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This story contains spoilers for The Last of Us.
The Last of Us lives on beyond its emotionally charged ending.
Last night, developer Naughty Dog revealed a brand new scene from its hit postapocalyptic game during a special one-night-only event. With the help of The Last of Us director Neil Druckmann, five members from the principal cast — Troy Baker (who plays Joel), Ashley Johnson (Ellie), Merle Dandridge (Marlene), Annie Wersching (Tess), and Hana Hayes (Sarah) — reenacted select cutscenes at The Broad Stage in Santa Monica, Calif. Oscar-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla was also there to perform songs from the soundtrack. You can watch an archive of The Last of Us: One Night Live below.
While Sony caught most of it on film, Druckmann had a special surprise just for the people sitting in the theatre: An epilogue that didn’t make it into the game. It takes place a few years after the ending. He said the scene will never be performed or shown again in public, and politely asked those of us there not to record it on camera or take pictures. It’s a way of “saying goodbye” to Joel and Ellie.
I tried to take as much notes as I could about the new scene. The following is my take on it, along with some reactions from Druckmann and the cast. If you need a refresher, here’s the original ending.
‘It’s just you and me’
We begin on an actual set with walls, windows, and furniture (the actors only worked with a handful of stage props beforehand). This is Ellie’s room, and she’s listening to music at her desk — perhaps with the Sony Walkman she found a few years earlier. After Joel knocks on her door a few times, she finally takes off her earphones. He tries to make small talk, saying that some of the kids around town found some water guns and that she should join them.
But she doesn’t like water guns and says that she still needs to finish working on the fence. Joel thinks she should take a break.
“What’s up, Joel?” Ellie says, almost cutting him off. She sounds standoffish and maybe a little annoyed that he’s there.
“Nothin,” Joel responds. “Haven’t really spoken in a while, y’know? I thought it’d be nice to catch up.”
Joel reveals a few more details about his life here: His work includes patrol duty (it’s “relatively calm” outside), and his brother, Tommy, wants him to marry a girl named Esther. She’s funny, Joel says, and she likes to tell him cheesy puns, the same type of joke Ellie is so fond of.
Before Joel repeats one of the jokes back to Ellie, she tells him it’s getting late and that she needs to get up early the next morning. She insists that he leave, but Joel begs her to just give him one more minute. He wants to show her something he found: an acoustic guitar. He started writing a song some time ago, but goes quiet before saying why he stopped. He belts out a somber but celebratory ballad about spending his days with a loved one (most likely referring to Ellie). The song ends with the phrase, “It’s just you and me.”
Ellie seems like she’s warming up. She says the song is beautiful. Joel gives her the guitar as a gift, and tells her that he’ll teach her how to play. Before he leaves the room, Ellie asks him what the joke was. It’s a delightfully terrible pun about why you shouldn’t eat a clock (the answer: “It’s time consuming!”). Ellie laughs, saying it’s the worst joke she’s ever heard. After Joel leaves, she strums the guitar until the stage lights turn off.
Open to interpretation
When the performance was over, I spoke with Baker, Johnson, and Druckmann about what was going on with Joel and Ellie in that scene. It wasn’t until the interview that I found out that Johnson had actually been really sick the entire time — she even threw up right before the night began. Amazingly, this didn’t slow her down at all when she was on stage.
I told them that, to me, it looked like our heroes were in the process of repairing their relationship after the traumatic events from the ending. They were talking as if they had a vast chasm or rift between them, and I suspect that Joel has to keep fighting to regain her trust.
“Obviously it’s been put out there that [Joel] lied [to Ellie] about what actually happened,” said Johnson. “He’s trying to make amends in a way.”
“One thing that Neil’s really good about is that whatever is the object of the scene is never really the object of the scene,” Baker said. “Like the scene where Joel gives Ellie the rifle. It’s not about the rifle; it’s about responsibility. In this scene, it wasn’t about the guitar, it was about trying to make — like [Ashley] says — amends. I love the fact that she’s been working on a fence. She’s mending the fence. … One of the beautiful things about this entire story, and not just this one scene, is that it’s really all about what you take away from it. And [your theory] can be exactly that just for you.”
According to Druckmann, one of the reasons why he included the new scene for One Night Live was because he wanted to play with the theatre format by exploring a new setting. The epilogue was “specifically written for the stage.” But he was more coy when I asked him what it meant for the characters.
“That sounds like an interesting interpretation of that scene,” he said, smiling. “That’s all I can say. … I kind of like writing stuff that is open to interpretation and can be read in different ways. And if that’s how you read it, I think that’s great.”
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