A couple weeks back, I finished Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us — they’ve sure come a long way since Crash Bandicoot (though, I still pine for the franchise to return to its rightful owner).
As the final act came to a close, what struck me the most was how reflective the game was of itself, and how far its characters had come since the opening scene. The critical reception to The Last of Us has ranged from brightly glowing to argumentative and divisive, but what can’t be mistaken is how much thoughtfulness Naughty Dog has put into it. I jotted down my own thoughts on a few “mirrors” between the very beginning and the very end of the game, which I wanted to share here.
Warning: there’s a significant amount of spoilers ahead!
1. The greatest threat to Joel’s family turns out to be military groups.
Whenever Joel loses a family member, or comes close to losing one (including the attack on his brother’s camp), it’s at the hands of militia. Just as his daughter was held at gunpoint and taken from him in the opening act, the same happens to Ellie at the hands of the Fireflies. Although the game establishes these two groups as being diametrically opposed, in the end they’re both trying to do the same thing: control the virus by controlling survivors.
2. The first and last time you take control of Joel, you are carrying a young girl to safety.
The first time you play as Joel, it’s not until you’re carrying his daughter, Sarah, through the streets in the hopes of finding safety. The last thing you do in his role is carry Ellie through the Firefly controlled hospital, in the hopes of saving her life.
3. The first and last time you control the game, it’s in the role of Joel’s daughter.
The first character you control in The Last of Us is Joel’s daughter, Sarah, as you explore their home. The last character you control is Ellie, who can arguably be seen as Joel’s adopted daughter by now, following Joel through the forests of Jackson to his brother’s camp.
The contrast in setting also made me wonder if the theme of nature reclaiming society has been completed, and is being pointed out here as well. Additionally, there’s a tonal contrast to match the environmental one: the first time we meet Joel he’s frantically coming home, looking for a pistol and trying to explain the situation to Sarah. By the very end we find him in a calm upbeat attitude towards Ellie, which gave me the sense that he was finally happy at the prospect of having a home, and a daughter, once again.
4. Joel’s Lies
Joel’s first interaction with Sarah involves a lie (granted, it’s a white-lie for the sake of a joke) about her gift watch being broken. Joel’s last interaction with Ellie is him lieing about what happened back in Salt Lake City with the Fireflies.
5. Opening/closing shots (thanks to commenter jojo).
Both the first and the last shots in the game are close-up of the lead female character in Joel’s life (at that point in time).
Bonus: 6. Just as the clickers use sound to find their victims, so does Joel (listening mode).
They’re listening for you, and you’re listening for them.
If you’ve played through The Last of Us and have found other mirrors between either the gameplay, the story or both, I’d be interested to read about them. Leave a comment if so!