> # Welcome to GameGrinOS v1.01 > # How can I help you? > # Press ` again to close
Hello… | Log in or sign up
Let's Face it — Joel's A Villain

Let's Face it — Joel's A Villain

Disclaimer: to make sure no one accidentally gets a spoiler they didn't want, I wanted to preface the article with a warning for spoilers ahead.

A few years ago, I became utterly obsessed with zombie games after playing Telltale's The Walking Dead. This wasn't just because I cried like a baby throughout the entire series and fell completely in love with many of the characters — although that was a huge plus — but mostly due to zombies being a fantastic narrative tool. These pests are just oppressive enough to force humankind into working together but not so terrifying it takes away the focus from the humanity aspect, leaving a lot of space for a morally heavy narrative.

This is why my wife eventually suggested I try The Last of Uswhich, although not a zombie title in the classic sense, it has the same elements I love. I was so excited to jump into the game that I decided to watch a silent walkthrough from start to finish with my wife side by side, like some egregiously long movie. I did this because I couldn't play the game, and it wasn't just due to the lack of a PlayStation console, but because I didn't want to play a stealth game with horror elements. 

Although that was nearly five years ago now, as soon as my wife and I heard about the live HBO show, we waited for the right time to sit down again, side by side, and watch it as a real show. Despite the fact that I still remembered how the story ended, this time... well, it hit differently.

We all know about Joel's infamous decision at this point — the one that split the entire fanbase in half — right? After a long, long, looong trek across a treacherous post-apocalyptic landscape filled to the brim with decayed buildings and terrifying fungal zombies, Joel wakes up to a horrible reality: to save the world, Ellie needs to die.

The first time around, as I watched the let's player gun down the Firefly crew and make his way toward Ellie, all I could feel was an enormous sense of relief. I was absolutely disgusted that Marlene hadn't even told Ellie the entire truth about the situation, about what would really happen to her on that table. And as I watched the ending unfold, I was elated that Joel knew better than to let her life go to waste like that, that he was going to save the girl that he — that we — had grown so fond of. 

At the end of the silent walkthrough, I was convinced he had done right by her. I would have done the same, I thought; because she's so young and her life's just begun, and why should she be the one to sacrifice for everyone else without even knowing the full consequence of what saving the world would cost her? Or that it might not even work?

This time around, however, I had a completely different reaction. As I watched Joel — phenomenally portrayed by Pedro Pascal — march his way gunning down Firefly members cruelly, coldly, and without blinking, I couldn't believe he would dare betray Ellie like that. The pit in my stomach only grew deeper and deeper as he approached her, shot down a doctor, and dragged her off the table to take her home. The last twist in my gut was when he lied to her over and over, despite her asking him repeatedly for the truth.

The story largely remains the same despite the change from game to TV show. We get more context and more dialogue, and perhaps there are some differences (particularly in Joel) between the two, but the bone structure remains the same — they both bond and go through a journey with the intent of saving the world, and at the end, he took the decision from her. I just think perhaps I was too young to truly grasp the choice he took from her.

I won't get into the humanitarian aspects of it because my wife did a phenomenal job doing that herself in her article The Reality of What Would Have Happened if Joel Had Chosen Differently. Joel is the villain because he (maybe) took away humanity's hope of rebuilding civilisation someday, sure... but it's also because his actions were selfish and, ultimately, betrayed Ellie.

The discussion always revolves around whether his decision was good or evil, especially considering he dooms humanity for the short-term gratification of not losing a second daughter. What no one ever seems to question or explore is how his decision affected the same person he so dearly loves — Ellie. 

Throughout the entire time we see them together, her personality shines quite clearly. Ellie is headstrong, she's capable, and — most importantly — she has an absolute disdain for anyone who dares to do wrong by others. Time and again, we see her snap at the people she deems immoral, standing up to anyone and everyone regardless of age or hierarchy. It doesn't take a genius to know she would've given her life in the blink of an eye to help save the world from the cordyceps virus, even if it killed her.

Joel knew, too, which is why he lied straight to her face. And whilst some may argue that he knows better because he's an adult, that's a laughable excuse, especially in a world like in The Last of Us. The entire narrative is focused around how corrupt, hopeless, and absolute garbage humanity's living conditions are in basically every sense of the word. And even if she didn't think life was miserable, she wouldn't have been happy knowing what she was taking from everyone else.

His decision to save her was more than villainous for humanity: it was so for her, too; Joel ultimately chose himself over her and everyone else. Although it's understandably difficult to let someone you love die, especially when you have no one else, he dishonoured what she wanted and worked hard for, ultimately forcing her to choose to forgive him because she's all alone otherwise. The dissonance she faces as she watches the only person she cares about — and possibly the only person who cares about her — lie to her after taking away humankind's only chance is heartbreaking. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been for her.

That being said, I don't hate Joel — I love his character, I love the game, and I love the show. I understand why he did what he did, and it's no wonder that The Last of Us has been so beloved when, 10 years after its release, it's still got people talking about Joel, his decision, and the effects that came after it. If you’d like to see yet another perspective from a staff member, check out Jon’s article Did Joel Make the Right Decision in The Last of Us?

Violet Plata

Violet Plata

Staff Writer

Liable to jump at her own shadow.

Share this: