This was inspired by dancingdragon3’s interest in the game, as her modly duties at puzzleprompts force her to read my TLOU fic :) Anyone is welcome to read though and I love talking about this game so feel free to comment!
It came out in 2013 for PS3 and won all kinds of game-of-the-year awards. Not being a hardcore gamer myself, I’d never heard of it until my brother started playing it in 2015, and told me enough to intrigue me but not spoil me. It’s been out on PS4 since 2014. Major spoilers here, obviously!
I won’t go into unnecessary details about the gameplay, but I will include some of my own experiences playing through it the first time.
We start out in September 2013, somewhere in the suburbs of Austin, TX. Our guy Joel is in his late 20s/30ish and lives with his 12-year-old daughter Sarah (yep, he had her at a very young age –- 17 in my head canon). Mom is not in the picture, we’re not told why. There’s a cute scene where Sarah gives Joel a birthday present (a watch) and she falls asleep watching TV with him on the couch. He carries her up to bed with a “good night, baby girl.” Aww.
She wakes up in the middle of the night, and now we’re playing as her. For some reason I just could not get the hang of the controls and it took me a while to get her to not walk like a drunk person, lol. My poor brother’s patience was tested already :) Clearly that’s all we’re meant to do here, just get used to how to move and what buttons to press for what function. She wanders around the house looking for Joel and we get glimpses of their life together. There’s a news story on TV about something called the Cordyceps infection, which is spreading rapidly throughout the world… the TV goes snowy as transmission is lost.
Sarah finds Joel’s phone in the kitchen and sees some texts and a bunch of missed calls from Tommy. The phone rings and she answers it, calling him Uncle Tommy – - Joel’s younger brother. She tells him Joel’s not there.
Joel bursts in and retrieves a gun, tells Sarah to stay back… one of the “sick” people, a neighbor of theirs, is on Joel’s tail and Joel shoots him. Sarah is freaking out now (as am I, a bit, it was scary!). Tommy shows up and the three of them hop in the car to get the hell outta dodge.
The problem is, everyone else wants to get outta dodge too, and there’s mass chaos. People running around like crazy, more of these infected people chasing them… Tommy does some creative driving but eventually they crash, and now we’re playing as Joel. Sarah hurt her leg in the crash so Joel has to carry her. They run through the chaos for a while… but Sarah gets shot by a soldier and tragically dies in Joel’s arms. Sad :(
Cut to 20 years later. We’re given info via news reports as the credits roll. Most of the world’s population has been wiped out. The military has set up quarantine zones throughout the country… life inside them isn’t great but it’s way safer than being on the outside. There’s a group called the Fireflies who oppose the military…but are basically another military group themselves. Not sure when communications stopped but presumably after 20 years, there’s pretty much nothing left of the world as we know it.
Throughout the game we’re given information about the world via objects we pick up, eavesdropping on people, or people in our party talking to each other, and just from looking around at the surroundings. I don’t suppose much of that is terribly important in terms of understanding the plot, though, which I’ll try to remember as we go :) As for the infected, they’re zombie-like creatures but are never referred to as zombies, and there are four stages of infection (nicknamed Runners, Stalkers, Clickers, and Bloaters). Citizens not in the military tend to be referred to as “survivors.” The world is full of dilapidated buildings and nature “reclaiming” the land… like shrubs growing up through the buildings and stuff.
Boston. Joel and a woman named Tess are smugglers. The currency nowadays is either goods or ration cards. Tess visits Joel at his apartment and they plot to get some guns from this thug named Robert, who stole the weapons from them and sent a couple men to kill Tess before she could retaliate (Joel too but he wasn’t with her at the time). They head out to leave the quarantine zone and it’s pretty bleak in the streets. The soldiers run a scanner over people returning from outside the zone, checking for infection. One guy reads as positive and they just execute him right there. I didn’t learn this ‘til later but even though this part is all exposition, you can actually die here -- if you bump into a soldier a couple times, he snarls at you… then threatens to shoot you… and if you do it again, he DOES shoot you. LOL.
There’s an explosion, which the soldiers blame on the Fireflies, right outside the “checkpoint” entrance/exit, which puts the place on lockdown, so Joel and Tess go sneak out through some secret passage. They meet some unfriendly humans while looking for Robert. The first time I played, once I realized that Tess would help with fighting, I was the biggest chickenshit and would just kinda sit back and let her do most of it, even with my brother teasing me about making Joel a pussy. There’s a point where she says “I love watching you work” and I hadn’t even killed anyone yet! The two are shown to be friends, nothing more, although they do strike me as flirtatious at times, and many fans write them as a pairing.
They eventually catch up with Robert. Joel and Tess
That’s where we meet foul-mouthed, tough, tomboyish, fourteen-year-old Ellie, who tries to attack Joel with her switchblade when he walks in. Marlene explains that Joel and Tess are to deliver Ellie to another group of Fireflies. Tess demands to see their payment. Marlene says she’ll show her the weapons, but she doesn’t want Ellie crossing into that part of town. Ellie doesn’t want to leave her (we find out later that Ellie’s mom, who died when Ellie was a baby, asked her BFF Marlene to watch over Ellie). She wants Joel to stay with Ellie now; Tommy told her if she was ever in a jam she could count on Joel. No one is happy about this but they agree to it. They plan for Tess to meet up with Joel and Ellie at some rendezvous point they’ve used before. [and here I’m like “nooooo I need Tess to kill people for me, we can’t split up!” – only on my first time playing, anyway]
Joel is pretty surly to Ellie. In return, she’s not overly friendly, and naturally is wary of this stranger. They get to the place and Joel takes a nap while they wait for Tess. It’s nighttime, and raining, when the three of them head out. Ellie’s never been outside of the city before and is in awe of their surroundings.
The 3 of them get caught by a couple soldiers who scan them for infection. When Ellie’s being scanned, she pulls out her switchblade and attacks one… Joel and Tess quickly kill them both. They see on the scanner that Ellie’s infected! Of course they get pissed off and wonder what Marlene’s up to… Ellie swears she’s immune. Everyone knows it takes two days or less to “turn” and she was bitten 3 weeks ago. She says the Fireflies they’re meeting up with are going to take Ellie to some lab of theirs where they’re looking for a cure because what happened to her is the key to making a vaccine. Joel is cynical about it, but Tess is hopeful and persuades Joel to keep going.
Tess is friendlier than Joel so Ellie directs her comments and questions mostly to her. There is a nice moment between Joel and Ellie though when they’re on the roof of a building and Ellie stares in wonder at her first sunrise on the outside; Joel doesn’t say anything but you can tell it affects him at least a little.
The worst of the fighting so far takes place in a museum. Joel gets separated from Tess and Ellie and is really worried about getting back to Tess. It’s too late, though… we find out in the next location that Tess got bitten there :( They make it to the Firefly rendezvous point but find that the Fireflies are all dead. Joel wants to give up. Tess guilts him into continuing. Ellie doesn’t know where the lab is; Marlene only said it was “somewhere out west.” They figure Tommy might know since he used to be a Firefly (even though Joel and Tommy aren’t on speaking terms, for some reason we don’t know yet). Some soldiers that were hunting them (for killing those two soldiers) show up and Tess buys them some time to escape by sacrificing herself –- she’d rather let them kill her than turn into one of the monsters.
After Joel and Ellie get away, Ellie starts apologizing to Joel and he gruffly cuts her off, laying down the law for her: don’t bring up Tess ever or talk about anything in the past, don’t tell anyone about her “condition,” and do what he says when he says. He’s very no-nonsense.
They go to see Joel’s friend Bill in a nearby town because he owes Joel some favors and might be able to get them a car. They set off all the booby traps Bill’s set up for protection so he’s already pissed at them, and Ellie pisses him off even more. Bill is a total dick to Ellie. The three of them are pretty amusing to watch, all of them sniping at each other. They have to go to the other side of town to get the right parts. Bill gets Joel some new gear (Ellie asks for a gun but they say no way). They end up at Bill’s old partner Frank’s house, and unfortunately find his body hanging from the ceiling. He has bite marks, so they figure he killed himself rather than turn. But there’s a truck there that they can push-start, with Ellie steering. When they get far enough away from the infected in the area to stop, Bill gives Joel something to siphon gas with…apparently lots of cars still have gas in them. They have like a quasi-bonding moment and then Bill tells Joel to get the fuck out of his town.
Joel drives to Pittsburgh. He’s amused that Ellie stole some shit from Bill’s place. A cassette tape, a comic book, and some gay porn which he makes her throw out the window, that part was pretty funny :) Ellie eventually falls asleep. They make it to Pittsburgh but are met by this band of people referred to as “hunters” –- and crash the truck. Joel knows their ways because he used to be like them… kill or be killed, survival of the fittest, all that. Ellie asks him if he’s killed innocent people and he grunts assent.
At one point, they get separated when Joel falls down an elevator shaft in a hotel they’re passing through. He tells Ellie to stay put, that he’ll make his way up to her. He takes a long-ass time though (especially when I play cuz I’m slow, lol) so Ellie gets worried and goes looking for him. She finds him just in time to shoot a guy who’s about to kill him.
She’s clearly shaken by killing the guy. She says it looked like it was either him or Joel… so she HAD to. Joel scolds her for not doing what he said and staying where she was. She’s like “yeah but good thing I didn’t, right?” and he says no because he almost got his head blown off by a “goddamn kid.” She gets angry and says he should thank her for saving his ass. Annoyed, he just says they need to get moving. Then Ellie gives him attitude about every little thing in the next part, she’s totally sarcastic and snippy to him. I love her :)
In one area where there’s a large amount of hunters to take out in the street below, Joel tells Ellie to stay in this one spot, and she starts saying how stupid it is, that he should let her go down there and help him –- and he says he IS letting her help, from up there: he gives her a rifle. Says she seems to know her way around a gun. He shows her a couple things and says if he gets in trouble she needs to make every shot count. She assures him she can do it. He says “just so we’re clear about back there… it WAS either him or me,” then leaves. Ellie understands that’s his way of saying thank you and mumbles “you’re welcome” to herself as he leaves, and clearly she’s pleased.
They kick some ass… Ellie does pretty well with the rifle so Joel takes a pistol off one of the bodies and hands it to Ellie “for emergencies only.” Joel’s definitely warmed up to Ellie a lot more by this point, answering her questions about the way the world used to be and stuff. One of my favorite bits is when she sees a poster with a skinny model on it, and says to Joel that she thought he said they had lots of food back then? He says they did, but some people chose not to eat it. She finds that so bizarre. She asks him why, and he says “for looks.” Well, Joel, there’s more to it than that, but okay :) Ellie thinks that’s completely stupid.
They go through what they expect to be an abandoned apartment building but as Joel climbs through the window he gets attacked by a survivor. They fight until a young boy comes into the room pointing a gun at Joel. We meet twenty-five-year-old Henry and his twelve-year-old brother, Sam. Henry figures Joel isn’t “one of them” because he has a kid and “they don’t keep kids around.” Henry says they’re trying to get out of town too and they decide to team up… safety in numbers and all. Henry leads them to a hideout they’ve been staying in. The guys talk, each wary of the other, while the kids talk, and we see Ellie and Sam laughing together, acting like kids, basically. Henry says he can’t remember the last time the boy even cracked a smile. He keeps trying to ask Joel about Ellie and Joel keeps changing the subject.
It turns out Henry’s trying to find the Fireflies too. He’s supposed to meet with any surviving members of their group tomorrow at a radio tower just outside of town, so they need to leave tonight, while the soldiers guarding the perimeter are a skeleton crew.
Skeleton crew, my ass! There’s still shitloads of soldiers. They get out though, with soldiers on their tail… they find a truck to climb on where they can get out of the little area they’re boxed in. Joel boosts everyone up to the ladder on top of it, first Henry then Sam then Ellie. It breaks when Ellie’s on it but Henry pulls her up the rest of the way. Now they can’t get Joel up, though. The soldiers are about to bust through a nearby gate. Henry says he’s sorry but they have to go. Ellie jumps back down to be with Joel, because “we stick together.” Aww. It’s like Titanic only without the romance!
And they do find a way out. They end up being chased onto a broken bridge –- they can’t get across. While Joel’s trying to figure out where to go before the soldiers catch up to them, Ellie –- who can’t swim –- tells Joel to keep her afloat and bravely jumps into the river, leaving Joel no choice but to jump in after her.
Cut to a beach, Joel is unconscious… he wakes up and sees Henry and Sam are there with Ellie. He attacks Henry then points a gun at him, angrily accusing him of leaving them there to die. Henry tells him he knew they had a good chance of making it and see? they did! He said he couldn’t put Sam at risk and wouldn’t Joel have done the same thing if the tables were turned, and they SAVED him and Ellie by pulling them out of the water, which Ellie confirms.
They all go scavenge for supplies and fight off lots of infected and make it to the radio tower; no one else is there and Henry worries no one else will show up. That night, Joel and Henry bond over motorcycles and Ellie goes in the other room to see Sam, who is distant with her. He asks her about what she’s scared of, and they talk… she’s afraid of ending up alone, he’s afraid that the infected are really people trapped inside with no control over their bodies. Ellie says no, they’re not people anymore, they’ve “moved on”, but admits she doesn’t really believe in the afterlife. She gives him a toy robot that he’d found before that Henry wouldn’t let him keep cuz they “only take what they need”… Ellie smuggled it out for him and says if Henry doesn’t know about it he can totally keep it. Sam doesn’t say anything. When she leaves, he tosses it on the floor and looks at his leg, which is all scratched up…infected :(
The next morning, Sam is the last to wake up. Ellie goes to the other room to wake him and he attacks her, pushing her through the door into the other room –- he’s turning into one of the infected. Joel goes for a gun but Henry grabs his first and shoots a warning shot towards Joel, who stops while Henry points the gun at him. After a second though he goes for his gun anyway to help Ellie, and we hear another shot… but it’s Henry shooting Sam, not Joel. Ellie scrambles over to Joel. I just watched this scene recently since I wanted to write fic about the time right after it, and I specifically watched Joel… he put his hand on her back and asked if she was okay and kept his eyes on her long enough that it feels like he really cares about her by this point. Henry points the gun at them. Joel tells Ellie to stay there and he stands up in front of her to face Henry and try to talk him down. Henry’s freaked about Sam and says it’s all Joel’s fault… Joel tries to get him to give up the gun, but Henry puts the gun to his own temple and pulls the trigger.
So now it’s probably a couple months later, and we’re in Wyoming. Jackson County. Joel knows he can find Tommy if they just follow the river. Ellie asks Joel why he and Tommy had a falling out and Joel says vaguely that they saw the world in different ways. Tommy’s last words to him were that he never wanted to see him again, years ago. They find a child-sized grave and Ellie regrets that she forgot to leave Sam that robot when they buried him… Joel reminds her they’re not talking about that (later on, while looking at the robot in her backpack, Ellie also regrets that she wasn’t more comforting to Sam that last night… and yes I mention this detail cuz I wrote that fic :D).
They come to a hydroelectric power plant and it turns out that’s where Tommy is, with his wife, Maria. He gives Joel a hug (so much for never wanting to see him again!) and shows him around. They have a town not far away with actual electricity thanks to this dam, and Maria runs the place -- she started up the settlement with her father. Maria takes Ellie to get some food while the brothers talk. Tommy tries to give Joel a picture of Joel and Sarah that he found, but Joel won’t take it.
Joel gets Tommy up to speed on his mission, and asks Tommy to take Ellie the rest of the way. “They’re your boys,” he says. Tommy says no way, he has a family now, and his friends here have families too, they’re not going to risk their necks. Joel gets angry and says it’s for Tommy’s cause (saving mankind), not his, and that Tommy owes him because Joel took care of him for all those years. Tommy says he’s got nothing but nightmares from those years. It’s not explained further than that but apparently all the killing they were doing to survive really affected Tommy, the more sensitive of the two brothers. They get in each other’s faces and nearly come to blows, but then an alarm sounds… they’re under attack!
After the fighting, Tommy rushes over to Maria and Joel goes to Ellie. Tommy watches Joel as he soothes her, and makes up his mind right there to help him out and bring her to the Fireflies, if he can convince Maria.
Then we’re outside and Maria is yelling at Tommy about how she doesn’t want to be a widow etc. while Joel hangs out nearby. Ellie asks Joel what they’re fighting about, if it has anything to do with her, and he blows her off. She leaves. Maria finally relents and tells Joel if anything happens to Tommy it’s on him. Tommy tells Joel he’ll take Ellie, Joel says “it’s better this way”, Tommy says maybe some real good will come of this… and then someone radios Tommy to say Ellie took off on one of their horses. She’s figured out Joel plans to ditch her.
The brothers hop on horses themselves and track her to a ranch house nearby. Joel yells at her for running off, says her life is worth too much for her to be so stupid… and Tommy knows the area better than he does so she’ll be better off with Tommy. She calls bullshit and asks what he’s so afraid of… then says Maria told her about Sarah, and she reminds him that she’s not Sarah, she can’t get infected. Joel warns her to shut up. They have this really awful fight that makes me cry every time :( She says she’s sorry about Sarah but she’s lost people too… Joel says she has no idea what loss is… Ellie scoffs at that and says everyone she’s ever cared about has either left her or died, except for Joel, and she wouldn’t be better off without him, she’d just be more scared. He says she’s right: she’s NOT his daughter, and he sure as hell isn’t her dad, and they’re going their separate ways. Then Tommy comes in to warn them of another fight… hunters coming in the house.
The three of them ride away after the fight, all somber and silent. Tommy leads them to a spot that overlooks his town. Joel asks Tommy where the lab is and how to find it, then tells Ellie to hand her reins to Tommy and climb on up behind him, if Tommy will let him borrow the horse. Tommy and Ellie are like “WTF.” Tommy asks what he’s doing and Joel says Maria kinda scares him and he doesn’t want her coming after him. Ha! Ellie understands he’s changed his mind about them going separate ways and she’s happy now. Tommy tells him there’s a place for him here in Jackson if he wants it.
They go to find the lab at a university in Colorado. We learn that Joel never went to college because he had Sarah so young… but he wanted to be a singer. Ellie asks him to sing and he refuses. They find the lab and all the Fireflies there are dead too. One of the recordings they found says that the ones still trying to save the world have moved on to a hospital in Salt Lake City. Before they can leave though some hunters show up.
Joel fights with one and gets an absolutely horrifying injury, falling onto a rebar that impales him. Ellie makes her way down and pulls him up off of it. He’s bleeding all over the place. This part was fucking scary to play because now you can’t move very well, the controller throbs like a heartbeat, your vision goes in and out of focus… it’s very ominous. Ellie leads them out, shooting anyone who gets in the way. You can’t shoot or do anything to assist her, it’s a really helpless feeling. She tries to get him to put his arm around her so she can help him walk but he stubbornly refuses… until finally he can’t anymore because he physically can’t go any further on his own. They hobble along and she says if she gets them out of there, he’s totally gonna sing for her, and he chuckles. Aww.
They make it out to the horse and leave… but then Joel passes out and falls off the horse. Ellie frantically tries to wake him up, saying she needs him to tell her what to do. He doesn’t wake up. This part usually makes me cry too :(
Now we’re playing as Ellie and I start freaking out. I’m like NO NO NO NO HE CAN’T BE DEAD IS HE DEAD?! and my fucking brother sits there not saying a word. I remember how we played as Sarah first and she died, so it’s not like this game won’t kill a playable. I wonder if it’s a pass-the-torch thing here from Joel to Ellie. Then I get pissed off and start whining about how I don’t WANT to play as Ellie, this sucks, I can’t believe this, I hate this game, JOEL BETTER BE ALIVE. My brother does finally speak up to chastise me for bitching about being Ellie, because he says it’s a privilege. Pfffffft. Hey, I love Ellie, but IT’S WAY EASIER BEING JOEL.
I can’t remember if I made him play that first part for me or not, I think he made me do it as it’s just hunting a deer with a bow and arrow. The scene opened with Ellie shooting an arrow through a rabbit in the snow. Back in summer when she’d see a bunny in the woods, she’d comment like “aww cute” and now she’s killing them… I thought that was a nice transition as things continue to get bleaker (er, when I was done being pissed off, that is).
Ellie meets a pair of men named David and James. She aims her bow at them while they talk. They want some of the deer she just shot. They offer to trade her for it. She asks if they have medicine, she’ll give them the whole deer for that. At this point I practically jump for joy BECAUSE FUCK YEAH JOEL MUST STILL BE ALIVE! David sends James to get some penicillin and a syringe.
Meanwhile they have to fight off some infected… David comments that they make a good team. Ellie, echoing Joel, says they got lucky. He says he doesn’t believe in luck, then tells her about how he sent a group of men to a nearby town to look for food and only a few came back… the others got killed by a “crazy man traveling with a little girl.” Ellie pulls her gun out and he tells her to calm down, it’s okay, it’s not her fault, she’s just a kid. He tries to get her to join them. He says he can protect her. But when James returns with the medicine, she takes it and bails.
She rides back to this garage and inside we finally see Joel (yay!) laying on a mattress, all feverish. She injects him with the penicillin and lays next to him on the ground to go to sleep. My brother said he kept quiet so I would have the full emotional experience… and I’m glad he did, even if I did have to suffer for a little bit!
Ellie wakes up when she hears men outside and realizes David tracked her here. She decides to ride out to lure them away because Joel’s in no condition to fight. She successfully gets them to chase her, but they shoot the horse :(
They chase her and Ellie does pretty well for a little girl… but eventually David captures her, knocks her out, and throws her in a pen somewhere. When she wakes up, she sees a guy outside her cage chopping up a human body. David is still trying to get her to join forces with him. She plays nice to get him to come closer, then she breaks his finger and makes a grab for his keys… but fails to get them. And now David is REALLY pissed off. He leaves.
Cut to Joel. He wakes up, and I am so happy to be playing as him again, I gotta tell ya!
The downloadable content is a nice addition to this part of the game, and now that I’ve played through a few times I always stop at the first part of Winter and switch to play that. It intermingles Ellie getting the injured Joel to safety and finding supplies to stitch him up, with flashbacks to the day Ellie got bitten. Both involve shopping malls. The present day mall is run-down and deserted, except for soldiers and infected. The flashback one in Boston is deserted but in better shape and even looks magical at one point when they get the merry-go-round lit up and moving. Ah, I’m ahead of myself -- Ellie and her best friend Riley snuck out of their school to go run around the mall, and there’s some fun stuff to play here. FUN, as in, not involving murder, lol. They play games like water gun fights and throwing bricks at cars, and look around a Halloween store (Ellie doesn’t get the concept of people liking scary/creepy stuff for Halloween).
There’s a lot of backstory hinted at for Riley and Ellie and there’s a comic series dedicated to them which I won’t get into. Riley, two years older than Ellie, left to go join the Fireflies, but she and Ellie had some kind of falling out first so she didn’t say anything to Ellie and Ellie thinks she’s dead. Riley shows up in Ellie’s room in the wee hours, wakes her up, and drags her on said adventure to the mall. She tells her she has to leave the next day so this is their last hurrah… unless Ellie wants her to stay. Ellie tells her to go, grumpily, then later as they bond more, she says it in a more heartfelt way.
They dance to “I Got You, Babe” and Ellie’s all happy… now she asks Riley NOT to leave, and Riley throws her Firefly pendant on the ground. Ellie kisses her, then is like OOPS -- but Riley says it’s okay. It’s a sweet moment but interrupted by infected getting into the mall and chasing them.
The girls hold them off for a little while but eventually both of them get bitten. Ellie wonders what they should do. Riley lays out their options. They decide not to blow their brains out, but to wait it out… to be “poetic” and lose their minds together. Riley says they need to fight for every second they have with each other -- and that meshes nicely with the present-day story of Ellie fighting to keep Joel alive as long as possible, even though it looks hopeless.
We don’t see Riley turn. There’s plenty of fic about it but I’m afraid if I read it, I won’t ever write anything about it myself. Ah, decisions.
Back to the main game. Joel can move around but he’s slower than usual. He makes his way into town, fights some guys, and ties up two of them so he can
Cut to Ellie. David is tired of trying to turn Ellie to his side and decides to kill her. He and this other guy get her on the chopping block and he’s about to swing the cleaver when she cries out that she’s infected, and now he is too. They pause. She tells them to roll up her sleeve and look for themselves. They look and they’re like OH SHIT but skeptical because David’s been around her long enough that she would have turned by now. While they’re a bit distracted from killing her, Ellie manages to get away and run out of there.
David eventually catches up to her in this steakhouse, they struggle and knock a lantern over, causing the restaurant to catch fire… Ellie gets away and then we have a cool “boss fight.” This is the only part of the game that makes me cry out in surprise/fear, it’s awesome. You have to sneak up behind David three times to attack him with your switchblade. If he sees you, or approaches you from a different side, you’re dead. And the fucker is FAST! I lose track of him all the time in there. You have to be careful where you step because if you step on broken plates, he’ll hear you, and if you get too close to the fire, you’ll cough and he’ll hear you. After the third time, the boss fight is over but he’s not dead… they struggle and both end up unconscious.
Back to Joel. Joel finds the place Ellie was being held, and retrieves her backpack. He sees all the humans hanging like it’s a butcher shop and there’s a log about how many pounds of flesh were being brought in… he’s now even more frantic to find Ellie. He sees the burning steakhouse and heads there (I guess figuring that the blaze means people were/are there?).
Back to Ellie. She wakes up. She’s lost her knife but she sees David’s machete on the floor nearby and starts crawling towards it. David has woken up too and he stops her. He can’t see the knife because it’s hidden from his view, under a table. He flips her over onto her back and tells her she has no idea what he’s capable of, she’s still like “fuck you”, defiant ‘til the end. They don’t show it but he’s trying to rape her when she finally manages to grab the machete and strike him.
She sits on him and starts stabbing him in the face over and over, way more than she has to -- until Joel comes in and pulls her away. She’s so riled up she doesn’t even notice it’s him at first. He calms her down and hugs her, tells her it’s okay now, and says stuff to her that we don’t get to hear. But we do hear him call her “baby girl,” which is what he called Sarah in the first scene of the game… it seems he’s now accepted Ellie as a daughter ♥
Now Joel is clearly WAY more open with Ellie. He even offers up things about his own past. But Ellie is now a lot more quiet and subdued than before. She spaces out and doesn’t always hear him. Joel seems annoyed by this at times but he’s also concerned about her.
At one point Ellie gives Joel the pic that Tommy had, of Joel and Sarah. She swiped it for him (honestly, I don’t know how –- the logistics don’t make sense here!). And this time Joel doesn’t refuse it. He says something about not being able to escape your past no matter what you do… but he thanks Ellie. Ellie empathizes with him about how hard it must have been for him to lose Sarah, and to lose the whole world that he knew… and he actually tells her it’s okay. Aww.
They’re in Salt Lake City heading towards the hospital where the Fireflies are supposed to be. They cut through a building where Joel has to boost Ellie up and she drops a ladder down for him. Up there, she gets excited about something and takes off running. Not knowing if it’s good or bad, Joel scrambles to follow her… she’s watching a herd of giraffes moving around outside. One of them is eating leaves off a tree right in front of where they’re standing. Joel goes to pet it and Ellie worries he’ll scare it off but he doesn’t, and beckons her closer to pet it. She’s awestruck. They go up another floor and watch them from a better vantage point for a few minutes.
Joel is clearly affected by this and when they start to leave, he tells Ellie they don’t have to do this, that they can go back to Tommy’s and live there, just forget this whole thing. She says no, they’ve come all this way and it can’t be for nothing, not after everything she’s done. Joel seems disappointed. As they leave, he tells Ellie he’s not leaving the city without her… and it’s not like that was even a worry that she voiced, he just tells her anyway. Aww.
There’s a flooded tunnel right in front of the hospital. They try to navigate through it but both of them end up falling in the water, and Ellie can’t swim. Joel pulls her out of the water and realizes her heart’s stopped, he starts doing CPR and these soldiers come up and tell him to put his hands in the air. Joel doesn’t because he’s busy trying to revive Ellie, and they knock him out.
He wakes up in a hospital bed, and Marlene is there. He asks to see Ellie, and she tries to tell him she’s fine, he doesn’t have to worry about her any more, he can just go on his way now. Joel insists on seeing her. Then she’s forced to tell him he can’t, because she’s being prepped for surgery. The Cordyceps had spread inside her and if they remove it they can reverse-engineer a vaccine. Joel protests that it grows all over the brain, and she says yes it does, and gives him a look… he understands they’re sacrificing Ellie’s life for this. He argues with Marlene but she’s not changing her mind.
I HATE Marlene. I was never a big fan of her but after reading the comics and finding out she only knew Ellie for a YEAR, not for Ellie’s whole life like she says to Joel, makes me so mad! She acts like this is really hard for her, that she can’t stand it, blah blah. Wouldn’t you think “watch over my kid” means, you know, have some kind of RELATIONSHIP with her? Not watch from afar but wait until she’s thirteen to introduce yourself?! But I digress. Marlene leaves and tells a soldier to march Joel out of the building -- if he tries anything, shoot him.
Well, of course he tries something, and of course he wins, because he’s Joel :) He torture-interrogates the dude until the guy tells him where surgery is, then kills the guy anyway, like he always does. The gunshots alarm the other soldiers in the building though, and now we’re at our final battle, to get through all the Firefly soldiers and get to Ellie in time. Along the way we find more recordings, some from that bitch Marlene, one by a surgeon… it’s clear they’re intending to kill Ellie.
Joel finds Ellie unconscious in a hospital gown with a few doctors around her ready to cut (conveniently they haven’t done anything yet, didn’t even shave her head). You can choose to kill just the one doctor standing in your way or kill everyone in the room. Joel gathers Ellie in his arms and coos to her a little, calling her baby girl again, and it’s just AWWWWW. He goes to leave and there are still soldiers coming after him, he can’t fight while holding Ellie so he has to dodge them and make it out to the exit (I say he could totally shoot them while carrying her, but the game won’t let you).
Marlene catches up to him outside and tries to guilt him into making the “right” decision, returning Ellie to them. She says it’s what Ellie would want, and we see Joel kinda thinks that too. Then we see him driving away in some car that was conveniently there.
I didn’t believe for one second that he didn’t take Ellie with him but I think that’s what we’re supposed to wonder about at that point. He flashes back to the scene with Marlene and we see that he shoots her, non-fatally, to escape with Ellie. Then he goes back, she pleads for her life, and he says she’d only come after Ellie, so he blows the bitch’s head off.
Ellie wakes up in the backseat of the car all groggy, wondering what happened. Joel lies! He tells her they found the Fireflies, but there were a lot of others there like her, immune, and they hadn’t been able to find a cure, in fact they’ve stopped looking. Ellie’s disappointed. Joel says he’s sorry, and she rolls over and goes back to sleep.
The car breaks down pretty close to Jackson. They’re approaching the town and Ellie stops Joel. She tells him how her best friend Riley was with her when she got infected, and she was the first to die from this, then Tess, then Sam… when is it her turn? Joel tells her none of that is on her, she’s a survivor and just has to find something to fight for (clearly Ellie is now his thing to fight for)… the girl has some major survivor’s guilt issues though. Can’t blame her. Then she asks Joel to swear that everything he told her about the Fireflies is true. He looks her right in the eye and swears. She doesn’t seem to quite believe him, but she says okay.
There is a so-called epilogue, but since it’s not available for us to analyze for ourselves, and the accounts I’ve read are conflicting in some ways, I don’t accept it as canon. Epilogue shmepilogue!
A note about pairing Joel & Ellie: The creators of the game only intended for this to be a father/daughter relationship, and that’s the way I see them when I play the game. In fact, I was appalled at first to find people pairing them in fic. But… then I read one of the stories and kinda liked it :) I have a thing for big age differences, what can I say. And it’s fiction, a different ‘verse from ours, not real life. However, I understand why people have issues with Joellie (esp. having felt the revulsion for like 5 minutes myself, lol) and will label my stuff appropriately. Anything of mine set within the timeline of the game won’t be explicit anyway… I just don’t see it happening then.
If you read through all that, I love you and I thank you for taking the time :D