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Top 5 Emotional Moments in The Last of Us (*SPOILERS*)

The Last of Us Artwork

There is little doubt (in my mind, but also in the general opinion of the gaming press or so it seems) that The Last of Us is the most emotionally intense game released this year, and a strong contender for most emotionally driven game of all time. The entire game seems designed to swing us from one emotional climax to the next, mixing its often brutal gameplay with a deeply psychological plot in what I can only assume is a direct attempt to mess with the players mind.

Potential conspiracy theories aside, I thought it would be fun to recount some of my most emotional moments from throughout The Last of Us (obviously, in case you didn’t get it from the title, heavy spoilers from this point on):

5.       Ellie Fights David

Jumping pretty late in the game with my number five moment, a part that I’m sure everyone found emotionally charged was Ellie’s final confrontation with David – or more specifically, the reunion of Ellie and Joel following this boss fight of sorts. It’s emotional for a number of reasons; Joel has only just recovered from his injury at the university, Ellie has finally taken charge and shown that she is a survivor in her own right and the ominous presence of David, leader of a large band of cannibals, has finally been taken care of. Whether it was one of these things or all of them working together, I doubt that anyone got through this part without a little tug on their heart strings.

4.       Giraffes

This is a moment which has been talked about repeatedly in the gaming press, and for good reason. Coming almost at the end of the game and directly preceding the final confrontation and ultimate resolution of the game’s events, it presents an odd moment of calm at a time where the relationship between the main two characters is rocky to say the least. There is a hesitancy between both Ellie and Joel at this point, they are almost to the Fireflys and neither knows what to expect and yet we can sense Joel is almost sure they should just back away – but Ellie is insistent on moving forward. Then they climb through a decaying building and…. Wow. A flock (a herd? That sounds better) of giraffes stride majestically in front of them, visible from a large hole in the side of the building, and everything sort of, stops for a second. There is a kind of purgatory moment where both characters know they can’t move backward, and yet are concerned about moving forward, and so are lost in watching this potent symbol of resilience and survival, such exotic creatures which have obviously endured since the fall of the zoos 20 years earlier – it really is a special moment, not unlike a moment I remember from Bioshock Infinite involving a guitar.

3.       Henry’s Suicide

Swinging from one absolute to another here, the joy-tinged awe the player (and the characters) feel at the appearance of the giraffes is only matched by the shock and horror of the death of Sam and his older brother Henry’s suicide. These two survivors are encountered almost incidentally during the first half of the game and seem like they might be around for a few minutes or so… and yet they endure for a full hour or more of gameplay. In fact just at the point that the player (or at least in my case) is thinking “maybe there is something more to these guys” BAM they get killed off. Sam is infected and dies suddenly, so suddenly, at the hands of his brother – who immediately, in his grief, takes his own life. It’s a moment that should have caused anyone playing to put down the controller for a second, and really think about what the fuck just happened. And those moments are pretty rare in gaming.

2.       Joel Rescues Ellie from Surgery

Taking the silver medal in what I’m sure will be an upset of a choice by me, is the heart pounding climax of The Last of Us. Ellie, unconscious and prepped for surgery, lies attended by three Firefly surgeons who plan on surgically removing her brain – basically killing her despite everything she has done to get to them. The player feels mixed, getting a cure is the vehicle for the games events and yet letting this girl die, who we have spent the whole 17 hours of the game getting to know, feels against every instinct we have. Joel makes the decision for us, decimating the Firefly guards and killing at least one of the surgeons in order to retrieve Ellie and escape with her to a better life. Perhaps the most interesting decision here from Naughty Dog was to let the player decide how this event plays out, whether you brutally kill all three surgeons or just disarm the main one who is about to cut into Ellie is up to you. No matter what I’m confident in saying this emotionally charged climax was powerful for everyone who experienced it, more powerful than virtually every event which preceded it.

Except for one.

1.       The Death of Sarah

That’s right, my most emotional moment from The Last of Us occurs barely 10 minutes into the game – when Joel has to watch his 12 year old daughter die, unnecessarily, in his own arms. It’s the perfect storm; both informing everything that comes after it in terms of plot and character dynamics as well as being an intensely powerful scene in its own right. The beginning of the game has been called “the best horror movie ever written” and while I can’t confirm or deny that diagnosis there is one thing I can definitely agree with – this scene had me in tears, and I barely even knew these characters yet. I’ve written about it before, but there is something about being put in the shoes of a character, walking around her room, running scared from a zombie menace and then just… dying. At the hands of someone just doing their job. Words can’t really describe it, but for me at least I found that incredibly written and amazingly animated death more emotionally gripping than ten Henry suicides combined. I don’t want to say it was perfect, but I can definitely say it came damn close.

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