The Last of Us Part II is a gut-wrenching story of revenge set in a lawless, post-apocalyptic world. The ending to Naughty Dog’s harrowing game builds upon the overall bleak tone in a very dark way, but one fan noticed a detail from the game's ending that could mean the grand finale isn't so grim after all.
Heavy endgame spoilers for The Last of Us Part II follow. Read at your own discretion.
Everyone who's played Last of Us 2 would agree that it ends on a seemingly irredeemably dreary note. Ellie gave up the semblance of a quaint family life she had built with Dina and their newborn JJ for one last chance to kill Abby for killing Joel at the start of the game. Ultimately, Ellie's lust for revenge leads her to lose that family, and a few fingers, which means she can no longer play the guitar, one of the few connections she still had to Joel.
But what if we were to tell you that the final scenes of TLOU 2, when Ellie realizes she’s unable to play the guitar Joel gifted her, was actually a happy ending. We just didn’t see it.
This fan theory began gaining traction online on June 5, and it claims that Naughty Dog left out a large chunk of time between when Ellie left Santa Barbara and when she returned to the farmhouse that she and Dina had been living. That could mean Ellie still had a life elsewhere and that she wasn't returning to an empty nest after she let Abby go. Granted, it takes a long time to travel between Santa Barbara, California and Jackson, Wyoming; but it still seems like a lot of time has passed.
The one key detail that has made fans believe this rumor is the bracelet Dina gave Ellie. When Ellie has her final face-off against Abby in Santa Barbara, it's missing. But then Ellie is wearing it again when she returns to the farmhouse.
Twitter user @Maracrrt posted a screenshot of another fan laying out the entire theory with screenshots of Ellie's wrists in the different scenes:
The theory explains that Dina most likely returned to Jackson after Ellie left to hunt down Abby. So Ellie could have returned to Jackson after traveling to Santa Barbara where she reunited with Dina and JJ. Then she could have gone to the farmhouse to collect her old things, but decided to leave that part of her past behind her.
Here's a full transcription of the theory @Maracrrt posted a screenshot of:
“[A] YouTuber commented on the letter you find at the farm when you are with Dina and the baby. It’s from the baby’s father’s mom [Jesse’s mom] saying they will always have a palace in Jackson if they choose to come back home. Also if you notice ... when Ellie leaves to fight Abby at the end she’s not wearing the bracelet Dina gave her but when she returns the camera zooms in on her hand ... we were focused on the finger missing but looked completely passed the fact that now she is wearing the bracelet, possibly meaning she has already been to Jackson and is living with Dina ... She just went back to the farm for the guitar but decided to leave it. That represents her finally being able to accept Joel’s death and end the cycle of revenge.
Here’s some more things to back this claim…
When she comes back to the farm, she’s not hurt or not wearing any of her weapons.
She doesn’t seem surprised that everyone is gone when she enters the house. She doesn’t call out Dina’s name or anything.”
The Inverse Analysis — Did Ellie's quest for revenge destroy her entire life, leaving her an empty shell of her former self, unable even to hold a guitar? Gamers would probably interpret the ending as Ellie trying to heal and move past her violent past, instead of her returning to a shell of her former life.
The biggest piece of evidence required to prove this is the note @Maracrrt's screenshot was referring to, which players encounter on the dining room table early in the farmhouse sequence. Even if you don't read the note, it makes sense that Dina would return to Jackson with baby JJ rather than try to live along at the isolated farmhouse, especially when she had family back in Jackson.
Plus, Naughty Dog really leaned into nonlinear storytelling for TLOU 2, so leaving out portion of time and hinting at it with a tiny detail, like Ellie's bracelet, seems like something the studio would do. So there might have been some hope left for Ellie after all.
The Last of Us Part II is now available on PlayStation 4.