Ask fans of The Last of Us what they love about the game, and you’ll get a lot of answers. But most players are going to mention the characters, their development, and their relationships as one of the game’s greatest strengths.
With the relationship between Joel and Ellie being the heart of the storyline in the first game, it would be nothing short of soul-crushing to find out that Joel is dead in the second game. Yet we have very real reasons to be concerned about just that possibility.
Above, you can watch the first trailer for The Last of Us: Part 2. Joel’s absence is conspicuous. He is in the trailer, but we never see his face, and his presence can best be described as “ghostly.” He walks in through an open door as a shadow surrounded by bright light, and he asks Ellie, “You really gonna go through with this?” Note that he doesn’t say “we.”
Now watch the brand new gameplay trailer from E3 yesterday:
There’s a point near the beginning where Jesse says to Ellie, “Your old man really laid into me today.”
Here a lot of gamers breathed a sigh of relief. Jesse’s statement clearly indicates that Joel is alive in The Last of Us: Part II.
… Or does it?
This scene doesn’t appear to be a flashback, considering game director Neil Druckmann has stated that, “In The Last of Us Part II, Ellie is now 19 and has found a semblance of peace and normality living in Jackson. She’s had a chance to be a teenager and forge lasting relationships.”
In other words, what we are seeing is likely a scene from the beginning of the game, in the present. So that implies Joel is alive at the start of the game. But it doesn’t indicate that he’s safe and going to stay that way.
Druckmann goes on, “When that peace is disrupted by a violent act, Ellie is thrust into a brutal journey of retribution, fueled by a need to bring those that have wronged her to justice, pushing her to her very limits.”
There is nothing remotely comforting about this. That “violent act” could very well have resulted in Joel’s death, which would bring us back to the disquieting theory that Ellie is indeed interacting with his “ghost” inside her mind in the first trailer.