Was Joel A War Veteran? What Did The Radio Song, ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ In ‘The Last of Us’ Episode 1 Mean?


Created by Neil Druckmann and Craig Mazin, “The Last of Us” introduces us to a post-apocalyptic world, where the outbreak of the Cordyceps Brain Infection has led to the collapse of the entire civilization. Joel’s world might not have been perfect, but Sarah, his daughter, gave him a purpose to live for. Joel had something to look forward to, and no matter how chaotic he might have felt, when Sarah lay on his lap, he felt like all his worries had disappeared. When, 20 years later, Joel met Ellie at the Fireflies’ base, he saw a reflection of his own daughter in her. So, let’s analyze the kind of mental state Joel was in and decipher the meaning of the song that played at the end of the first episode of “The Last of Us.”

Was Joel A War Veteran? Was He Suffering From PTSD? 

War only looks glamorous on the big screen, but in reality, nothing could be more devastating and abhorrent. A notion of patriotism is often attached to wars because how else would a government ask its citizens to jump in the fire for their own selfish agendas? It is said that history is only kind to victors, and maybe that is why we glorify the sacrifices made by the men who go to war. But the reality is that there is no winner in a war; there are only losers and greater losers. War changes perspectives and a soldier who witnesses the horrors firsthand is never the same again. War has far-reaching mental and physical implications, so much so that veterans suffer from chronic symptoms throughout their lives. Every time two nations go to war; we learn about new mental conditions that science has not yet identified. The soldiers who were a part of the Gulf War in the early nineties suffered from a medical condition known as Gulf War Syndrome, which seemed to be something like PTSD, but eventually, the scientists realized that it was a totally independent condition. 

In the series “The Last of Us,” we saw the protagonist, Joel, suffer from something similar. We saw a plate on the back of his truck that let us know that he was a war veteran who was a part of Operation Desert Storm, carried out by the United States of America against Iraq. If we go by the timeline, it had been approximately more than a decade since the war ended, but Joel still felt disoriented. We don’t know how he lost his wife, but we are very sure that it would also have contributed to the trauma. Joel was a loving father, but as far as responsibilities were concerned, his daughter, Sarah, knew that he was probably not in the best mental state to carry them out efficiently. Sarah didn’t judge him for not being mentally present for her at times. Sarah was mature beyond her age, and she understood that a man who had seen so much in his life ought to have such difficulties. It’s the little nuances that told us how fatigued he felt from the inside and, more than that, that life itself had lost its charm for him. 

In the first episode of “The Last of Us,” we saw that Joel doesn’t want to celebrate his birthday, and Sarah has to almost force him to be a little excited about the day. Chaos is evident not only from his disheveled look but also from his absentmindedness. In one scene, we see that Joel doesn’t realize that he is wearing his shirt inside out, and Tommy humorously says that his brother is losing his mind. The best thing was that neither Ellie nor Tommy made Joel feel like he was not doing well. They were supportive of him, and no matter how dysfunctional they looked, they were still a family.

What Did The Radio Codes And The Songs Mean?

Ellie was an inquisitive kid, and she had a knack for picking up minute details and observing everything keenly. She had heard Joel and Tess talking about some guys named Bill and Frank. Ellie realized that they were probably people with whom Tess and Joel used to do business on a regular basis. Ellie observed that a book of billboards for “No. 1 Hits” was kept beside the radio. She found some obscure codes written on a torn sheet of paper inside the book. Ellie realized Joel was using radio songs as smuggling codes to communicate with Bill and Frank. If a song from the sixties played, it meant that there was no new update and that the shipment was probably not ready. If a song from the 70s played, it meant that they had new consignment, and if a song from the 80s played, it meant something was terribly wrong, and there was imminent danger.

Towards the end of the first episode of the series, “The Last of Us,” we saw Depeche Mode’s “Never let me down again” playing on Joel’s radio. Joel and Tess had already left with Ellie, and no one could hear the communication that Bill and Frank were most likely attempting. The song “Never let me down again,” was released in 1987, to be exact, and according to the smuggling codes, if a song from the 80s played, it meant danger. Maybe Bill and Frank might have been trying to inform Joel and Tess about the perils that lay ahead, or maybe they were themselves in trouble. Joel had killed a FEDRA guard, whom he knew from before, and they had crossed the safe quarantine zones to take Ellie to the Old State House, as instructed by Marlene. It felt like Joel was trying very hard to restrict himself from getting emotionally attached to Ellie. After Sarah’s demise, Joel had become hollow from within, and when Ellie pointed out that his watch was broken, maybe he realized that he was never able to move on from that trauma in his life. When Joel saw the guard charging towards him towards the end of the first episode of “The Last of Us,” he was reminded of that fateful night 20 years ago when the military personnel had killed his daughter.

Tommy had been missing for three weeks, and Joel was scared that his brother was in danger. It could be possible that Tommy is in Jackson, Wyoming, as, according to the game, after he stopped working for the Fireflies, he went there and started living with Maria, whom he eventually married. Things were clearly not right between Joel and Tommy, as the former blames the Fireflies chief, Marlene, for causing a rift between them. Though at a point in time, the brothers had turned against each other, they were still on talking terms, and Joel’s entire intention behind taking Ellie to the Fireflies’ safehouse was that he would get to search for his brother. In the upcoming episodes, we will get to know the reason behind Tommy’s lack of response for the past three weeks and what kind of trouble Bill and Frank were in.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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