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The Most Vital Character in ‘The Last of Us’ Hasn’t Made It to TV Yet

Half badass, half cinnamon roll, all Lev.

Lev and Yara in 'The Last of Us Part II'

Lev is to be protected at all costs.

You know it. I know it. Hell, even Abby knows it. Lev is the part-badass-part-cinnamon-roll that Gotham City—I mean—The Last of Us deserves, AND the one it needs right now. In a world that is so undeniably cruel to trans people, representation of trans lives matters now more than ever. The Last of Us Part II has done the gaming community and the world at large a service for their beautiful, nuanced portrayal of a trans character who is not solely defined by his trans-ness.

Lev is many things. A brother. A son. A cult survivor. A killer. A hero. And a trans person. But who exactly is Lev? Where did he come from? And what makes his character work so well?

Lev: A Biography

Lev and his sister Yara were born into a post-apocalyptic religious cult called the Seraphites, who are—and this is an understatement—totally batshit. The cult didn’t start as a crusading group of murder-priests. It began, like all cults, as a rather benign entity.

An unnamed women living in the Seattle Quarantine Zone had a vision of a bright future divorced from technology where people would live off the land in an egalitarian society that shunned the evils of the modern world. Okay, I’m listening. After all, the modern world caused the apocalypse in the first place, didn’t it? Then the charismatic woman convinced a group of civilians to join her in the quest for a better future by preaching that the cordyceps infection was a divine punishment sent from above due to the sins of humanity. Okay lady, you lost me.

The Seraphites became more and more militant in their quest to purge the world of sin, and were partially responsible for the collapse of the FEDRA-run quarantine zone. Fast forward to: the prophet was captured by a militaristic group of Seattle QZ survivors called The WLF and executed. Deprived of leadership, the Seraphites really went off the deep end. They cut their faces with knives, wear ugly brown robes, and murder anyone they come across by hanging and disemboweling them. Yikes.

Lev and his sister Yara grew up in this cult. However, Lev (know to the cultists as “Lily”) was always skeptical of their views. His sister Yara suspects that this was due to his gender dysphoria. After Lev was told that he had been chosen to serve as a wife to one of the Elders of the cult (because yes they do creepy child marriages too) Lev shaved his head as an announcement of his gender identity. The cultists were not pleased. The Seraphites (including Lev’s own mother) dubbed Lev as an apostate, and forced the boy to flee for his life. Lev’s mother tried to “repent” for her son’s “sin” by abstaining from food, while his sister Yara left the group in order to look after him. For her actions, Yara was deemed an apostate as well, and the cult commenced in ruthlessly hunting them down.

Lev and Yara meet Abby

Abby and Lev in 'The Last of Us Part II'

Meanwhile, WLF soldier Abby Anderson is trekking through the ruins of Seattle on a quest to save her ex-boyfriend. She is captured by the Seraphite, and taken into the woods to be hanged. At the killing ground, a group of Seraphites bring in a captured Yara as their prisoner. Their leader gives a command to break both of the girl’s arms with a hammer. After breaking one of Yara’s arms, two Seraphites are shot and killed with arrows from out of the woods while Abby strangles a third. Lev arrives with a bow in order to rescue Yara, and the siblings free Abby from captivity.

Now on the run from the cult, they fight infected in the woods before hiding in an abandoned building. Abby leaves the siblings in order to find medical supplies and treat Yara’s arm, and after the girl is healed Lev runs away in a quest to find his mother.

Lev confronts his past

Abby and Yara chase after Lev, and eventually find him on the Seraphites’ island. He had attempted to reconnect with his mother in their home, but she became aggressive and began to beat him. In an effort to defend himself, Lev pushed his mother away, causing her to fatally strike her head on the edge of a table. Abby and Yara catch up to Lev during the aftermath, and flee the island with the boy. While fleeing the island, Yara is killed by WLF soldiers. With nowhere else to turn, Lev clings to Abby for protection, and the former WLF soldier adopts him as a foster brother.

Lev is the beating heart of The Last of Us Part II

Despite Lev’s violent life, he serves as a moral compass to many of the other characters in the game. When Abby is about to slash the throat of Ellie’s pregnant girlfriend Dina in the ultimate act of revenge, Lev stops her. Lev is a reminder of the humanity that the majority of characters in this game have forgotten. Perhaps it’s because he bore witness to the ceaseless cycle of violence between the Seraphites and the WLF. Perhaps it’s because of his experience as an outsider, which allows him to extend a greater amount of sympathy to people that he doesn’t personally know. Or perhaps it’s because he is the rarest thing of all in the world of The Last of Us: a fundamental force of good.

There is a theory that I have often heard shared in trans spaces about the intersection of transness and holiness. Throughout history, trans and nonbinary people often have taken a spiritual or ceremonial role in their respective cultures. There seems to be a belief in many ancient cultures that transness and divinity overlap in some way. I’m not saying that trans people are angels on earth or somehow morally superior (even though theological angels themselves are beyond the gender binary and therefore have served as a trans allegory), but that trans people can serve as a reminder of basic human decency.

The world frames trans people of being undeserving of love or understanding, and yet trans people continue to love and to understand. It is telling to me that, while he was once one of many members of a society that claimed to have a relationship with the divine, Lev is one of the few people in the entire game to actually adhere to the spiritual tenants of mercy, forgiveness, and desire for peace.

While I’m not sure that the creators of The Last of Us had this in mind when writing Lev’s story, it shows that Lev is a complex enough character that his role in the game is open to interpretation. Lev as a battered angel of the battlefield is my interpretation, but the nuance and humanity with which his character is approached makes him open to many more. In the end, Lev is a victory for trans people, the gaming community, and the idea of video games as art. Lev is artfully, beautifully made, and is a shining facet in the jewel that is The Last of Us Part II.

(featured image: Naughty Dog)

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