‘The Last Of Us’ Season 1: How Did Joel’s Toxic Love For Ellie Turn Him Into A Monster In The End?


As the first season of the series, “The Last of Us,” comes to an end, we have a lot of thoughts about Joel, and we all seem to understand him a bit better as compared to the beginning of the journey. Some believe him to be a monster; others believe him to be a protector. Some see him as an extremely affectionate person, but some consider him to be an unempathetic killing machine. Joel was never this complicated, but circumstances made him so. Had somebody talked to him, made him deal with his grief in a proper manner, told him to open himself to other promising possibilities, and asked him to look at the bright side of things, maybe he wouldn’t have been so wrecked from within. There are people who have walked in a dark tunnel for so long that they forget that light ever existed. They believe the shadows to be their reality and stop making any effort to escape. These are the kind of people who do not have a lot to look forward to except that one precious thing that gives their existence a sense of purpose. Once that gets snatched from them, it doesn’t matter whether they walk in darkness or light because they lose their sense to perceive anything good in this world. They become averse to their own existence and turn into non-believers. They lose hope and faith, and they start to distrust everything that comes their way.

Spoilers Ahead

How Did Sarah’s Death Change Joel? 

Joel was not in the best of shape even before the outbreak, but there were a few things that were keeping him at bay. He might not have been a perfect parent to Sarah, but he loved her and often did things that didn’t come naturally to him. I mean, for me, that is the definition of a good parent. There are a lot of times, due to several reasons, that a parent doesn’t understand why it is so necessary for their child to do that one thing, but they still go out of their way to make sure that their child has it. Joel knew that he was far from perfect, but he still tried to create a perfect world for his daughter. Joel was probably suffering from PTSD, and at times we saw that Sarah had to take the lead and help him gather himself.

Joel was unaware of his surroundings and too messed up in his head, but coming back to his little ray of sunshine gave him the energy to get up and fight the battle again the next day. Maybe Joel never expressed his love in a traditional manner, but he had his way of showing how much he valued her existence. We believe that had Sarah not been there in his life, he would have either become a monster or killed himself way back. The day Sarah was killed by the soldier, darkness enveloped Joel’s being, and amidst the rattling sound of the empty bullet shells falling to the ground, a part of him was lost in the oblivion. He survived that fateful night, but he wasn’t alive after that day. He was seeing everything, but nothing registered in his mind, nothing affected him, and nothing mattered to him. Joel was like the walking dead who was aimlessly surviving and didn’t know what he was seeking.

What Was Joel’s Purpose In Life?

Joel was probably the only character in the series “The Last of Us” whose purpose kept changing from time to time. The reason was that he was using his “purpose” as an excuse to justify his actions or to run away from himself. Before the outbreak, he was a caregiver; then, he became a survivor, after which he assumed the responsibilities of a protector. But the fact remained that nobody needed his protection. When Joel finally met Tommy, his illusions were shattered because Tommy told him that he didn’t need saving because he was capable enough to lead an independent life. Even with Ellie, he was not ready to accept the fact that she could handle herself because it absolved him of his duties, in turn snatching the purpose of his life.

We nowhere imply that Joel had any malicious intent, but he was not ready to face reality. He was not ready to face his fears and his grief. He wasn’t ready to accept the fact that, after his daughter’s death, nothing mattered to him, and fighting for the cause of humanity was the least of his concerns. We wouldn’t say that he was individualistic, as his situation was more complex than that, but it was also a fact that he didn’t care about the world at large. Joel probably found his true purpose when Ellie arrived in his life. Life gave him a second chance to accomplish all that he wasn’t able to do with Sarah. When he showered those bullets towards the end of the 9th episode of the series, The Last of Us, we knew that it was a man who was driven by a motive. For the first time, he was not delusional in his approach. He knew the ramifications of his actions, and he was ready to live with them because he knew that the only thing that gave meaning to his life was that little girl who was lying in the operation theater surrounded by doctors.

How Did Joel’s Toxic Love For Ellie Turn Him Into A Monster In The End?

That moment, when a soldier shot Sarah, had an impact on almost everything that happened in Joel’s life after that. He completely distrusted men in uniform who, under the pretext of duty, did things that could potentially ruin a person’s life. We saw how he pounced upon the soldier, whom he used to trade with and gave smuggled goods to. And not that he only distrusted the sitting regime, but he had a lot of hate for every single group that united and fought for a cause. He always believed them to be hypocrites and didn’t want to believe that they might actually want to do some good. It was not a hidden fact that he didn’t like Marlene, but he was never in direct conflict with her before Ellie came into his life. When Joel came to know that in order to create a vaccine for the Cordyceps brain infection, the doctors would have to kill Ellie, his distrust and hatred was validated, and he felt that whatever opinions he had about them were absolutely right.

Joel was a family man, and he had shown earlier that he could go to any extent to protect his loved ones. He didn’t have a big social circle, and in the kind of mental state he had been in, he didn’t feel like socializing either. We had seen in the very first episode of “The Last of Us” how he kept to himself and was not an inquisitive neighbor who would gossip or want to know what was happening in somebody else’s life. His home was his den, and apart from his daughter and brother, he didn’t like others intruding on his private space. Joel never considered Ellie to be his family, as it was a sacred space that nobody could breach so easily. We are talking about a man who could kill or get killed to protect his family, and that is why it took him time to accept somebody as a family member, but once he did, his feelings became unconditional. From referring to Ellie as “merely cargo” to comparing her with his daughter in the season finale of the series, Joel had come a long way.

Toward the end of the ninth episode of the series, “The Last of Us,” Joel unleashed the monster that resided inside him because he had a dual motive in doing what he did. Firstly, he knew that either he had to hunt or he and his family would be hunted down, and secondly, his hatred for the uniformed folks gave him that additional push to shoot without batting an eye. We call Joel’s love toxic because he never asked Ellie what she wanted because he was too scared that she would actually make the decision to sacrifice her own life for the welfare of mankind. He knew that there could be repercussions in case Ellie came to know what he had done, but he was ready to take the risk because, this time, he didn’t want to fail in his duties as a father. Joel told Tommy that he used to get these dreams where he was not able to protect Ellie and failed her, just like he failed to save Sarah. Those visions haunted him, and it was because of them that he was adamant about saving Ellie at all costs. More than Ellie, Joel did it to save himself from falling into the abyss once again.

Joel was a man on a mission that day, and he was not going to spare anybody, even if they surrendered. In the end, Marlene told him that maybe he would be able to save Ellie for a while, but one day she would have to face the consequences anyways, as she lived in a broken world. Marlene told Joel that he had a chance to save the world, and even Ellie would have wanted that, but Joel wasn’t in the mood to listen to her. He didn’t care about the greater good, as facing the trauma of losing his daughter once again seemed preposterous and weightless. Joel killed Marlene, even though she begged him to let her go. Joel’s reasoning was straightforward: he knew if Marlene was alive, she would definitely come after him.

When Ellie woke up, she sensed that whatever Joel was saying was not the exact thing that had happened. But Joel lied to her face and cooked up a story where he told her that there were others like her who were immune, and the doctors were unsuccessful in ascertaining how to make a vaccine. He didn’t know for how long he would be able to live that lie and what would happen once Ellie came to know the truth. For now, Joel was happy that they had reached Jackson, Wyoming, and he was looking forward to teaching Ellie how to play the guitar and how to shoot better, but deep down, he knew that the truth would catch up to him sooner or later.

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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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