Anyone who has played The Last of Us knows what a great game it is. The writing is powerful and impactful providing depth beyond the surface. We see Joel and Ellie’s relationship develop slowly and realistically. The two argue, laugh and survive together. Their relationship undeniably makes The Last of Us so good. However, Joel as a character has so much depth to him that isn’t quite obvious unless you look for it.
Of course, we start with Joel as a regular guy, but more importantly a father. As he runs with Sarah he suffers an inhumane act. His daughter is shot out of fear and nothing else. Of course, this would affect any character. Although, Joel is affected in a different way. His trust in humanity is stifled. That sounds extreme for one man’s wrongdoing to Joel, but let’s fast forward in the world.
The world is nothing like we knew it. Covered with infected, humans taken into camps like cattle, it might as well be a prison. Yet, Joel is still there surviving. We see from his first interactions with people that he’s blunt, and certainly not up for a casual chat. Tess steps in and we see Joel being more of himself. Still, he’s not too talkative and as we know Ellie shows up. Joel instantly wants nothing to do with her, but the task he is given is so important that Tess was willing to lose her life. So, Joel is now stuck with Ellie.
What did Joel see?
Ironically the humans in The Last of Us are somehow worse than the infected. And we see this through Joel’s eyes. We see humans constantly stealing, scavenging and killing in these lands. Humans are merely survivors willing to do anything just to see another day. So, to kill someone like Joel and Ellie in their eyes isn’t wrong. At least the infected have no control over themselves, but humans know between right or wrong, yet it seems that morality has almost disappeared in the world.
What specific things has Joel seen? David the cannibal. When he took Ellie, Joel loses it. David has a camp of cannibalistic survivors. Joel sees how low mankind has gone. Eating each other is possibly the worst thing humans can do to each other, especially during an apocalypse, however, it just shows how worthless life has become in this world.
Sam and Henry might be one of the few things that made Joel see the humanity in people. Two brothers, both good people just wanting to survive and help each other. Joel sees the tragedy as Henry kills his little brother who’s turned. Henry then points the gun at himself.
This causes Joel to be so brutal to humans. He kills a massive amount of people, yet for Joel it’s survival, he’s simply killing people who would have never given him a chance to live. It really was a kill or be killed situation every day in this apocalypse.
Inhumanity within humanity
You might think I’ve talked little about Joel, but these few things are examples of what Joel views in humanity. Joel now views humanity as another threat like the infected. They are untrustworthy and will most likely cause trouble for him.
Now we come to the final choice for Joel. To save the world or Ellie. In Joel’s eyes, the world isn’t even worth saving. Look at what humanity has become in front of him? More monsters than men. Will the cure even fix things? In Joel’s mind, what would a possible cure mean, well it would be constant leverage. The fireflies could use the cure to practically get anything they want, even become a world power potentially. It could also result in war. War would rise as the people we see in The Last of Us are selfish and willing to do absolutely anything for power or safety. So, it would be inevitable that an enormous amount of people would die for this potential cure. In Joel’s mind, the world wasn’t worth saving. His trust in humanity had diminished to almost nothing bar his family.
Was Joel right? Obviously what he did is wrong, however either way the world never would have been fixed most likely. Even in The Last of Us Part 2, we sees cults beginning to rise into power with huge numbers.
The big question is was Joel right to not trust humanity? Unfortunately yes. We see his untimely demise in Part 2 and how did it come about? It happened because Joel helped strangers and trusted them to be good people. This may have happened due to Joel being too comfortable in his peaceful life for too long. It still proves that Joel’s views on humans even though extreme was still right.