The Last of Us Part 2 — A Journey Through The 5 Stages of Grief
In The Last of Us Part 2, we see Abby and Ellie go through the five stages of grief and how they come out of it better people. Here's how it represents the five stages of grief.
Note: The following article contains The Last of Us Part 2 spoilers ahead and topics that some readers may find uncomfortable.
In Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us Part 2, the game not only tackles the ways grief can influence you, your actions, and your future, but it also represents the traditional five stages of grief, the waves in which people deal with loss. While not everyone goes through these stages in order — or at all — Naughty Dog sketches a clear idea of how we deal with loss. And it’s through both Abby and Ellie’s journeys that we see how losing their parental figures not only shaped them as people but also how they deal with their emotions.
It wasn’t until my mom passed away in 2016 when I realized how hard losing a loved one could be. She was the one person I could go to when my dad was out of town for work, when I needed something, or even just to have a shoulder to cry on. Our personalities and sense of humor were similar, which made things more fun. After she passed, I had started to see themes of death and grief being portrayed in different forms of media more clearly. And for video games, The Last of Us Part 2 was one that I felt a connection to.
Denial can sometimes mean that your emotions can’t handle the trauma of losing someone, leading you to deny what’s going on, and giving you more time to process the situation. Of the five stages of grief, this is one area we don’t see too much of in The Last of Us Part 2 other than Ellie grieving at Joel’s graveside and then walking around his empty house while reminiscing, taking the time to touch Joel’s possessions and even stopping to smell his jacket.
In terms of Abby —a member of the Fireflies and the second playable character in The Last of Us Part 2 — we’re not given a clear idea of her first days without her dad. The most we see is her being held back by one of the doctors in the hospital as her dad lies on the floor. The core of our time with Abby is spent a few years after her dad’s death as she’s training to become stronger, ready to someday get revenge, but also carrying over her past teachings from her time with dad in a forest before he went back to the hospital to moment he was killed.
A possible reason both characters may not have gone through a prolonged stage of grief in the conventional sense is that death is an overly familiar part of the world they live in. Over the course of both games, Ellie lost several people close to her, and the action proceeded without allowing her time to deny the situation. In a way, the same can be said for Abby as we see her story unfold through Part 2. Every person deals with grief differently; some may be stuck in one stage longer than others, and some go through each step in a different order.
At the heart of The Last of Us Part 2 is stage 2 — anger. This stage may cause the person to feel bitterness or resentment toward people or things around them. It can help to let any repressed emotions out, allowing you to move forward. For both Ellie and Abby, their stories are fueled by anger and revenge. Before Joel’s death, Ellie was living as much of a normal life as she could. She was surrounded by a community and had Dina and Jesse as close friends.
The moment Abby swung the golf club at Joel one final time, Ellie skipped past stage one of grief and went straight to anger. Her anger was, in a way, accelerated when she discovered that Joel’s brother, Tommy had gone to deal with Abby. It had become her mission to get revenge towards Abby and find Tommy before he could do anything drastic.
Along her journey, Ellie receives help from people who love her; Dina and Jesse specifically. They support her mission to find Tommy but also attempt to steer her in the right direction — away from killing Abby. But stage two of grief comes through Ellie in the form of lashing out at those around her when things don’t go her way. Where this is especially prevalent, is her approach to eliminating those in her path.
Prior to The Last of Us Part 2’s launch, the violent and bloody approach to combat shown in trailers surprised me. While playing, I’d be in combat and taken aback sometimes, and it didn’t matter if I was playing it stealthily or guns blazing, Ellie didn’t hold her anger back. The anger and frustration on her face really come through in these moments, and animations for some attacks can also go on for a while, which can feel uncomfortable at times.
This anger can also be felt when Ellie runs up to enemies with a melee attack, and while the world she’s been exposed to encourages violence like this, it’s also a cathartic way for her to let out that built-up anger. It makes you wonder if all the bloodshed was worth it in the end. In order to seek revenge and let out her anger, did dozens, if not hundreds of lives need to be lost for Ellie to bring justice to Joel? Was everything she did necessary in the end? Including killing Owen and Mel later as an act of revenge — two characters who helped Abby with Joel’s murder?
The first time we see Abby, there’s a military, no-nonsense energy around her. She’s straight to the point and doesn’t seem to let emotions get to her for the most part. Where Ellie jumps to seeking revenge rather quickly, Abby channels her anger in a more tactful, methodical way. And because she doesn’t express her emotions often, her anger isn’t represented as much. It isn’t until Abby finds both Owen and Mel have been killed while she and her friend Lev were out of camp. At that moment, we see her experiencing anger again, this time with Lev’s help. But this is where Abby’s story takes a turn after discovering a map pointing to Ellie’s location. Now she wants to take that anger and enact revenge on Ellie as she did with Joel.
Eventually, a fight between Ellie and Abby at the end of Seattle Day 3 erupts. The two let go of the rest of their anger through this intense and uncomfortable fight. But through it we see how worn out each character had become by the weight of their emotions. Abby offers the chance for the two of them to move on, leaving us to see how both characters go through the later stages of grief in their own ways.
Bargaining deals with what you would give up or offer to make the person you’ve lost come back. As other specialists put it, bargaining is a way to remain in the past and stay there as long as possible. This stage isn’t represented much throughout The Last of Us Part 2, but we do see Abby and Ellie having nightmares of their father figures dying, with both characters desperately trying to save them. These nightmares signify both of them clinging to the past, and for Ellie having witnessed Joel’s death firsthand, it’s especially traumatizing.
Another note on clinging to the past finds Ellie playing Joel’s guitar, something that’s sentimental and a fond memory for her, and a way for her to reconnect with him. You’ll recall the iconic scene towards the beginning of the story where he plays Pearl Jam’s Future Days for her.
Next up is depression, a stage where feelings are presented primarily in the present and are not singly tied to grief. In this stage, people may experience a number of different ways depression affects us, and not everyone experiences it the same way, if at all. Ways in which people experience depression ranges from a loss of appetite and having trouble sleeping, to increased fatigue and losing interest in things you enjoy doing. Depression isn’t just about feeling sad, you’re overwhelmed by the emotions you’re feeling and your body is trying to get through it. It’s a stage in which people think inwardly a lot, wondering if they’ll be able to push forward on a new path.
The stereotypical idea of being depressed and doing nothing for a long time doesn’t fit well with either Ellie or Abby’s personalities. They present themselves as strong characters, bottling those emotions up, and continuing on with their lives as best they can. However, we do see moments in which depression seeps through, where Abby and Ellie don’t seem to be eating a lot or getting a lot of sleep as well as appearing fairly dissociated at times. They also seem to be in a prolonged state of depression due to the desolate world that they’re living in and now with the added deaths of their father figures weighing on top of them.
The final stage of grief is acceptance, the stage where you’ve accepted that things will be okay in some way. Things may never be normal again, but you’re ready to move forward and not dwell in the past. This stage comes in waves in The Last of Us Part 2 for both Abby and Ellie.
For Abby, her journey with acceptance starts after she kills Joel and chooses to carve a new path by rebuilding her relationship with Owen. During her journey, she runs into Lev and Yara of the Seraphites, a community that represents a more religious and purist part of society. After meeting Yara and Lev, Abby starts opening up and begins to grow more compassionate and understanding of other people’s perspectives. The Seraphites’ views on the world and how they approach things seeps their way into Abby and makes her more well-rounded and her bond with Lev and Yara shows her willingness to form new relationships with others.
But her initial path to acceptance derails when she finds Mel and Owen dead. She continues her journey of acceptance by venturing to Santa Barbara to reunite with other Fireflies. This is a way for her to not only reconnect with the Fireflies prior to her dad’s death, but it helps Abby pave a way forward by rooting it in something familiar.
Ellie’s path to acceptance doesn’t come until after the fight with Abby in Seattle. She, Dina, and J.J. have found some peace living quietly on a farm, but when she learns that Abby is in Santa Barbara, the trauma from Joel’s death floods back. The opportunity to seek revenge again has opened, and if she doesn’t take this chance now, she’ll never know if she’ll have that chance again. Given the new life that she now has, this chance for revenge, or closure, means leaving her new life with Dina and J.J, so it makes sense to question her actions.
She starts to have visions of Joel —which could’ve been happening before this moment— but her seeing them at this point alludes to her feeling incomplete. This moment in particular also shows PTSD and her reliving the strong emotions she felt. After being comforted by Dina, Ellie decides that she can’t move forward until she faces Abby and gets closure. It’s a decision that may break the foundation she, Dina, and J.J have built together, but in order to feel peace, she has to travel to Santa Barbara.
The effects of this decision are felt in the final moments of The Last of Us Part 2 after a violent fight with Abby, It’s during this fight where Ellie finally questions her intentions, and as such, her choice to spare Abby’s life would have been what Dina, and more importantly, Joel would have wanted from her. Deciding it wasn’t worth it in the end, she heads back to the farm to continue living with Dina and J.J in solitude. She’s seen what life with acceptance is like and that it’s okay to live without revenge.
The ramifications of her goal for revenge, however, do find her coming back to an empty farm as Dina has taken J.J to Jackson. Only her belongings including Joel’s guitar remain, and it’s then that she sees what the extent of her thirst for revenge has taken. It’s in this moment where she’s reaching acceptance again and wants to prove herself to Dina.
Through both Ellie and Abby’s journeys in the game, we see how the loss of their parental figures have affected them as people. By the end of The Last of Us Part 2, we see both characters having found some form of peace in an apocalyptic world. Grief is one of the hardest things to go through, especially when you’re grasping the loss of a parent or someone close to you. Most of us go through life as a child and young adult thinking that our parents or parental figures will be there for us for a long time. Sadly, this isn’t the case for everyone.
Personally, the first year without my mom was difficult and I questioned myself every day if I’d ever be okay. Would things ever get better or go back to normal? The answer to that is no, but you can take what you’ve experienced and turn it into something positive. Grief and losing someone you love isn’t a process I’d wish on my worst enemy, but I feel as if I’ve grown to become a more well-rounded person because of what I went through and the help I’ve had. The road ahead can be hard and feels never-ending, but you come through it eventually as a different, more empathic person if you let the stages of grief do their thing.