The Last of Us II: a hopeless story

Many of my favorite stories revolve around revenge. There is an immense pleasure in seeing someone who has been wronged getting revenge. You took something away from me, I take something away from you. You do something to me, I do something to you. It is not a simple whim to see the person you hate to sink into the abyss (especially if he sinks because of you).

Revenge was the first form of justice. In prehistoric tribes, revenge was seen as a symbol of power and whoever did justice to himself gained the respect of other people. The message was clear: ‘I’m not a person to mess with”.

If, on the other hand, one remained helpless and submissive in the face of an injustice, one was perceived as a weak person and the whole tribe sided with the executioner by adopting the good old mentality of the ‘hunter and prey’.

The Last of Us II: the cycle of revenge

Certain things are not easily forgotten. Just the title I put in for this post will piss someone off.

Over time, things have changed. Forgiveness and leaving everything behind are preached. On the other hand, it is better to live happily than to live in the past and remember every day what has been done to you. To put it in the words of the great Frank Sinatra: ‘The best revenge is success.’

Or not?

Getting revenge has apparently been shown to benefit both mental and physical health. Having personal satisfaction through the suffering of those who attacked first is written in our DNA. A bit like saying: ‘What I lost (whatever it is) won’t come back but at least this prick (whoever he is) got what he deserves’. It is no coincidence that many stories in the media use the leitmotif of revenge: it is something that each of us has thought about at least once in our life. Lately every story I have read and experienced (Berserk, The Count of Montecristo, The Northman, Vinland Saga) revolved around revenge. One story in particular caught my attention: The Last of Us II.

I liked The Last of Us II way more than the first one. Here you are. I said it. The first was nothing special.

I loved it: from the first to the last frame, The Last of Us II tells a simple and effective story that explores the feelings of frustration, revenge and PTSD of both protagonists, Ellie and Abby. Each one has excellent reasons to get revenge.

the last of us

Trauma and forgiveness

Ellie witnessed the death of her adoptive father Joel by Abby, who saw her father die by Joel. Unfortunately, revenge is a vicious circle and could last forever as this game demonstrates. Ellie’s psychological and physical condition get gradually worse  as she embarks on a mission to avenge Joel.

She will have to give up her friends of hers, the family she had in Jackson (the city where she lived with Joel) and her moral code. Ellie will destroy everything she has built up in the present, like her relationship with Dina, in order to stop the visions of Joel’s death that don’t make her sleep at night. As that saying goes: ‘Whoever seeks revenge must dig two graves: one for himself and one for his enemy.’

Living in the past leads to condemn the present and losing everything that has been built. So, if revenge is not an option, forgiveness remains the only alternative.

Ellie seems to understand this and lets Abby go when she realizes that her death won’t get her Joel back. An ending that has long been criticized but which is deeply human. Ellie realizes that she has lost everything and does not want Abby to face the same fate as her: she does not want the bond between her and Lev to be broken because of her.

What’s next?

When Ellie comes home, obviously, there is no one waiting for her. She had to choose between hate and forgives and she chose, at least the beginning, hate. However, Ellie finds the guitar that belonged to Joel. Everything has remained as it was before. She begins to play the guitar but on her journey towards revenge she has lost two fingers and has some difficulties: even the last bond she had with Joel (the guitar and the fact that he himself taught her to play it) is gone.

A final flashback is shown to us: Ellie berating Joel for not sacrificing her to save mankind. Joel tells her that he would make that choice once again.She was the daughter she had lost and mankind meant nothing to him. The world and human emotions revolve around selfishness. Joel is no different from Abby who is no different from Ellie. I think Ellie has figured all this out in the end and she decides to make amends. She forgives Joel, she forgives Abbie and she forgives herself. Naughty Dog’s sequel turned out to be a truly brutal game. Everyone here learns their lessons but the price is far too cruel.

Silent Hill II: a traumatic past

Once upon a time in 2006

I was 9 and I attended grammar school. It wasn’t a good time of my life. I lived in a small town, far from home. I felt alone. I had no one to talk to. The days were grey and they were all the same to me: waking up, going to school, sport, studying and so on. I guess it’s a common routine for a child of that age. The days were so identical that I could not even tell them apart.

But at the bottom of this endless greyness, there was a light. I was the proud owner of a Playstation 2 and I had a stack of games inherited from my neighbour. One game title stood out among all.

Silent Hill II is a name that has appeared frequently in these pages. It is hard to convey the emotions I felt the moment I experienced it. I was confused, scared, disoriented. I wouldn’t have described that game as a good experience.

The long walks through the streets of Silent Hill in a thin fog, the monsters with a human appearance and the brutal and sexual nature of some moments made me feel a strong feeling of discomfort. It made me feel dirty. This is a further proof of the masterful job from Konami in painting a psychological picture of such complexity.

I didn’t understand the story perfectly. I didn’t grasp the references to Carl Jung and David Lynch. One thing I understood for sure: a guy was looking for his dead wife in a town full of monsters. And the plot, at least in appearance, is simple as that.

mountain slope covered with trees
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on

James Sunderland receives a letter from Mary, her wife, who died three years earlier from cancer. She begs him to return and meet her in Silent Hill, the city symbol of their special place. Confused, James leaves for the city but, once he is there, he doesn’t find the idyllic Silent Hill of which he cherished a fond memory.

Now everything is rotten, ravaged and inhabited by disgusting creatures, monsters and humans. On his journey to this hell, James will meet several people. The first is Angela Orosco, a mentally unstable girl whose emotional state is deeply damaged from the continuous memories of the sexual violence she endured inflicted by her father and from the psychological abuse caused by her mother.

Silent Hill and the shadows of the past

As the story unfolds, James meets Eddie Dombrowski, a severely overweight boy who has had severe self-esteem problems due to bullying. Here, the player has the sensation something is slightly off.

How come all the humans James meets are indifferent to the chaos that reigns in Silent Hill? Why is no one worried about the deformed monsters that appear in every part of the city? A further question arises when James meets Laura, an 8-year-old girl with no parents who roams the streets of Silent Hill carelessly.

As it turns out, Laura was friends with Maria, James’s wife, and came to Silent Hill on purpose to see her again. There is definitely something wrong here. It almost seems as if each of the characters is walking into a different and personal version of Silent Hill-Also, this city seems to attract a certain type of person.

One of the most common explanations is that Silent Hill is a purgatory, a place where anyone who has failed to overcome a severe trauma is finally forced to face it. Silent Hill is a shape-changing purgatory based on each person’s fear and trauma.

James still feels guilty about his wife’s death and he can’t get rid of the survivor syndrome. Every monster he encounters is full of sexual allegorical meanings.

Mannequin is an example of James’ clear sexual frustration when Mary was battling cancer. Pyramid Head, the faceless monster who takes what he wants by force. The character of Maria is also noteworthy. Maria is the physical copy of Mary, but her personality is completely different: she is the stripper of Heaven’s Night, a night club situated in Silent Hill. Maria could represent Mary’s split personality, as well as James’s sexual desire.

Still in that city

Silent Hill II is a journey into the depths of the human psyche. No wonder a game so full of metaphors, hatred, trauma and redemption gave me such a negative feeling as a child.

James’s journey will finally lead him to the truth, to the “special place” shared with Mary. There are six available endings. Not a single one of them is canon. I can just talk about the ending I had in my run that I first completed (I never finished the game as a kid) a few months ago. The ending called Leave: James has the opportunity to face his past once and for all and talks to his wife for the last time. James finally leaves Silent Hill with Laura. He has earned the right to process the trauma and leave the city. Silent Hill has one less soul to torment.

I am grateful I experienced this ending: the other epilogues had a much bleaker development. Still, a part of me will always be part of that city. Maybe Jame has abandoned Silent Hill for the moment. But, sometimes, I can still see it in my dreams. James has made his journey. I can’t say the same for me. Silent Hill called me to answer of my past a long time ago. I suspect my journey will be a long one.

But I don’t mind. I’m still in Silent Hill.