"The Last Of Us" Ending, Would Ellie's Death Have Helped?
Warning, Spoilers Ahead!
Hopefully this article is being published long enough after the game was released that everyone either has played the game, or doesn't want to play it. If for some reason you still plan on playing it this is fair warning. This article will be discussing the ending of the game and the possible motivations behind those decisions, and why I personally agree or do not agree with those decisions. Please do not read this article if you still wish to play the game through without knowing the ending.
Final Warning, this is the ultimate spoiler!!
So, long story short, the end of "The Last of Us" has Joel finding the Fireflies, handing Ellie over to them, only to find out that they want to kill her and harvest her brain for the spent spores that should have taken over her mind and killed her. Then later, when Ellie wakes up in the car as they are driving off, Joel chooses to tell Ellie that they already have found a cure, they do not really need her, everything is just fine and dandy, thank you.
But what really is happening here? Is Joel really leaving the world to ultimately die a horrific, smothered internally by spores, bloating and exploding violently, death? And making Ellie and unwilling accomplice at that? Would we really all choose that path if it was us, take our own and who cares about the rest of the world if it would mean giving up our own loved ones?
So, Was Joel Justified in the Choice He Made?
In my opinion, the true question isn't was Joel justified in preventing the Fireflies from saving humanity from the spores by removing the only potential cure they had found so far. I am not even convinced that leaving Ellie to die would have provided a cure, or even given the Fireflies a decent chance at finding a cure. I believe the chances are very high that they would have killed Ellie, all well meaning for a good cause, but to no good final resolution. I do not personally believe that Ellie's death would have provided the cure to save humanity, but would instead have just been sacrificing a life with no future benefit to anyone.
Allow me to explain my thoughts.
Your Brain On Fungal Spores
Are We Asking the Right Questions?
As the title of this section suggests, I believe we are not asking the correct questions in this situation. I think before we get to asking if Joel did the right thing, if we agree with him and would have done the same thing in his situation, we need to ask if we believe the doctors were correct. Was the only way to retrieve the cure to be obtained only by the death of Ellie, complete with dissecting her brain.
What would we have thought if Joel had allowed them to cut open Ellie's brain, only to find that the cure was not contained within it?
Put Some Peroxide On It or Something
Surgeon's Recording (1:39 for Recording)
Ellie Gets Infected
According to Ellie, while she was at boarding school, she and a friend decide to go outside the quarantine zone for some reason. While they are there they both get bitten by some stray zombies. Since they both know the facts of life in a zombie apocalypse, they decide to wait out the end of their days together. But in the end Ellie survives the infection, her friend does not.
Disclaimer: I have no medical knowledge whatsoever, have never studied to be a doctor or nurse of any kind. However I am going to attempt to dissect the medical diagnosis as given in the game. This should be fair and square as I highly doubt they had any trained medical experts working on helping develop their game, so what they are guessing could possibly happen couldn't be any nearer or farther from the truth than what I am guessing might possibly be happening in the context of this game. I have used Google Search for the terms I don't understand, please feel free to search these terms for yourselves and offer any opposing viewpoints on your understandings of these technical terms.
In the Surgeon's Recording that Joel retrieves in the hospital section of the game, the doctor who is investigating this infection remarks that it has progressed far differently than any other case he has seen, that in most other patients with the infection their "antigenic titers of the patient's Cordyceps remain high in both the serum and the cerebrospinal fluid" (something to do with DNA immunity, suggesting that the body is actively trying to fight the infection in some way), and that blood cultures taken from the patients rapidly grow "Cordyceps in fungal-media," suggesting that they place the blood culture in an environment that encourages the growth of fungi, which is supposed to suggest that the fungus responsible for this infection is still very active and aggressive. However he goes on to reveal that while all of this is also true with Ellie, her white blood count remains quite normal (suggesting that even her the body may be fighting the infection on a DNA level, it considers the battle over on a pure biological level.) He goes on to reveal that within Ellie the spores are not in an active growing state (no elevation of pro-inflammatory cytokines), and that an MRI suggests that her brain is clean (an MRI of the brain shows no evidence of fungal-growth in the limbic regions), nor does she show any of the changes in mental state that accompanies infection (which would normally accompany the prodrome of aggression in infected patients).
What this suggests to me, an unknowledgable, non-medical professional, is that he is guessing that some factor in her DNA is resisting the alteration of her body by the fungus, somehow resisting allowing her body to be a comfortable host for the spores of this infection. She weathered the assault the infection placed against her body until the growth phase was passed, and all that remains, perhaps, is the physical evidence of the spore growth in the bite on her arm, and apparently some remnant of the infection is visible in the eyes, even though we have no idea what that evidence might be or how it affects the eyes at all.
Diagnostics of CBI
What Does This Suggest?
I personally have no idea why this particular doctor has decided that all the answers lie in the fungus that may or may not reside in Ellie's brain. They certainly may, as evidenced in all the facts they have acquired about how the fungus affects the brain and how it grows to the brain and spreads from there. However, from what I have seen of the evidence Joel has collected about the experiments the doctors have done on Ellie as of yet (and honestly they truly were not there long enough for very many more tests to be done than what Joel found), they haven't even found proof that the spores were able to reach her brain, or that the answer is in how the spores have been altered within Ellie at all. It is equally possible that the spores are exactly the same as any other spores in any other host, the difference may all be within Ellie herself.
The difference may be in Ellie's DNA, as is suggested somewhat in the surgeon's recording. Or it may have to do with some other infection in Ellie's bloodstream that is unique to Ellie. Or it may have something to do with some factor they have never been exposed to before. And somehow, for some reason, they have decided their only option to finding a cure is to kill Ellie now, today. Not take some of her blood and inject another infected and see what happens. Not pull white blood cells from her and place them in someone else and see if that slows down infection rates, no we just kill Ellie and hope the spores themselves are the cure, and if they are not then oh well I guess we have nothing at all. Because we can't then go back and unkill her to find out if there was another way.
The Ultimate Kicker?
What irritates me the most about this whole situation is that Ellie might indeed not be unique. Society as it currently is existing has actually no way to find out if there may be a whole sector of people who are immune to this infection. They way the military in the beginning area operates, entire populations of people may have found out that they were immune, but we will never know because the military kills them as soon as it is revealed they were even exposed to the infection. No quarantine for exposed people to find out if they will display symptoms or ultimately succumb to the infection before they are put out of their misery, no! It is immediate and final! Check the eyes with the device they are given, and if there is evidence of the fungus they are shot on the spot.
In the smaller groups there tends to be more hysteria and less reasoning, so it is likely that there are many small groups who also shoot those exposed on sight, however there is still a slim chance that an immune camp has sprung up somewhere, away from the huge military groups. Since in a small camp everyone relies so intimately upon everyone else, having someone who has been exposed be locked away instead of immediately killed is far more likely that was seen on the military base. So it would be noticed far more quickly if someone showed signs of being immune. The problem then would be that only that small community would know, there would be no way to communicate with everyone that someone had come up immune. And many reasons to keep that knowledge to your own little group. After all, your immune person just might be sacrificed for the 'greater good,' even if no proof has been found that sacrificing the life of that person would ultimately do any good at all.