PSX 2016 was the hotbed for a number of big announcements, including an update on the Crash Bandicoot remaster, a new Death Stranding trailer, and...a sequel to Knack. Hey, it can’t all be amazing all the time, I guess.
But the most significant announcement of the day was The Last of Us Part II, a direct sequel to Naughty Dog’s 2013 apocalyptic opus starring Joel and Ellie, two survivors on a journey across a ruined America.
The trailer was only four minutes long and didn’t appear to offer much information on the surface. But, that hasn’t stopped us from going wild with speculation and theories. So, what exactly was going on in that trailer, and what could it mean for the upcoming sequel?
***Spoilers for The Last of Us Ahead***
Everything is Overgrown
It’s unclear how much time has passed since the first game, but clues in the environment suggest it’s been several years. Foliage is more overgrown than before, cars and buildings are doubly decayed, and nature is slowly reclaiming the land.
One of the most significant parts of the trailer, however, is the symbol seen on the stop sign of this neighborhood:
Those who played The Last of Us will recognize that symbol as that of the Fireflies, a resistance group dedicated to finding a cure for the cordyceps virus. They’re a massive point of contention in the original game, as their actions to possibly obtain a cure could only be obtained by killing Ellie in the process. To avoid this, Joel saves her, kills everyone in the building, and eventually lies to Ellie by telling her they were unable to do anything with her DNA.
Seeing the sign here is significant, because it suggests there’s still turmoil between Ellie, Joel, and this group. Are the corpses inside the house old Firefly operatives? It’s unclear, but the possibility is very good.
Ellie’s All Grown Up
Ellie was around 14 in The Last of Us. Here, she looks like she’s in her very late teens, possibly early twenties (EDIT: Druckmann recently confirmed she's about 19 years old at the start of the game, making it five years since we last saw her). She’s taller, her features are more refined, and she’s sporting an impressive tattoo of leaves on her forearm.
It’s unclear if there’s any sort of significance to the tattoo on her forearm in the game, but it was used on a hand model as part of new tech Naughty Dog is integrating into their creation.
There’s one other thing worth noting in this trailer that may be of some significance in TLoU Part II’s story: in this trailer, Ellie is dressed in the same outfit as what Riley was wearing when they were last together. We know canonically that Ellie is gay, and Riley was one of the first girls she’s ever had feelings for. Her feelings were strong enough that Riley’s death motivated her to willingly sacrifice herself to save other people. It’s possible she’s learned new details about the death of her friend and love interest that have re-opened old wounds that could be driving her toward revenge. Riley was given a pretty definitive end in the Left Behind DLC, but there's no telling what sort of revelations could inspire Ellie's pain and rage.
Or, it’s also possible she just raided a closet and found a cool jean shirt. But trailers often hide clues, and this is a more obscure nod that could suggest a lot down the line.
Joel Makes an Appearance...Sort Of
It’s important to note that we never see Joel’s face in this trailer. We see his silhouette, his feet, his hand holding a revolver, and we hear his voice. But we never see his face.
There are two possible reasons for this. One, The Last of Us Part II is solely focused on Ellie’s story, which is why we don’t see much of Joel. Too much of his presence would suggest it might be a dual protagonist situation as it was in the original game. With him barely being present, we’re told through subtext that this is Ellie’s story, Ellie’s time for revenge. He’s merely an accessory.
The other, less likely theory: Joel is dead, and appears to Ellie either as a hallucination or as a manifestation of her consciousness. He’s not shaken by anything he sees in the house, seemingly mere moments after Ellie has unleashed a bloody massacre on several large men. He’s carrying a gun in his hand, but apparently hasn’t used it in this altercation. And the way he calmly approaches her and asks her to dictate their next move could possibly be Ellie imagining him as a comforting mentor figure while she processes the next step forward.
Either way, I don’t expect him to stick around too long. He’s getting old, and it’s tough to fight for survival in the apocalyptic wild when you’re pushing into your 60s.
The song Ellie plays in this trailer--“Through the Valley” by Shawn James--suggests a lot about Ellie’s current emotional and mental state. Particularly the last line, which she repeats:
“I can’t walk on the path of the right, because I’m wrong.”
Ellie is a changed woman. She’s seen and done some awful things that have forever torn away what shreds of innocence she once had, and this song seems like a deliberate way to communicate all that. There’s also a lot of lyrics suggesting how she’s familiar with evil and will kill her enemies without hesitation. For what looks like a story of hate and revenge, this is a fitting anthem.
What Does it All Mean?
There are a handful of major theories out there about what The Last of Us Part II could be dealing with, but one in particular holds the greatest amount of water and was started by piecing together this trailer and a significant Easter Egg found in Uncharted 4:
There are two major thoughts on this image. Either 1) the young woman in this image is an impregnated Ellie wandering the wasteland, or 2) her mother.
The first is confusing when you consider Ellie’s gay, but it’s important to remember her immunity to the cordyceps fungus and how valuable that makes her. Consider this teaser image released not too long ago:
This image is significant when coupled with the trailer, where she’s with her own guitar. But the soldiers in the background don’t look like average bandits or scavengers. They look organized and well-off, hunting her down. What if they theorized Ellie’s potential progeny could also be resistant to the fungus, and therefore impregnated her to conduct experiments? That alone is such a great violation of Ellie’s autonomy and agency that it could be a driving factor to her rage. I’m not a huge fan of using rape or unwanted pregnancy as a plot point in a story, but it could be effective if its portrayal is handled with care, and it could certainly justify the feelings she has.
The second is even more interesting. We don’t know a ton about Ellie’s past, including who her parents were. It could be this is her mother, wandering the wasteland while carrying a child. Perhaps Ellie discovers something about her mother that inspires her hatred? At this point, it remains pure speculation. But this is a story focused on one of the most interesting characters to appear in years, and we can’t wait to learn more.