**Warning, the following article discusses some major plot points from the game, including its ending. As many players are coming to the game for the first time on PS4, we felt it only right to highlight the massive spoilers that follow. If you haven’t played the game yet, or haven’t cleared the game yet – stop reading and go play it.**
On Monday, the eve of The Last of Us Remastered launch in the US, Naughty Dog hosted ‘The Last of Us: One Night Live‘ – a stage show featuring, amongst other things, live performances of some the amazing cut scenes from the game – performed by the original cast. Along with the game’s stars, such as Troy Baker (Joel), Ashley Johnson (Ellie) and Annie Wersching (Tess), the show also featured live music performed by Gustavo Santaolalla, composer of The Last of Us’ hauntingly beautiful score.
However, perhaps the most amazing part of this magical night, was after the cameras stopped rolling. Under the condition that no-one filmed or recorded the event in any way, game director Neil Druckmann revealed a ‘hidden scene’ that was planned to take place after the end of the game’s final scene. The scene was never actually recorded for the game (and given they DID record a musical ending to the game, that’s saying something), so was never intended to be a part of the game – though it had been part of the original script.
Taking place roughly four years after that, now legendary ‘Ok’ from Ellie, the scene opened in a room at Tommy’s place, Ellie and Joel talking about how Tommy is trying to set him up with a woman named Esther. Ellie is acting distant or distracted until Joel pulls out his guitar, sings some songs and tells a joke that eventually breaks through Ellie’s wall and the two share a laugh. Joel leaves Ellie his guitar as a parting gift. The scene finished with Ellie playing a few chords by herself.
As Druckmann said, it was a ‘goodbye’ to Ellie and Joel. A sedate, but peaceful ending in place of a ‘happily ever after.’
As ever, fan reaction to this ‘secret ending’ has been mixed. For some, it seems to be exactly what they needed. The cold, shocking ending to the original game left some feeling unsatisfied, like there was a scene missing. Ellie asks Joel to swear that everything Joel has told her about the Fireflies is true, which we as the player – or viewer by this point – know is not at all true. Joel swears that it is true, our jaws drop as the penny finally drops that Joel is sticking to his whopping lie rather. As Ellie stares at him and quietly answers ‘Ok’, we can see in her eyes she’s not convinced, there’s the tiniest inflection of disappointment in her tone, but it’s the eyes that show she knows the truth. Roll credits.
This ending was an outstandingly brave and, for me, delightfully impressive ending to a brilliant game. In fact, I’ve gushed about this ending before (take a look here for my full analysis). However, I can understand how people wanted more. Theories about what the original ending meant and what would happen next cropped up all over the internet. Some felt they went to Tommy’s and lived happily ever after, others were convinced that the trust between the characters was irreparably broken and that Ellie and Joel as a pair were on borrowed time. Others felt the ending was deliberately vaugue because Naughty Dog planned to do a sequel that picked up immediately after the end.
It wasn’t until Neil Druckmann himself confirmed that this ending, not designed as a set up to a sequel, was to show us that Ellie knew Joel was lying, that he had prioritised his own feelings above hers – and the potential salvation of mankind, and that this meant she knew she couldn’t stay with him. Joel and Ellie had gone from smuggler and cargo, through to awkward friends to an almost father and daughter relationship. But that was all over.
Enter the secret ending.
I’m still not quite sure how I feel about the secret ending? On the one hand, it gives credence to the idea that they DO live awkwardly ever after – rather than parting ways – for at least 4 years anyway. It also implies that the lie is never dealt with in any meaningful way, which is frustrating. Worst of all, it undoes a little of the magic of the actual game ending. Though still far from a happy ending in the traditional sense, the secret ending (as it is being referred to, rather than ‘alternate’ or ‘abandoned’ ending) is much closer to a regular videogame ending. It’s much more definite. Sure we could still theorise what happened next, but it wouldn’t be as interesting, it wouldn’t spark debate in the same way. In short, it isn’t as brave.
The first thing that struck me about the actual, real ending to The Last of Us was “game’s just don’t do that!” They don’t leave you hanging, mid conversation, brain reeling from revelation. Games have a big boss battle followed by a carnival of success as the character or planet or galaxy, etc. is saved. Sure there are other endings which have surprised (or even disappointed) people – Mass Effect 3’s ending was so unpopular, they changed it – but it was still a very definite end.
The Last of Us was something different – an ending that really left you thinking, debating, hypothesising. It stayed with you, the characters’ journey was not over, nor was it known what would happen next. Nor did it require a sequel (the theory that the ending was done to leave room for a sequel was not one that I subscribe to and even now, feel the game shouldn’t have one – at least not one with Ellie and Joel).
Ironically, the revelation of the secret ending has simultaneously rendered the story as not needing a sequel – we know what happens – and also made me desperate for a sequel for the first time! Please, Neil and the team, over-write this secret scenario – your characters deserve better!
Perhaps the puzzling thing is why Neil Druckmann and Naughty Dog have revealed this ending at all- and in such a significant way? When the musical ending was revealed on YouTube last year, it was referred to as an ‘alternate ending‘ – and a rather tongue in cheek one at that. The secret ending seems to have been given more significance. It was literally given a stage the night before the game launched on PS4. What is it exactly that we are supposed to take from this? Are we supposed to factor it in as the ‘true ending’? Was it just an idea that never came to fruition? If so, why was it given such lofty treatment? They had to know their would be extreme fan reaction – even if it wasn’t filmed (actually, they refer to the expected reaction on stage long before the cameras stopped rolling).
Or are they, yet again, leaving it up to our interpretation? Wild speculation about the ending has been raging for well over a year now, perhaps Naughty Dog felt it was time to fan those flames and add a little fuel for the new audience flocking to the Remastered version? Perhaps it was something as dull as a publicity stunt (but that feels like I’m selling Naughty Dog a little short)?
My biggest fear that this was a test for upcoming movie. Though the game’s ending was stunning and reminded me of a kind of cult cinema ending, I can’t imagine they’re planning to target a niche audience with the ‘The Last of Us’ movie, they’ll want to cash in as much as possible – which may mean a more ‘satisfying’ ending. Were the audience of ‘One Night Live’ a pseudo-test audience? Impossible to tell right now. However, for now, I’m going to place my faith in Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann. They seldom disappoint, even if this ‘secret ending’ does feel like a bit of a misstep right now, I have to admit that I don’t know the full picture – but definitely want to know more.
You can watch The Last of Us: One Night Live here –
Should the secret ending have stayed secret? Share your thoughts in the comments below.