The motif of love has been ever-present in showrunners Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann’s idea of what motivates people in despondent, hopeless post-apocalyptic fictional world of theirs. With characters like Bill and Frank, we saw the positive, nurturing side of love, which makes the world a better place, while Kathleen showed us the terrible, horrific side of love, which robs people of their capacity for judgment. After taking the viewers through an emotional rollercoaster in the course of eight episodes, HBO’s adaptation of the acclaimed game title of the same name shows us both the capacity for love in Joel’s paternal feelings for Ellie and what drives him to do pretty heinous deeds in the finale. As Joel is faced with the prospect of Ellie’s demise, he unleashes a carnage that decimates everyone standing in his way. Among his victims was the chief surgeon, who initially tried to protest, and his death will play a significant role in the upcoming season. We will go through the causality of Joel’s actions and how that sets up the events leading to the next season.
What Did Joel Do, And What Was His Reason For Doing So?
At the tail end of their long cross-country journey, Joel and Ellie reach Salt Lake City where they are attacked by the Fireflies and taken to the hospital (their secret base). Even though in a not-so-direct manner, as per his commitment to Fireflies leader Marlene, Joel has successfully escorted Ellie to their base, although at this point, he could not care less for the cause. The sole reason for undertaking such an arduous task was Ellie’s immunity to Cordyceps infection, which might be the key to synthesizing a cure and saving humanity. But as we get to know from the prologue portion of the episode, Anna getting bitten while still attached to her daughter, Ellie, ensured the fungus stayed in Ellie’s body since her birth, which in turn produced a chemical messenger that gives Ellie her immunity. The doctors in charge of synthesizing a cure are going to remove the kind of fungal growth from Ellie, but as the fungus grows inside the brain, the process of extraction will lead to Ellie’s death. When pleading with Marlene to spare Ellie’s life doesn’t work, Joel brutally dispatches every present Firefly in the hospital, including the surgeon and later Marlene too.
While Joel’s decision to choose Ellie’s life over the fate of humanity might seem like a debatable one, without defending his actions, we can easily say that his motivations were clear as daylight. The death of Sarah at the very beginning of the outbreak scarred him for life, so much so that, as we get to know from this episode, he was willing to take his own life. Gradually, over the course of two decades during the pandemic years, Joel became emotionally unavailable and lost touch with his humanity, which alienated his brother Tommy. The life Joel lived in that period was merely one of survival; there was no purpose in it. It was only when Ellie came into his life, and they were set on a journey that tested their physical and mental resilience, showcased the beauty and horror of the world, and their relation of interdependence grew into trust, that Joel learned to move beyond his cloistered existence. The wounds of Sarah’s demise, as Joel himself put it, were not healed by time; it was Ellie’s presence that did. In the beginning, we see Joel as a stoic, exasperated individual who carefully guards himself against any further emotional damage, and Ellie is the one who is ever curious and talkative. By the end of “The Last of Us” Season 1, we see an altogether different dynamic. Ellie’s experiences have made her reserved, reflective, and quiet, whereas Joel is the one who is being chatty. Even during their argument in Jackson, Joel was kind of infuriated at Ellie after she mentioned Sarah, and in this episode, it is he who is outright drawing comparisons between Ellie and Sarah.
All his life, Joel has been a protector figure and has liked to see himself that way in his relationships with people close to him. After Sarah’s tragic demise, he blamed himself for not being able to protect her; later, he lost Tess; and even when he got to know his brother Tommy did not need his protection, he was subconsciously hurt. During their journey, when he forms an emotional connection with Ellie, he gradually starts to see Sarah in her. Therefore, in his disheartening confession to Tommy, Joel conveys his remorse about not being able to protect Ellie as age has caught up to him. By saving Ellie, Joel thinks of redeeming himself.
As Marlene meets Joel at the end of the episode, she knows that this is not the same man she had entrusted Ellie to be escorted with. At this point, Joel couldn’t care less about the greater good, and when he is faced with the choice between Ellie and humanity’s future, it does not seem like a choice at all. Like a vengeful wraith, he is ever so sure about his actions, which, no matter how violent and brutal, in his mind, justified by the end.
What Does The Death Of The Doctor Mean For Season 2?
After shooting down hordes of Fireflies, Joel reaches the operating chamber where Ellie’s brain surgery was supposed to happen. An unnamed doctor appears and is understandably unwilling to let Joel have his way. Wasting no time, Joel guns him down and takes an unconscious Ellie with her. Although the series doesn’t provide the name of the doctor, according to the game’s lore and also in the series, he is Jerry Anderson, father of the antagonist and secondary protagonist, Abby Anderson, who makes an appearance in the second part of “The Last of Us.” In the game, after Abby learns about her father’s death, she embarks on a path of revenge, which, without spoiling much, ends up dooming both Abby and Ellie. The already confirmed next season will give us a better look at this same incident from Abby’s perspective as to how one man’s gain turned into another’s loss, and we will see how similar Joel’s path of destruction to protect his family is with Abby’s choice of actions.