On Monday, Sony debuted their latest trailer for THE LAST OF US PART II at the 2018 PlayStation E3 conference. The trailer juxtaposed intimate cutscenes and brutal gameplay to highlight the dark character journey of protagonist Ellie. One moment she’s sharing a dance with an attractive girl, and the next moment she’s brutally murdering some scary psychopaths. Because the narrative takes place five years after the previous game, fans can only speculate on what has happened to set Ellie on this path.
This speculation is important because, as anyone who played THE LAST OF US will tell you, Ellie is f***ing awesome. It was her dynamic with protagonist Joel, after all, that made Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic survival game so critically acclaimed.
However, the game’s ambiguous ending left their surrogate father-daughter relationship in a state of moral uncertainty and untrustworthiness. So, from this trailer and those that proceeded it, what can we infer about the next chapter in Ellie’s story?
THE LAST OF US PART II Trailer 1: Through the Valley
Right out of the gate, THE LAST OF US PART II presents an older, slightly more vengeful Ellie. Plant tattoos adorn her right arm, a reminder of her immunity to the cordyceps infection. Her guitar-playing skills are a throwback to the previous game, in which Ellie asked Joel to teach her to play. Her bloody arms and clothes highlight involvement in a brutal and combative battle. The contrast of imagery is staggeringly effective.
Ellie’s song choice, “Through the Valley,” symbolizes her foreshadowed character arc. It speaks of one’s blindness to evil as a strength, despite fighting in an “evil” world. Metaphorically, Ellie perceives her violent actions as justification for avenging a previous tragedy committed against her. Therefore, she’s rationalizing her crimes against her current sense of self.
The re-appearance of Joel is one of mass fan speculation. Is he alive or a hallucination? What is his current role in Ellie’s life? Did she find out about his lie and, if so, how did it affect their relationship? We don’t know what happened but, despite obscuring his face, his expression is one of concern.
When asked if she’s “going to go through with this,” Ellie seems intent on killing every member of this group. This leaves us with a lingering question: what set Ellie on this path of vengeance?
THE LAST OF US PART II Trailer 2: Clip Her Wings
THE LAST OF US PART II’s second trailer is notable for being shot in a single take and presenting unflinching graphic violence. A number of critics commented on this trailer having a “torture porn” vibe and I’ll acknowledge it’s tough to watch. Nevertheless, this unflinching tone is definitely effective at establishing the new antagonist’s threat level. From their scripture-esque dialogue and commitment to brutality, one can only speculate on the nature of their survivalist agenda.
The cult leader, Emily, proceeds to hang an unnamed woman and then ruthlessly stab her in the stomach. This method seems to be common with their group, as a number of corpses surrounding her have had their stomachs cut open. However, this is interrupted by the discovery of a female trespasser named Yana, whom Emily proceeds to brutalize. The mention of Yana’s “wings” furthers my theory of the Fireflies organization fighting a more zealous subdivision of itself. This would suggest that trailer is a prequel to THE LAST OF US and addresses unanswered questions about society’s collapse.
Before any harm can befall them, an unseen archer violently murders Emily’s men with arrows. Emily is then by the unnamed woman who, in a moment of badassery, strangles the zealot with her legs. The archer, Lev, frees Yana and the mystery woman from their bonds, but not before referring to the latter as “one of them.” What they need her for is yet to be explained, but there’s no time as hordes of Clickers can be heard in the distance. The trailer ends with the three preparing to fight, yet never reveal to us the mystery woman’s identity.
Ellie’s mother perhaps?
THE LAST OF US PART II Trailer 3: Ellie is Terrifying
Monday’s trailer opens with something rather mundane for an apocalyptic horror shooter: a tent party. People are dancing and smiling with each other in what appears to be a functional community, all while Ellie sits on the sideline. She’s joined by a male friend named Jesse, who says her “old man” really laid into him about patrol patterns. This suggests that Joel is alive, though we still have no idea what their current relationship is like. She then shares a dance and kiss with a girl named Dina, who flirtatiously states that everyone should be “terrified” of Ellie.
This tender moment then cuts to a time jump of Ellie stabbing a man’s throat while wearing Gina’s bracelet on her arm. The switch to gameplay shows Ellie eluding the same fanatics from the previous trailer, now known as the Seraphites, all while observing their handiwork.
In one instance, they not only stab a man in the stomach but spill his entrails out as well. Given their interactions with the mystery woman, it’s clear this stomach stabbing is a calling card for the Seraphites’ values. They also communicate with one another through whistles.
Ellie is eventually spotted by the Seraphites, who address her by a rather violent codename: “Wolf.” From there, the gameplay becomes a series of shootouts and evasions as Ellie mercilessly takes down the cultist with extreme prejudice. That ruthlessness is probably the most significant new detail of Ellie’s character, as it shows her becoming more like Joel. The final gameplay moment shows her murdering the head Seraphite with a machete, right before transitioning back to the kiss with Gina.
What Does this all Mean?
Combined together, the trailers for THE LAST OF US PART II appear to be conceptualizing a story of revenge. Something drastic happened to Ellie, likely involving the tent community and Seraphites, that hurt her deeply enough to vow revenge. This will possibly tie into her learning the truth about what Joel did to the Fireflies five years ago, likely straining their relationship.
All this is pure speculation, but it’s a testament to Naughty Dog’s direction that fans are interested in Ellie’s arc. We care about this character and how her relationships, both familial and romantic, affect her development in turn. There’s no telling how Ellie will emerge from this conflict, but if the gameplay is any indication, it’s not pretty. Then again, that narrative of fleeting hope in the apocalypse is what made THE LAST OF US a phenomenal game.
Here’s hoping its sequel can do the same.