The Last of Us season 1 ended with Joel taking out the Fireflies to save Ellie. Is Joel a hero or a villain? His questionable decision at the end of The Last of Us raises ethical questions about parenting and responsibility to humanity at large. And were there important differences from the video game?
What choice did Joel make in the finale of The Last of Us?
In the finale of The Last of Us, Joel is faced with a difficult decision. He must choose between saving Ellie’s life or allowing her to go through with a procedure that could potentially save humanity from the Cordyceps virus (by removing Ellie’s brain). Joel ultimately chooses to save Ellie, sacrificing countless Fireflies who are trying to help humankind at large in order to keep her safe. This heartbreaking, violent choice serves as an emotional climax for the game and show. It highlights the strength of their bond, but also raises tough questions about whether it’s right to protect your child even at the expense of so many other lives, whether they have a moral obligation to try to find a cure, and whether Ellie would have wanted to give her life for a cure that could have saved all humankind.
Arguments Why Joel Made the Right Choice
Joel’s bloody decision has sparked a lot of debates among gamers and viewers, but there are some arguments in favor of his choice. For one thing, there is no guarantee that Marlene’s plan to derive a cure by removing Ellie’s brain and trying to create messengers drawing on her natural immunity would actually work. The technology sounds speculative at best. If this surgeon’s plan fails, and Elle is dead, there isn’t another chance to try something else.
Meanwhile, Joel’s mission at this point is to protect Ellie and keep her safe, no matter what. His love for her is his true motivator, and on a deeper level he believes that saving her is the only way to ensure humanity’s survival. So even if Marlene’s plan is the logical way to use her immunity to find a cure, on an emotional level Joel feels that killing her can’t be the right path.
Marlene also argues that Ellie might choose to sacrifice herself, but there are two main problems with her argument here: 1) Marlene didn’t actually ask Ellie or give her that choice. Ellie wasn’t told about the plan. and 2) Ellie is arguably too young to make that choice or give consent for such a huge decision.
In some points of view, Joel’s decision to make such an ugly choice on Ellie’s behalf can be read as a beautiful show of his strength in character and loyalty, and could even be seen as an act of self-sacrifice. Driven by love, he throws away his chance at redemption and making up for his past wrong deeds (options which his new love for Ellie seemed to open up for him). Now that he has massacred countless Fireflies and stood in the way of a potential cure, he has to live with what this hugely destructive act makes him.