space. Kathleen is what Joel could have been if he had remained unchecked after gaining power.
How Kathleen’s Fear Turns Her Into A Monster
Kathleen knows she is not even close to being the great person her brother was and knows well that, had Michael been alive, he would have been horrified to learn about the things Kathleen has taken part in. But in the harsh and unforgiving universe of “The Last of Us,” the rule of survival of the fittest gets applied more than anything. In this new world, people like Joel and Kathleen survive (up until luring the infected right onto her troops, she did alright), but people like Sam and Michael don’t. Kathleen replaces her deceased brother, taking the leadership like how Stalin succeeded Lenin or Truman succeeded Roosevelt. She hasn’t got as much interest in leading her people to a better life or restoring the kind of governance which was the norm before the outbreak. Rather, she enjoys the position of power she commands now, with people at her behest to do her bidding, which means she can get even with the world that has taken Michael away from her. Her violent methods lead the insurgency to victory over FEDRA, and she becomes monomaniacally obsessed with capturing Henry, the chief collaborator in her brother’s murder. Under her leadership, the insurgency resorts to medieval barbarism and subjects FEDRA to worse kinds of inhumanities than what they had to put up with through the last two decades. She doesn’t even mind using insurgency members for looting and killing unaware travelers, as seen during the earlier episode. Henry aptly said that their lot is worse than even FEDRA. The so-called motto of theirs of “Freedom and We the People” in the insurgency dragged to the ground by their degeneracy is the classic example of revolutionary forces turning out to be worse than the regime they toppled.
Kathleen couldn’t care less about holding onto the ideals or providing her people with a sustainable future, which becomes pretty apparent from her actions in the first episode of hiding the underground tremor situation or killing a doctor in the direst of times like the outbreak. There is no lack of morally compromised characters in the lore, either. What makes her terrifying is her persistence in seeking vengeance for a just, albeit lost, cause. Like Nemesis, she is an ever-present threat, driving her entire pack to hunt down just two people. In an episode that showed the infected at their most terrifying potential yet, a mere human superseded the infected in instilling terror by showing her steadfastness and absolute disregard for lives. Goading Henry to come out of hiding by insulting the importance of Sam’s life really solidifies how far she has gone down the destructive path of vengeance. Bloaters might have physical invulnerability, but Kathleen has managed to make herself emotionally invulnerable after her brother’s death. Even in the very end, as her entire troop is getting mauled by the infected ones and she has a chance to save her life by escaping, she decides to corner Sam and Henry to exact her revenge. Retribution seems to be a concept not lost in the world of “The Last of Us.” Kathleen’s death at the hands of a child-turned-Clicker is absolutely as justified as it can be. Her downfall, along with her entire troop, reminds us of Jean-Paul Marat, one of the primary politicians of the French revolution who advocated for the infamous September massacres, and ended up getting assassinated.
Kathleen’s character doesn’t merely add a dimension to the Hunters’ lore in the game but also shows us some glimpse of the dark recesses of the human psyche, which in this case asserted its presence after getting triggered by seeing worst fears getting manifested.