Ever since The Last of Us Part II was first revealed back in 2016, fans have been asking one extremely important question: Is Joel dead? Naughty Dog has remained tight-lipped about the ex-smuggler’s status, but a recent interview has offered some new hints about how he’ll fit into the upcoming game’s story.
The original cryptic The Last of Us 2 trailer features a 19-year-old Ellie strumming a guitar in a house filled with fresh corpses, which are heavily implied to be Ellie’s doing. Eventually, a man walks in from outside and confronts her. We never see his face, but it’s Joel’s familiar voice. The teasing camerawork and the dialogue that sounds more like a guilty conscience than an actual conversation set off a wave of speculation that Joel might actually be dead and appearing here only as a reflection of Ellie’s psyche.
There were a lot of threads on The Last of Us subreddit about this and it spawned all sorts of weird theories, like the man in question actually being Tommy, Joel’s brother. There were also people who got fed up with all the speculation. “F**king hate the Joel is dead theory”, as one user put it.
Now, we finally have a bit more information about what’s up with Joel.
In an interview with Newsweek, Naughty Dog co-directors Kurt Margenau and Anthony Newman revealed that the upcoming sequel will touch upon how Joel and Ellie’s relationship has evolved since the five years that have passed in the first game.
“What excites me about the game is that we’re gonna get to see how Joel and Ellie’s relationship has evolved,” Margenau told Newsweek. “It’s a complicated relationship after the events of the first game. It’s been five years, and we’re going to see more of how they are now and where they go in the course of this game.”
That seems to imply Joel is alive. After all, how else can you interpret “where they go in the course of this game” if you’re exploring a relationship with two people?
However, we also know that Ellie will be the only playable character in the game. With that in mind, it’s actually easy to read the above statement more loosely as the “Joel” in question being Ellie’s conscience as she continues to become a more ruthless, amoral survivor.
Naughty Dog also refuses to confirm or deny blunt inquiries into Joel’s status. During the PlayStation Experience 2017 panel, writer Neil Druckmann said neither Ellie nor Joel are wearing plot armor plot armor. Either one of them, or both of them, could die during the game.
Be scared. Nothing is sacred.