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The moral dilemma caused by ‘The Last of Us’ finale

The following contains spoilers for season 1 of “The Last of Us.”

 

This past Sunday night, March 12, HBO’s “The Last of Us aired its finale episode titled “Look for the Light.” The show has been a great success, raking in millions of viewers each week with its star-studded cast, led by none other than Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey. 

However, the contents of this last episode haven’t been as well received, and have sparked a great deal of online discourse concerning its moral ambiguity—what’s more important, one girl’s life, or the survival of the entire human race? 

To recap, Ellie (Ramsey) is humanity’s last hope. She is immune to the fungal (Cordyceps) virus which has been ravaging its way through the world. Infecting human hosts by turning them into aggressive, flesh-eating, mushroom-esque zombies. Tough guy Joel (Pascal), who has been grieving the loss of his daughter for the last 20 years, was tasked with transporting 14-year-old Ellie to the rebel group known as the Fireflies. The Fireflies are ready with doctors to “experiment” on Ellie in order to find a cure to the virus, hoping to then make vaccines which can be given to all. However, (spoiler alert) unbeknownst to Joel and Ellie, these procedures will be lethal. When Joel finds this out he goes on a killing spree, gunning down every soldier, doctor and nurse in his path in order to save Ellie. It is not difficult to see why audiences were torn. On one hand, here is this character whom we’ve all grown to adore—we don’t want to lose her, and we also don’t want to see Joel grieve another child. On the other hand, there is a very clear morally “right” choice—one life is not greater than thousands, even millions, right? 

This show has been received with tremendous support, with fans of the original source, a video game of the same name, stating it’s the best video game-to-screen adaptation of all time. The producers of the show, Craig Mazin and Neil Druckmann, have mentioned many times that this show aims to stay meticulously true to the original story, while also exploring deeper themes,  such as the cost of love and the devastation that pure, authentic love, such as the love a parent has for their child, can cause. Personal purpose is a powerful and destructive motivator for most of the characters. And the show poses the question, are you truly living if your only purpose is to survive? This show is hilarious, heart-wrenching and painstakingly specific with its details. However, has this final episode finally pushed things too far? Personally, I feel it’s the greatest showcase of its central theme yet. Joel refused to put Ellie’s life on the line; he wasn’t going to sit back and allow his child to be killed again, this time he was going to fight. He has lost one daughter, he will not lose another, even if that fight was against the entirety of humanity. But sometimes the right thing is the more difficult thing to do. Previously in this show we have seen people pull themselves apart in sacrifice for the ones they love. The shift in this episode means that Joel was not just risking all he had for Ellie, but also putting millions of other lives on the line. But what is a better show of love causing devastation than that?

Interesting is the response from medical professionals, who claim that the episode is full of medical malpractice. For instance, there is no ventilation tube in Ellie’s mouth while she is about to be operated on. There was also a severe lack of evidence that surgery would even work—they are being very risky, killing their only test subject before doing any actual tests. There is no medical imaging to show where the virus harbours in the body. Plus, before conducting such a risky procedure the patient should give informed consent. And even if this procedure did work, and a vaccine was created, how would it be widely distributed? Society has completely collapsed, is it even worth saving? Also ironically, as characters in the show themselves have reminded Ellie again and again, there is no solution or immunity to being ripped to shreds by zombies. Many viewers also claim there was an alternative choice, one which could have allowed Ellie to create a vaccine, while also sparing her life. But regardless of whether this vaccine would have been successful or not is beyond the point, because Joel himself was clueless. He had seconds to react and still picked Ellie’s life over anyone else’s. But where was Ellie in all of this? While Joel was busy doubling his body count, Ellie was lying unconscious. And to make matters worse, once she wakes in the back of a van, with Joel at the wheel, driving them away from a destroyed Fireflies camp, Joel lies to Ellie about why the procedure didn’t go through, stating that raiders came and attacked the camp while she was in surgery. What Joel did feels selfish, not for the sake of humanity, but for Ellie’s lack of choice. Joel denying her the truth at the end feels like the biggest betrayal yet. After building viewers’ relationships with this character, redeeming his atrocities for the past eight episodes and then showing us that although he has changed, and is fighting for Ellie’s life rather than his own. He is still capable of the same horrific violence as before. The show has been renewed for a second season, which will follow the second video game in the series “The Last of Us Part II. ” It’s set to premiere next year, so hopefully all our questions will be answered then. But for now we’re left with proof that love really does conquer all.

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