If there’s one thing life and a multitude of iterations of TV tropes have taught us, it is that the act of lying to protect someone close or lying in fear of rupturing an emotional connection with someone we are afraid to lose almost always backfires. No matter how noble or well-placed the intention is, it always ends up driving a wedge in relationships. As HBO’s “The Last of Us” brings the journey of the fated pair close to an end, we see Joel trying his best to protect Ellie, whom he now considers his daughter figure. After repeatedly pleas to Marlene to spare Ellie’s life achieve nothing, Joel leaves a trail of bodies while rescuing an unconscious Ellie from the Fireflies. Later, when Ellie asks about what really went down back then, Joel lies to her to save the relationship between the two. The context of Joel’s act of lying is as important as the far-reaching consequences of it and also what Ellie presumably knows, and we will try to shed some light on that.
What Happened In The Salt Lake City Hospital?
In the finale, after Joel and Ellie get ambushed by the Fireflies, they are taken to their base in the Salt Lake City hospital. Upon waking up, Joel meets Marlene and asks about Ellie’s whereabouts. Marlene informs him that Ellie’s immunity comes from the Cordyceps fungal growth inside her body since her birth, which acted like a chemical messenger and warded off the chances of infection. As the fungal growth is centered around the human brain, in order to harvest that fungus to synthesize a cure, they need to sacrifice Ellie’s life. By now, the thought of losing Ellie is incomprehensible to Joel, as his paternal feelings for her have taken hold of him. Joel proceeds to take out every Firefly who stands in his way, including the head surgeon and Marlene, and takes an unconscious Ellie with him. Before getting shot by Joel, Marlene tries her last to reason with him, saying that sacrificing her life to save humanity is what Ellie too would have wanted, and in his mind, Joel knows this too, so he proceeds to massacre the Fireflies anyway.
Why Does Joel Lie To Ellie?
As Joel drives back to Jackson, Ellie wakes up and asks for the details of what happened in the hospital. Luckily for Joel, Ellie was not informed by Marlene about the extraction process, which would have caused her death. Therefore, Joel comes up with the vague lie that, besides her, there were other immune persons in the hospital and that doctors had failed to come up with a cure. He doubles down on his lies, saying that they were attacked by raiders, and he barely managed to escape with Ellie. Joel also avoids Ellie’s question about Marlene, and as she looks to the other side, Joel almost whispers an apology, a testament to his conscience.
Previously in the episode, Joel offered Ellie the chance to journey back to Jackson, leaving behind everything related to the purpose of their journey. Even though Joel agreed to continue the journey to honor Tess’ dying wish, his current emotional state has no regard for the greater purpose of humanity’s survival; all he is concerned with is Ellie’s safety. Like a parent protective of their children, Joel surmounts any odds to save Ellie’s life, even if it meant engaging in the most brutal, apathetic actions and dooming humanity’s future in the process. But at the same time, as Marlene pokes at the doubt, Joel knows Ellie won’t approve of his actions. Earlier rejecting his request to return, Ellie was adamant about continuing their mission, as after what they had been through during the journey, it should serve a purpose after all. Joel knows letting Ellie know the truth will inevitably result in her hatred towards Joel, as he has robbed her of the right to have a sense of purpose and also her right to choose. And this is something Joel cannot allow to happen; he has already begun to see Ellie in Sarah’s image, and the bond that has grown between this unlikely father-daughter duo is too precious for him to ever let go. Joel’s lies, irrespective of his moral leanings or not, make sense, given how his psyche works.
Does Ellie Know About Joel’s Lies? How Will That Affect Their Relationship In The Future?
If her actions throughout the season were indicative of anything, it is that Ellie is quite mature for her age. She knows full well how protective and trusting Joel has grown to be in the months during their journey, to the point that he almost considers Ellie as his own daughter. Joel, the same person who remained tight-lipped about his past just a few months ago, is not only sharing a few of the lowest points of his life with Ellie but also acknowledging how her presence has healed the emotional scars caused by Sarah’s demise. Joel mentioning the prospect of returning to Jackson and abandoning their mission was another red flag, which Ellie is reminded of as she learns about the details of the incidents that took place in the hospital from Joel. Ellie knows Joel is not a good liar; therefore, upon questioning Joel’s vague replies, dodging the answers and long silences were evidence enough of the worst possible consequences. Ellie turned back to the other side from Joel, almost indicating their relationship was going downhill.
As they trek through the wilderness to reach Jackson, Joel enthusiastically tries to make Ellie engage in the conversation by drawing comparisons between her and Sarah. Ellie feels her suspicions almost being validated, so mustering enough courage, she decides to share the most personal memory of her past—her best friend Riley’s death at her hands. In the seventh episode, viewers saw in the flashback sequence that both Riley and Ellie became infected, and while Ellie’s immunity saved her, Riley’s fate was hinted at throughout the season, which Ellie just confirmed in her confession.
Ellie shares this story with Joel not only to convey her trust but also to show how losing people close to her during her lifetime has entrapped her in survivor’s guilt and why the sense of purpose was more personal to her than Joel knows. Joel almost justifies his own actions while consoling Ellie, and she directly asks the question about the legitimacy of Joel’s statement about the hospital incident. Once again, Joel repeats his lies. After a brief pause, almost as if she were processing her reaction to that information, Ellie nods and replies with an ‘okay.’ Viewers don’t know for sure how much Ellie knows already, but Joel’s lies will have far-reaching effects in the next season. Ellie gradually becomes disenchanted, and the tragic realization that the person he trusts and loves the most has also snatched her life’s purpose without her consent will take a heavy toll. The next installment, which will surely follow the course of the next part of the game, will see the growing distance between the fated pair, something that will contribute to the most tragic incident of Ellie’s life and prolong her survivor’s guilt.