How ‘The Last of Us Part II’ Upends the Hero/Villain Binary
She’s the woman who’s always running through my thoughts—thoughts of murder.
If The Last of Us is a game about love, The Last of Us Part II is a game about hate. There’s lots of things to hate in The Last of Us: Roving bands of murder-rapists. Cannibals. And these creepy bastards. But the opening sequence of The Last of Us Part II gives us a character so diabolical, so despicable, and so unflinchingly bad that it makes us forget about all those other nasty things I just mentioned and instead focus all of our hatred entirely on her.
I’m talking, of course, about Abby Anderson.
Who is Abby Anderson?
Abandon all hope of not being spoiled, ye who read on from here. Abby Anderson is a young woman around the same age as our protagonist, Ellie. She is a soldier in the Washington Liberation Front (the WLF, or “Wolves”), a large, militaristic group of survivors that are currently fighting for control of the remnants of Seattle. She is fierce, she is stubborn, and she is absolutely swole. Seriously—total beefcake. Just LOOK at those magnificent arms. With her rugged toughness and can-do attitude, she has all the makings of a fan-favorite character.
Except she isn’t a fan-favorite character. She’s a fan-hated character?
I’m serious, if you don’t want spoilers, stop reading.
I warned you.
She killed Joel Miller.
She killed our collective dad. Our woodsy, folksy, big-hearted dad who probably smelled like campfire smoke, aftershave, and a pinewood forest. Joel was our protector. Our savior. Our hero. He was our friend. For some of us, he was a total DILF. Whatever Joel Miller meant to you, we can all agree he was one half of the beating heart of The Last of Us, the other being his surrogate daughter, Ellie.
And Abby killed him.
She and her friends tracked Joel down through the wilderness. She found him and his brother Tommy out on patrol. She fought alongside Joel after he saved her miserable life from a pack of runners. And then, once she found out who he was …
She beat him to death with a golf club. While Ellie watched.
And my friends, I don’t think I need to explain to you the callous of hate that formed on my heart that day. I wanted Abby dead. I wanted her friends dead. I wanted her entire WLF operation burnt to the ground.
And then I found out why she did it …
Who WAS Abby Anderson—like, before all this went down?
Abby Anderson was once a little girl wandering the woods near Salt Lake City, Utah with her father Jerry Anderson. She collects coins for him, and she suffers through his terrible but endearing dad jokes. He’s sweet. He’s sensitive. And he probably would have been a good friend of Joel’s had they met under different circumstances.
Jerry is also the man who was going to perform the operation on Ellie—the operation that would have killed her in order to engineer a vaccine.
After fighting his way through the Fireflies guarding the operating room, Joel comes face to face with Jerry while Ellie lays unconscious on the bed. Jerry points his scalpel at Joel and says he won’t let him ruin humanity’s one chance for survival. Depending on what the player decides, Jerry is either shot or stabbed to death with his own scalpel. Joel then lifts Ellie’s body off the operating table and carries her out of the hospital, Jerry’s blood still on his hands.
Abby finds her father’s body hours later. She is distraught; just as distraught as Ellie will be when she watches Joel die. Abby swears revenge on her father’s killer, just as Ellie will.
And I still didn’t care. I may have empathized with Abby in that moment, but I still wanted to be the one to kill her.
And then the game made me spend more time playing as Abby.
Abby Anderson, anti-hero
While searching for one of her friends, Abby comes across two young runaways from a fundamentalist cult called the Seraphites. After the pair save Abby from being hanged and disemboweled, Abby travels with them to help defend against further attacks from the cult. The two children—Yara and her brother Lev—explain that they were marked for death by the cult after Lev shaved his head.
In reality, the cult seeks to eliminate the siblings because Lev is transgender, and his identity is seen as a sin and blasphemy in the eyes of the Seraphites. Abandoning all of her survivalist instincts, Abby makes it her mission to save the pair time and time again. Meanwhile, Ellie has been methodically hunting down and killing all of Abby’s friends in an attempt to find her location.
After Yara is killed by WLF forces and Ellie eliminates the last of Abby’s comrades, Abby tracks Ellie down in order to get revenge for killing her friends. A brutal battle ensues in which the game forces you to play as Abby instead of Ellie in the death match. After gaining the upper hand on Ellie, Abby nearly completes her revenge mission, but is stopped by Lev. Abby walks away, leaving Ellie alive for a second time.
A part of me still hated her, but I didn’t want to fight her anymore. She saved a child, and she let me live. After I killed everyone she ever loved.
Ellie didn’t share my feelings.
Abby Anderson, survivor
After trying to start life over on a farm in the mountains, Ellie is contacted by Joel’s brother Tommy, who tells her that Abby may still be alive and living in Santa Barbara. Leaving behind her girlfriend and their surrogate child, Ellie travels to Santa Barbara to claim her vengeance. She soon learns that Abby and Lev have been captured by a brutal group of slavers called the Rattlers, who are living in a compound inside the city.
After liberating the compound and freeing the enslaved people, Ellie finds Abby tied to a post on the beach. Her hair has been cut, and her muscles are gone. She’s a twig. A shell. She barely looks alive. Ellie cuts Abby down, and Abby frees an unconscious Lev.
And then she offers to help you escape.
Suddenly, I couldn’t hate Abby anymore.
After making their way to a pair of boats docked in the ocean, Ellie tells Abby she can’t let her go. Abby refuses to fight, but after Ellie threatens to kill Lev, she is left with no choice.
And so begins the most brutal, gut-wrenching fight ever put in a video game.
Despite having her ring and pinky fingers bitten off by Abby, Ellie gains the upper hand and holds Abby under water. Her weakened, half-starved combatant is unable to fight back. But just before Abby’s lungs fill with water, Ellie remembers a conversation she had with Joel one night on his porch sometime before he died. Joel had confessed to Ellie that he lied to her, that there were no other immune people, that they were going to kill her for a cure, and that he stopped them. Ellie was furious. She was supposed to die on that operating table, she says. Her life would have mattered. But that night on Joel’s front porch, Ellie tells her father, “I don’t think I can ever forgive you … but I would like to try.”
Ellie lets Abby go.
Perhaps Ellie realized that killing Abby wouldn’t bring Joel back and that it would only make her feel more hollow. But I like to think that Ellie decided to try to forgive Abby in that moment. She still hated her. She was still angry. But she realized that Abby was only acting out of love for her father, who was acting out of love for humanity—just as Abby maybe realized that Joel was acting out of love for his daughter, who was then acting out of her love for him.
And so, the central theme of The Last of Us Part II is not hatred, but love, and all the horrible things that love makes us do. Perhaps the greatest act of love is forgiveness—not necessarily out of love for those who wronged you, but out of love for yourself. In that moment, Ellie decides to move on. She would try to forgive Abby, just like she tried to forgive Joel, because that’s the only way she could continue to keep on living. That’s the only way for humanity to continue to live. After all, she was once willing to sacrifice herself in order for humanity to survive. Once again, Ellie decides to sacrifice a piece of herself in order to allow others to live. The Last of Us Part I and II both culminate in a strange sort of symmetry.
So who is Abby Anderson? She’s a person. A person who loves and hates and dreams and regrets. She’s a person who fights and lives and will someday die. She’s a person, just like Ellie.
(featured image: Naughty Dog)
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