Holy Shit, Joel.
The end of the university section, where you're essentially controlling someone who's slowly dying and you have to rely on Ellie for once, was amazing. When Ellie was helping Joel up after his impalement, I suddenly realised that I was sitting forward on the sofa and every muscle in my body was tense. A game that can provoke that sort of physical reaction from me without my even being aware of it must be a hell of a game.
Sometimes the dialogue in this game really doesn't match what's actually happening onscreen, simply because I'm so bad at this genre.
David: (hands Ellie a hunting rifle) You know how to use this?
Ellie: Yeah, 'course. (shoots once, misses, ends up meleeing all the infected instead)
David: You weren't kidding; you're a better shot with that thing than I am.
That fight against David when he's got the machete, incidentally, was the worst thing that has ever happened. I realised whilst running away from him in terror that I was actually saying 'no-no-no-no-no-no-no' aloud.
Playing as Ellie was quite difficult to adjust to. It makes sense; Ellie and Joel are completely different physically, so of course they're different to play. My strategy up to Winter had very much been 'MELEE EVERYTHING' (my number of melee kills when I completed the game was more than double my number of kills with every firearm put together), but of course Ellie is much smaller and slighter than Joel and unlikely to come out unscathed if she engages all these muscular men in hand-to-hand combat. I found myself very much relying on bottles and bricks, which I'd largely ignored before. Just as well that I had to rethink my general strategy, because otherwise I'd have been so screwed in the David fight.
Speaking of David (allusion to attempted sexual assault; highlight to read): I didn't realise there was sexual intent in his last scene until Ellie's distressed 'He tried to—' afterwards. It's perhaps a little strange that I didn't clock it, given that I'd suspected him of having rather unsavoury proclivities since the last couple of scenes in the cabin where we first met him. I suppose I was watching too intently for button prompts to realise what was actually going on. On the one hand, I sort of wish I'd noticed, because it would probably have made the end of that scene even more effective. On the other, I'm sort of glad I didn't, because nobody needs that.
Seriously, seriously freaked out when Ellie was pitched into the water towards the end, just before the Fireflies found us. I knew she was drowning and I couldn't find her! 'Ellie? Ellie? Ellie? Ellie?' I kept saying aloud, because apparently some part of me believes that I can communicate with Ellie through the television screen. And then I found her and my freaking out because I couldn't find Ellie switched to freaking out because I couldn't find the surface. 'NO. Yes? Yes? No!' I can't remember the last time a videogame made me talk to the screen so much.
I was so determined not to drown. Rationally, I knew that I'd just be able to play through the short sequence again, but I had to bring Ellie to the surface. I couldn't let her drown. I just couldn't, even if it'd be undone in the next second or so.
Getting caught when you're trying to rescue Ellie at the end is the most horrible, horrible thing; rather than just having a quick death animation, you have to watch as she's torn away from you before getting a bullet through your head.
And then the ending!
I was quite glad that the credits were very plain, without any visual distractions, because they gave me time to get my thoughts about the final scene in order. Ellie knows Joel is lying. He probably knows that she knows. But by swearing to her that he isn't lying, he's claiming responsibility for the world. Ellie already feels the weight of all the people she thinks died because of her. A lot of people will die in the future because Ellie wasn't sacrificed for the vaccine. If Joel told Ellie the truth, she'd have to either sacrifice herself or live with their blood on her hands. But Joel is determined that these people will die because of him, not because of Ellie.
And he's also selfish, of course, and doesn't want to lose her. And it isn't the right thing to do at all. But it's the only thing he can do. And all Ellie can do is try to believe in this fragile fiction. If he told her the truth, she'd give herself up for the vaccine, but what can she do in this state of uncertainty? Just cling to the tiny possibility that maybe what Joel says is true, maybe she can just go on with her life without guilt, maybe there's no real reason she woke up drugged in a hospital gown.
Sooner or later it'll break down, but for now they both just have to keep pretending.
So I suppose, to sum up a great deal of rambling, that my interpretation of the ending has both Ellie and Joel sort of complicit in the loss of humanity's hope, although I don't like the word 'complicit' because I don't really blame Ellie for anything. By creating this lie, Joel is, in a way, giving Ellie an excuse to keep living. Ellie doesn't just sit back and let him - she presses hard on the lie, tries to see if she can break it - but when Joel takes full responsibility by swearing it's true she accepts it, because you can only fight so hard when the thing you're fighting for, your own death (because I'm sure she at least suspects that that's the reason Joel dragged her away from the hospital), is fucking terrifying.
That's how I interpret it, anyway. I don't know.
I suddenly thought of Tess an hour or so after finishing the game, and that's when Joel's actions at the end hit me really hard. Tess died for the hope that Ellie represented. There were a lot of heartbreaking deaths in this game, but in light of the ending Tess's in particular becomes so, so awful. Sarah, Sam and Henry died horrible, pointless deaths. Tess died for a cause, and in the end Joel rendered her death pointless as well.
But I can understand why. There's no option that isn't horrible. There's a huge gulf between theoretical questions about morality, the greater good, giving Ellie the agency to make a free choice, and the reality of losing the one thing you care about in this ruined world. When I was fighting my way to the operating room where Ellie was, I barely gave a thought to the rest of humanity. Ellie was in danger, and I was going to save her. I was very much Joel in that moment.
Joel's fault wasn't breaking Ellie out of the hospital, of course; it was lying to her afterwards. It wasn't right for Joel to make the decision for Ellie, but it wouldn't have been right for the Fireflies to make that decision either, even if the Fireflies' decision was probably the one Ellie would have made if she'd had all the information laid out in front of her.
I did feel like the worst person in the world when I killed the unarmed surgeons, though. Christ.
(EDIT: Augh, I just read an article about the ending and you don't have to kill all the surgeons? I didn't realise that! I feel awful!)
On a final, lighter note: I love that you get to press a button to high-five Ellie at the hydroelectric dam. Of course, this raises a question: what happens if you don't high-five Ellie, like some sort of monster? We'll never know, because nobody will ever have the heart to leave her hanging.
(EDIT: Here's my e-mail exchange with th_esaurus after she read this entry:
RD: lol i think i hated joel a lot more than you did in the immediate aftermath.
Riona: This game might as well be called The Last of Us (Because Joel Horribly Killed All the Rest of Us), so I suppose I don't have especially high moral expectations for Joel to disappoint!)
The Last of Us was an incredibly intense, brilliant experience. I recommend it very strongly.