Warning: This article contains massive spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.
It’s nearly been a month since the release of The Last of Us Part II, and it’s safe to say many of us are still trudging our way out of a potent gaming hangover. It’s not often that we receive a gaming phenomenon as high a caliber as Naughty Dog’s beloved franchise, which makes it all the more nerve-wracking when a new iteration arrives at our fingertips. Luckily, Part II proved to be a game well worth the wait, (you can read our review), but that doesn’t mean we haven’t already imagined what the future might hold.
With production on a TV adaptation of the first game already underway, fans won’t have to wait long for additional Last of Us content. Still, it’s undeniable that the fate of the original series is the most significant piece in this puzzle, especially when it comes down to the characters who will be in The Last of Us Part III.
I’ve found the longer I play around with different possibilities, the more natural it feels that Naughty Dog’s next zombie-laden adventure should give Ellie a rest, and instead shift focus over onto a new main character or two. Here’s why.
Ellie’s Character Arc Is Complete
We’ve already discussed what makes Part II‘s ending a perfect conclusion, but I’d go as far as to say this ending wasn’t just a magnificent way to wrap up Part II‘s specific storyline — it was an end for Ellie’s character arc.
If you’ve finished the game, then you probably understood that Ellie’s primary purpose in Part II was to resolve her hatred for Abby. By the end of the narrative, she loses nearly everything that mattered to her in her quest for revenge. Her friends, her family, and her guitar playing fingers — one of the last things still connecting her to Joel — are gone in one way or another. While her decision to spare Abby remained somewhat ambiguous, it’s clear that Ellie’s actions in Santa Barbara were final. No more thirsting for vengeance, no more hate-fueled violence.
Something We’ve Seen Before
So, where does that leave her character arc? Well, even though Ellie didn’t complete her main goal, the answer she received from these events is obvious: violence begets violence — a revelation that takes nearly the entire game for her to realize. As she leaves behind her quest for retaliation once and for all, Ellie’s future — while somber — appears more hopeful than one might’ve expected. Instead of allowing hatred to keep consuming her, she decides to regain the pieces of hope she’d lost sight of — in this case, Dina and J.J. — therefore setting her on a path for recovery.
Now, is this something that The Last of Us Part III could cover? Absolutely. But I’m not sure that makes it the right choice.
For one, this theme is very similar to what The Last of Us already explored, with Joel’s journey forcing him to confront the grief of losing his daughter through the parent-like bond he forms with Ellie. As this is (seemingly) the only route for Ellie to take on from here, it would be far more organic if The Last of Us Part III tackled another character’s journey. Specifically, one who allows the installment to reflect new themes. Besides, when Druckman himself admits it’s already difficult for him to justify another installment without a fresh idea, I wonder where that leaves Ellie.
Other Characters Have Larger Loose Ends
When it comes to leaving players with an overwhelming amount of questions left unanswered, The Last of Us franchise certainly sets the bar. Of course, these questions make Naughty Dog’s latest endeavor so great, but they might also hint towards where the characters in The Last of Us Part III could take us.
The Last of Us ended without offering much to soothe my curiosity. While much was left unsaid, I’d argue that most players felt Joel’s story came to an organic close. Once the credits rolled, you knew which character would benefit the most from a follow-up: Ellie. Unsurprisingly, that’s exactly what The Last of Us Part II did.
This time around, we saw Ellie deal with guilt surrounding her inability to help find a cure, her anger at Joel for robbing her of that choice, and — as a new addition — a journey of self-reflection as she sought revenge against Abby. Mostly all the questions from the original game’s ending are now answered, and we’re instead left with a set of new questions once Part II‘s credits roll. Only this time, Ellie’s loose ends aren’t so large anymore.
Let’s look at the most obvious question mark left by Part II: Abby and Lev. In their last scene, the pair are sailing away from Santa Barbara, presumably to find the Fireflies they’d made contact with earlier. Still, their farewell contains so much potential. Are the Fireflies still where they say they are? Or, will the two decide to skip the Fireflies, and instead carve out their own fate? (As a side note, I’d argue that Abby’s character arc feels just as completed as Ellie’s. Should the pair take the limelight once more in The Last of Us Part III, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Lev we’re given a deeper insight into.)
The same goes for Dina, who disappears from the game without as much spectacle, and yet has far more room for her character to be explored. Perhaps we might even see Part III follow its predecessor’s footsteps and skip ahead in time, allowing us to play as a young J.J. dealing with his own familial complications.
With everything considered, the question regarding which characters should lead the way in The Last of Us Part III is still a tough one to answer. To make things clear, I have nothing against Ellie’s character. In fact, I’m thrilled at the prospect of her joining us for another gory and emotionally tremulous adventure. However, I can’t help but wonder if that would be in the best interest of the overall story; we all know the dangers that come when a narrative unnecessarily drags on long after its resolution.
While I’d love to see Part II‘s cast return in the next installment, (and, in some form or another, they probably should), I hope Part III explores characters who have yet to receive the same emotional examination as Ellie. I’ll be just as sad as the next Last of Us fan to see her leave the game’s focus, but if Part II has taught us anything about how we treat our precious characters, it’s that we need to learn to let them go.