The Last of Us Part II - Depicting a Realistic Relationship

The Last of Us Part II - Depicting a Realistic Relationship
In the process of writing another The Last of Us article. I found myself referring back often to how well the relationship between the main protagonist Ellie and her romantic partner, Dina is portrayed. Why is it so endearing and effective? The relationship feels so real and textured. How did Naughty Dog do it? Let's take a look...

This article assumes that you have played or know the story of The Last of Us Part II. The plot and ending will be thoroughly spoiled.

As the The Last of Us Part II starts one of Ellie's first lines of dialogue is about a new character, Dina. Of the new characters introduced in this game, Dina may be the only one that is universally liked by critics and fans alike. I believe this is because Dina and Ellie's relationship is portrayed masterfully. The game uses familiar techniques to draw parallels to Ellie's previous relationships and pain. We don't get a contrived love interest, we get a hopeful, flawed and believable relationship.

LGBTQ+ Representation in AAA Games

Within the first few minutes of the game we are made aware that bigotry does still exist even in a post-apocalypse. More importantly it is the last time that anyone in the game calls any attention to Ellie and Dina's sexuality.

Many critics of The Last of Us Part II have suggested that LGBTQ+ messages and themes are forced into the narrative for the developers of the game to advance their progressive ideals. While they may want to normalize these themes in games, the suggestion that it was forced into the game is just wrong. The relationship is carefully even painstakingly weaved into the story and is key to the narrative.

Ellie and Dina's dynamic might one of the most realistic human relationships between two individuals currently portrayed in mainstream media and certainly AAA games. There are a ton of great independent titles that feature LGBTQ+ protagonists and relationships but this is AAA big budget title where such representation is nearly nonexistent and usually not central to the plot.

Representation, inclusion and normalization in media is vital. Even though the media landscape surrounding this game is charged, this is an important note. I am a white, cis man. I am really not qualified to talk about LGBTQ+ representation beyond wanting to see more. But, I start the article this way to highlight that Naughty Dog did something powerful and respectful. They didn't call attention to the nature of the characters' sexuality. They normalized it within the world of The Last of Us and presented a realistic, believable romantic relationship that grows over the course of the story.

It isn't just great dialogue, acting or directing. This depiction is so good because the medium of games allow writers to deliver a nuanced long-form exposition that both takes its time expressing its ideas and allows the player to engage and relate directly with its characters. This article is less about themes, ideals, messages or story and more about the technique, writing and execution of depicting a normal, sometimes flawed, romantic but powerfully realistic human relationship.

Get ready for a extensive, step-by-step look at how Naughty Dog builds a devastatingly real relationship between Ellie and Dina together with the player throughout The Last of Us Part II.

What is a realistic relationship?

Film, television and games are not exactly known for their realistic portrayal of romance. An element that is often skipped or de-empathized is the underlying friendship of a romance. For most people, their partner is their best friend. Reducing out this element makes some sense - sexual tension, kissing and passion are much more exciting to show in entertainment. Building a friendship is not as sexy and certainly doesn't happen in the heat of the moment. Its more messy and more mundane - with few highs and lows. Most media tends to only concern itself with the big moments.

The Last of Us Part II does something interesting. Dina and Ellie do not start the game as a couple and they aren't quite dating. Its a pretty unique application of the love interest. Dina is meant to be an integral part of Ellie's story. She is support and Ellie's last connection to her humanity. The characters are friends when the narrative begins but Naughty Dog wants the player to actually be there to experience Ellie and Dina's journey from attraction into dating from disappointment to love and finally commitment. Their relationship is not a fairy-tale. This is essential for delivering on the games ultimate theme of the light in the darkness aka hope.

The game still has limited time available so time skipping is employed occasionally but passive devices like Ellie's journal or nostalgic dialogue are used to fill-in the background or give attention to a time that the player didn't witness or play through. However, certain moments in the relationship are intentionally given focus to give the player time to experience them through natural progression. In fact, more than half of the game's twenty hour run-time is spent blending Ellie and Dina from friends into a family.

The Awkward Stage

The player doesn't see it yet but is immediately told about the kiss Ellie and Dina shared. Ellie and other characters are quick to brush it off as a drunken mishap. The player's initial dialogue with Jesse indicates that dating among a variety of young people is normalized within the town of Jackson and this is reinforced by dialogue with Dina later in the creek section of the prologue. Ellie is more concerned that Jesse, a close friend wasn't upset because he had been dating Dina two weeks prior - young adult drama 101. Conveniently, the player learns that Ellie and Dina will be on patrol together.

Before leaving the town of Jackson. The player is introduced to Dina directly for the first time. Thanks in no small part to fantastic animation and stellar acting by Ashley Johnson and Shannon Woodward - players can immediately pick-up on the tension and awkwardness. Both characters fidget with their hands and avoid direct eye contact. They both stumble over each other's words (Dina is even nervously sarcastic about it) and neither addresses the actual kiss they shared. Overall, a great depiction of having butterflies in the stomach.

Dina smiles at Ellie awkwardly as they talk about their kiss from the previous night.
The tension is immediate and palpable.

The game breaks the tension with Ellie getting hit by a snowball from off-screen. The game transitions into what is ostensibly a creative combat tutorial but it also shows Dina's knee-jerk reaction to defend Ellie and their similar use of language and tone.

Dina: "What the fuck!"
Ellie: "I'm not even playing...I hate his kid so much."
Dina: "... you wanna fuck him up?"
Ellie: "...Yeah...I do."
Ellie and Dina jump over the fence to start a snowball fight or too finish it...
Finding each other's similarities is part of forming friendships.

The narrative is starting off slowly by showing the player subtle similarities between the two characters. We haven't really seen them interact as friends so the game sets off to lay groundwork for their relationship dynamic so far.

Its awkward but there is some chemistry. Ellie and Dina clearly like each other. The friends incidentally set off on a patrol together. Alone. What could go wrong...or right?

Dina and Ellie set off on horseback to go on patrol.
The friends incidentally set off on a patrol together. Alone. What could go wrong...or right?

Attraction & Romance

When the game next sets the player in control of Ellie. Her and Dina are riding horses down a peaceful creek trail and their dialogue immediately turns to discussing relationships. Delivering this dialogue while the player is in control of Ellie peacefully trotting on horseback is intentional. It not a cut-scene, its just a average conversation between the two.

In this exchange there is a lot of exposition regarding both of their past relationships - Dina with Jesse and Ellie with Cat. There are a number of quips that indicate that this is new territory for them.

Ellie: "Hey, how come we never talked about this stuff?"
Dina: "I don't know, it didn't never talked to me about Cat."

Both are nervous, overthinking, and worried which is common early in a romance.

This next section of the game is filled with veiled compliments and awkward attempts to flirt - mostly from Dina. All the usual suspects show up. Attempts to setup a romantic moment or strangely timed compliments about how nice Ellie looks. Paying close attention to the facial animation and voice acting really hammers the tension home. Seriously, go watch some of these scenes and pay attention to the characters' faces and body language. This is some of the best acting captured in games...possibly ever.

Dina engineers a romantic view of the mountains. Her flirting is not subtle.
Dina is not talking about the view of the mountains.

From reading back in Ellie's journal to her reactions to Dina's advances - the writing and acting is fantastic at communicating that she is attracted to Dina and that Ellie is wise to her attempts at flirting but fears ruining their friendship. Ellie's journal pretty much directly says this.

Ellie's journal shows her writing about not wanting to "Fuck up their friendship"
I think Ellie doesn't want to fuck up their friendship. Just a guess.

The section continues with more conversation and an interlude to explore a small abandoned neighborhood which is entirely optional but the game takes this opportunity to continue peppering in small moments.

The dialogue mostly has them communicating about how mundane this patrol really is - talking about what they are doing later that night. Discussing movies and Dina trying to schedule more alone time with Ellie later. If the player misses the collectible comic card in one of the houses, Dina will pick it up and give it to Ellie mentioning that she knows she collects them. An intelligent use of character to both ensure the player learns mechanics and to communicate their friendship.

The narrative transitions next into the first major combat encounter of the game where Ellie and Dina clear a strip mall and supermarket of infected. Its within this section that Dina saves Ellie's life. Not once, but twice. Both instances happen within an in-game quick-time event or cut-scene. In both cases, they follow immediate unexpected jump-cuts from game-play allowing the interactivity to translate into the action and therefore the feeling.

Dina saves Ellie from a Clicker.
Anyone who experienced this kind of shared adrenaline would feel closer to each other.

This is another important mechanism for the characters to grow closer together. The characters may be desensitized to killing but not to almost dying. This is illustrated in dialogue of the two discussing how they want to die and later in the Seattle section about how young they were the first time they killed another living human.

Its likely that the writer's intent was to surmount Ellie's cautious distance with elevated emotions. These stressful events combined with Dina's involvement would almost certainly be producing a cocktail of hormones and steroids like adrenaline, testosterone and estrogen that would lead to some dangerously heightened feelings.

As the player exits this section, the characters find themselves in a blizzard and they make a desperate attempt to find shelter. While Ellie almost gets lost, they both eventually find themselves to safety in an old library. They are trapped by a storm, relatively safe from infected and coming down off some intense emotional highs... At this point, any player who was paying attention knows what will happen. It becomes a question of when, not if. Its almost surprising that they don't turn to emotional comfort or sex more immediately as they find relative safety but that lack of caution would be less realistic.

While there is a level of predictability at play in the narrative. Its well-written because it feels earned. As Ellie and Dina make their way through the library they discover that it is where a previously mentioned character, Eugene must have had his own sanctuary. There may be a bit of misdirection at play in the writing for the player to think - "Maybe what I think is going to happen won't actually..." The exposition about Eugene has the characters constantly referencing how lonely he was and the player finds evidence that he left his family behind to become a Firefly. As they explore and discover Eugene's underground marijuana farm - the references to a "sex dungeon" and the incidental location of pornography videos in this area are not exactly subtle.

A Crash Bandicoot reference as a pornography video.
Heh. Because its a Naughty Dog game...

Ellie and Dina eventually find some functioning marijuana to enjoy and their conversation quickly leads to the obvious - their own budding relationship. This is another scene where I would encourage anyone to go back and watch how ridiculously nuanced the acting is - Shannon Woodward absolutely nailed it. Almost as if on cue, Dina turns the conversation to their previous kiss. Tropes such as Dina biting the bottom of her lip or reflecting nervous smiles are subtly included in body language. These are very human signs of unsuccessfully suppressing feelings of attraction. Look it up.

Dina biting her lip while talking to Ellie about their kiss.
Dina is failing pretty hard at suppressing her feelings of attraction.

Even the inclusion of smoking marijuana is meant to explain how little resistance either character has left to suppress their attraction. The scene has sexual tension that could be cut with knife. Its earned. The writers built this tension up even before Dina is on screen with Jesse's opening dialogue.

Dina and Ellie building romantic tension before they kiss.
The characters' eyes, facial expressions and lips really tell a lot more about what is going on.

There is a lot going on in this scene. This scene is not entirely about sex or kissing. Its about Ellie letting Dina in. The preceding two hours laid the groundwork to set up the moment - mostly with Dina trying and Ellie deflecting. Her defensiveness comes from fear and guilt. Internally, she makes it about not ruining their friendship. But, there is an important through-line there. Her survivor's guilt is inexplicably tied to romance. The Last of Us: Left Behind gives the player vision into why she might associate friends becoming lovers, kissing and relationships with her guilt. Ellie wanted Riley to be more than a friend. Whether conscious or not she likely sees kissing Riley and her subsequent death as related.

Ellie and Riley before they kiss in  The Last of Us : Left Behind

The emphasis on the kiss at the dance starts to gain much more meaning. Early in the game the writer's want the player to treat it as Ellie does - dismissively with no serious weight. Dina returns attention to it by talking about it - the player is meant to think its just Dina being flirty.

Near the end of the game the actual event is shown and it immediately attaches more context to this scene. There are strong similarities to Ellie and Riley's relationship. Except the roles are reversed.

Ellie: "I'm just a girl...not a threat."
Dina and Ellie romantically engaged during the town dance.
This wasn't drunken flirting as its initially described. It has much more emotional weight to it.

The player finally learns that it was not a drunken flirty accident, Dina's intentions are less playful and more genuine. It being a trigger for the marijuana farm scene makes a lot more sense in this context. Ellie's struggle with her fear and guilt becomes more and more clear throughout the game.

For instance, its even shown in her final scene with Joel (which takes place after the dance scene) when he asks whether she likes Dina.

Joel: "Is she your girlfriend?"
Ellie: "No! No. --she...that was just one kiss. It didn't mean anything, she just..."
Ellie: "I don't know why she did that."
Joel: "But, you do like her."
Ellie struggles with her love for Dina when Joel asks about it.
More superb acting underlines Ellie's internal struggle - questioning her own fears.

Look at reactions from many players and streamers watching the marijuana farm scene - its almost cathartic. On its face, players are happy for Ellie but they want her to have a normal romantic relationship, badly - it grows from the attachment to the character and the build-up.

When the game returns to the scene of Ellie and Dina talking quite comfortably. Importantly in this scene, Ellie is now trying to let Dina in. Ellie reveals that she is immune to the Cordyceps Brain Infection. The secret that is fundamental to her survivor's guilt, to Riley and its a deeply personal admission that only those closest to her know.  

This is foreshadowing the importance of Dina's role in Ellie's life. This is the same information that brought her and Joel together.

Ellie shares her secret but Dina doesn't believe her.
Ellie shares one of the most personal pieces of herself with Dina.

Unfortunately for this new couple, there is little time to bask in the glow of infatuation - the bleak world of The Last of Us only seems to allow glimmers of normalcy. It makes a lot of sense that bonding and relationships would play out much more quickly and viscerally than in our reality. (Practically, its a narrative - there is a lot of relationship ground to cover.)

The Honeymoon is Over

The player is thrown quickly into the section of the game where Ellie ends up witnessing the brutal murder of Joel, her father-figure, protector and the most important person left in her life. The Last of Us slams the honeymoon brakes on this relationship pretty quickly.

Its not an accident that Dina is the one who Ellie wakes up to see after being knocked unconscious following Joel's death. Ellie's survivor's guilt is thrust back into the forefront. At this moment in the story, Ellie has personally witnessed the death of everyone she has ever loved : Riley and now Joel. This is the first of many times that the writers of the game use Dina's presence to transfer some of Ellie's previous relationships' importance to Dina.

Dina finds Ellie unconscious after Joel's death

As Ellie decides to set out on a quest for revenge, Dina's role is not just a friend. The hormones and lust have certainly abated. Now, Dina is shown not as a flirty love interest but a supportive and consistent partner. The next few scenes are filled with interactions and dialogue that reinforce the couple's deepening connection.

Dina reminds Ellie that she is there for her with a tender touch.
"You go. I go. End of Story."

For Dina, its clear that going on the journey with Ellie was not even a second thought - she is already prepared for it and reiterates this to Ellie in a tender and genuine way. Dina is present through what is effectively a goodbye scene for Joel. Again, the story keeps building emotional similarities between Joel's meaning to Ellie and Dina's meaning to her. The game is no longer following a common romantic structure and propelling the player towards a conclusion for the love interest. Dina is fully established as part of the central plot.

Becoming a Couple

We fast forward a few weeks to the couple entering Seattle. They are no longer flirting or dating at this point. Ellie's journal can be referenced for some background of the trip - her entries are mundane (and contain some foreshadowing of Dina's pregnancy). The next few sections go out of the way to stretch the player's time with the characters. This upcoming open world section of Seattle is perhaps the most meandering section of the game. It is done precisely to give the player agency and time to experience Ellie and Dina as they spend time becoming a couple. The focus on them is evident due to the content of this section effectively being a glorified fetch quest with a few optional areas for world-building and resources. But, its there almost entirely for Ellie and Dina.

Ellie and Dina ride horseback into a open world section of post-apocalyptic Seattle

Players are meant to wander around experiencing moments with Dina that build chemistry and context for their relationship. The player is treated to dotted passive dialogue about Dina's past before Jackson, her mother and sister as well as her introduction to Ellie. There are also various quips building their dynamic. The dialogue in this section is so good because it slowly establishes the effect of the two spending more time together . Ellie and Dina start to show strengthened linguistic similarities (such as how they use curse words). Between Dina telling random pun jokes about their horse or sarcastic exchanges such as when they are in front of the courthouse - their relationship dynamic takes on more personality.

This is the phase of a relationship when couples begin to let their guard down and begin acting more naturally and showing more of their true selves to their partner. The writing demonstrates some of this via personal background discussions for example the dialogue and interactions in the synagogue. This section explores some of Dina’s Jewish heritage and reveals more about her personal beliefs and struggles.

Ellie learns about Dina's sister and her history when they find a Torah scroll

While the plot will eventually force the player through the synagogue - there are also completely optional scenes such as in an abandoned music store that add even more detail. Passive dialogue in this store reveals that Dina's attraction to Ellie is not new at all.

Ellie: "Uhh, okay, we only listened to it like a hundred times together."
Dina: "I was only listening to it because I thought you were cute"

This playful admission creates an intro into a mature and intimate guitar scene which is another scene that has a lot going on. This is where Ellie starts playing the song Joel taught her, the acoustic cover of Pearl Jam's "Future Days", which is effectively their goodbye theme. Dina asks what it is but Ellie is not yet ready to open up and she plays Dina a song from their past, a cover of "Take on Me" by Aha. This is another example of where the game's writers are placing Dina in a position that creates a transfer of the player's emotions for Joel to Dina. Juxtaposition of Joel's goodbye theme that gets cut-off next to a full performance of a theme representing Ellie and Dina's growing attraction is an incredibly nuanced exposition of Ellie's journey at this moment. Ellie performs the entire song in the scene, its not just important to compare to Joel's theme being cut-off but the camera direction wants the player to pay attention to feelings and atmosphere between Dina and Ellie - that of growing trust and intimacy.

Dina watches wistfully as Ellie plays Take On Me on guitar
Dina remembers a pleasant moment from their past at a bonfire.

There is a lot of unspoken exposition in this scene - the two are moving beyond physical attraction and becoming a couple. The dialogue actually book-ends with the previous lead-in with a more honest discussion of their past feelings.

Dina: "You should've kissed me then."
Ellie: "-sigh-"
Ellie: "I wanted to."

There are few other exchanges to discover such as Dina being referenced jokingly as a groupie and the couple start experimenting with saying "I love you". The player can spend many hours with Ellie and Dina in the open world section. The courthouse sequence also offers some more exposition around the characters' past experiences and optional areas such as the bank and pet store contain foreshadowing dialogue of Ellie and Dina's discussions about owning a farmhouse not to mention "to get a little creature to care for..."

Uncertainty and Disappointment

In the next few sections of the game Ellie and Dina go through more shared trauma and make their way across Seattle. It eventually culminates in the pair running away from a horde of infected and Dina witnessing first-hand that Ellie is immune. There is an element of deception that damages their trust- Ellie was wearing her mask the whole time. Dialogue with Joel much later in the game actually addresses this behavior and we learn that it is intended to reinforce the lie.

Ellie's mask is broken and reveals to Dina that she really is immune.

Once they escape to a nearby theater - a tense exchange ensues and Ellie and Dina have a pretty upsetting fight. The earlier happy love scene is twisted a bit as Dina realizes that Ellie was honest about her immunity and it does lead her to be honest about her pregnancy even knowing news that news will be not well received. Even so, Ellie's response is pretty cold and disappointing.

Dina: "I didn't want to be a burden."
Ellie: "Well, you're a burden now aren't you..."
Dina is hurt and crying during her fight with Ellie.

The player is experiencing another normal progression in the development of any relationship, disappointment. All of the things that were overlooked in the past are on the mind now. People can feel underappreciated and unloved. Which is precisely what Dina is feeling in this scene. The writing is also extremely effective at making the player feel how selfish Ellie is being. Her reaction is not coming from love or concern but her frustration and desire for revenge. Both characters are experiencing disappointment and uncertainty in different ways.

The next few sections of Ellie's story are not telling a fun, fairy-tale love story. This is when the player is reminded that this is The Last of Us and not a romantic comedy. Both Ellie and Dina are questioning their relationship - if they really love each other. Dina is certainly questioning her own pursuit of a relationship with Ellie. This is one of the most human and realistic elements of this portrayal in the game.

The characters spent the first part of the game connecting to each other. Now that connection is damaged. They both spend time away from each other for the first time in what is likely weeks. Ellie eventually falls asleep alone and for mental comfort returns to a happy memory of Joel although it also ends a subtle note of uncertainty with Joel.

Ellie returns to find Dina vomiting but also trying to help track-down WLF members via the radio. Ellie hurt Dina but she is still trying to help Ellie on her quest. There is somewhat of an apology from Ellie and she comforts a sick Dina. Its not an ideal apology, it hurts to watch but they are trying to reconnect.

Ellie comforts a sick Dina by rubbing her back
"Thanks. That helps."

As they try to leave, Dina is struggling and Ellie decides to leave her at the theater. This is actually the first step on Ellie's journey to realizing that Dina is more important than revenge. This a central struggle for Ellie.

Dina gives Ellie her bracelet for good luck.
Ellie: "I don't believe in luck" - Dina: "I do."

This also where Dina gives Ellie her bracelet and talks about praying for her. Many of these scenes are demonstrations that Dina loves Ellie deeply even when she absolutely does not deserve it. The player relates powerfully to Ellie so it is easier to justify how non-equitable the relationship is. Game director, Neil Druckmann has made comparisons in interviews to Ellie's relationship with revenge as that of a drug addict. Dina is being a loving companion even though Ellie is struggling with the drug addiction of revenge.

Intimacy & Love

Ultimately, challenges bring couples closer together because they learn they can get through tough times together and trust each other. Ellie returns in the next section with Jesse, Dina's previous lover and father of her baby. This immediately feels like a classic love triangle but its quickly demonstrated not be the case.

Dina and Jesse had already split up prior to the events of the game. Dina continues to invest in Ellie as a lover and is not really splitting her romantic affection for both of them. She is clearly treating Jesse as a friend. Even so, Jesse's presence sows uncertainty in Ellie - her dialogue in their next scene reflects that but Dina reinforces that she wants re-connection with Ellie not Jesse. There is not much dialogue to say these things outright but her care for her is tender and the acting in this scene is again on-point.

Dina stitches Ellie's wound and tenderly cuts the thread with a bite/kiss

Dina wants Ellie to embrace their love over hate. Dina wants Ellie to choose her and she struggles with Ellie's continued addiction with revenge. There is a theme underlying these scenes - love is a choice and it must be made everyday. It hurts to watch because the player keeps seeing Ellie choose hate.

Dina is subtly upset at Ellie's desire for revenge but keeps it in.

Ellie rushes out after this scene to go to the hospital in search of Abby and eventually finds Nora and tortures her to get answers. Upon returning, Ellie is clearly traumatized by her actions. She starts to finally examine the choices she is making and grappling with the cost of her hatred. Dina quite literally embraces Ellie out of continued love and support. There are articles online about how Ellie doesn't deserve Dina. They are right. Love is not always about what people deserve. This is one of the most devastatingly real ideas in this game. Loving someone is hard especially in the face of challenges and trauma. Its not a fairy-tale and its not always equitable - empathy and love are complicated.

I've written in other articles how thematically, The Last of Us is about seeking the light in the darkness. Dina plays this role and she represents hope for Ellie's humanity. Dina is effectively sidelined at this section in the game because as Ellie we leave Dina constantly to seek revenge and there needs to be hope to return to. My speculation is that Dina's pregnancy is also meant to represent hope for the future. Without Dina, Ellie would be consumed by rage with nothing to live for beyond revenge. Nothing would hold her back from sacrificing her humanity entirely.


This scene as Ellie returns this time is also cathartic as Ellie does finally realize how she has treated Dina. Even if the player wants Abby to die, they also want Ellie to choose love over hatred. Her struggle is painful to experience and the player has to keep watching her make destructive decisions for revenge.

Dina hugs a traumatized Ellie as she grapples with the horrible things she has done.
Ellie: "I don't want to lose you"
Dina: "Good."

After this scene, there is an exchange between Jesse and Ellie that indicates that Ellie is ready to give up killing Abby to return Dina to safety. One of the first times, we have seen her return love via her actions to Dina. Despite this intention the scene leads the player into the next section (ostensibly to help Tommy and "finish it") culminating in Ellie unintentionally killing Owen and a pregnant Mel at the aquarium.

When Ellie returns this time, the first shot is Ellie lying next to Dina. The concern and understanding in this short scene is palpable. Without any dialogue, its clear that Ellie is trying to let go of her hate for Dina's sake.

Ellie looks at a sick Dina in their makeshift bed. Realizing what is most important to her.

Shortly after this scene, dialogue with Tommy reinforces that Ellie has made the choice to put Dina's first. Up until this point, she has been completely selfish in her quest for revenge. Importantly, Ellie has not let go of her guilt yet but she is suppressing it because she loves Dina - there is commitment in their life together.

Ellie tells Tommy that she knows that Dina is more important than killing Abby

Becoming a Family

While it was Ellie's intention to leave. Abby shows up - kills Jesse and nearly kills Tommy and Dina. Ellie and Dina survive. Fast-forward to what appears to be roughly a year later.

We find Ellie, Dina and their son, J.J. living as a family with a farmhouse - events that were heavily foreshadowed in their Seattle dialogue. This vision of Ellie and Dina as a family is more equitable. Ellie is taking care of the baby, thanking Dina for doing the dishes and putting music on that she knows she loves. Their dialogue maintains its personality and carries forward details that were established previously.

Dina responds "Fuck Yeah" to Ellie putting on a song she liikes
She happens to put on the same song they originally kissed to.

Extremely mundane and relatable. For some people, this is where they wanted to the story to end. This is both a believable extension of Ellie and Dina's relationship and a relatively happy one.

Ellie, Dina and J.J affectionately being a happy family on their farm.

Light in the Darkness

They may have a happy life and a family but Ellie is still plagued by fear and guilt.
The player experiences Ellie's PTSD and Dina is there to pull her out of her darkness. While Ellie's suffering is clear, Dina's is more subtle.

It is clear that this is a battle they are both still fighting. Both of them have experienced incredible trauma together but Ellie still has not healed. Often the reality of love is accepting a partner with all of their flaws and pain.

Dina and Ellie sit together in the barn after Ellie's PTSD episode looking exhausted.

After Tommy reveals that he knows where Abby is, Ellie initially suppresses her hatred once again but eventually decides that she no longer can - with her guilt rising to the surface. Wearing Joel's jacket and packing in the middle of the night, she allows the darkness to seep back in and desperately searches for a way past her guilt.

Dina finds Ellie planning to leave and reminds her that she choses to love her despite the hardship.
"For you and for him, I deal with it." 

When Dina discovers her planning to leave, she pleads with her to stay. Reminding Ellie that she chooses to love her despite the difficulty and the pain. They are partners, they have a life together and their trials and tribulations are shared. Dina continues to be Ellie's connection to her humanity.

Dina begs Ellie to stay and not go after Abby again. Reminding her "We have a family"
"She doesn't get to be more important than that."

There are so many times that hatred would have certainly consumed her if not for Dina. But, Ellie's story isn't about hate, its about guilt. Her survivor's guilt is even stronger now that every person she has ever loved, save Dina and J.J. has died in front of her. Ellie has not changed yet and she is still searching for light in the darkness.

Love is a choice.

Ellie does not kill Abby and allows empathy and forgiveness to heal her guilt. A common interpretation of the ending sequence suggests that Naughty Dog's message is that revenge has cost Ellie everything.

It didn't.

The final scene of the game is quiet and contemplative. There is significant detail put into showing that Ellie still deeply loves Dina. From wearing Dina's bracelet from Seattle to drawings in her journal. Ellie's journal offers exposition into her struggle that goes all the way back to her survivor's guilt. She doesn't talk about pain, she talks about shame and whether or not she deserves to be loved or if it will poison her loved ones. She believes that she should be dead - that her life should have given meaning to Riley and Joel's death but she is finding new importance in Dina and J.J's life.

Ellie's journal from the final scene at the farm showing a poem of her struggle and a drawing of Dina and J.J.

Dina has already established that she loves Ellie regardless. Dina gave so much love to Ellie throughout the story that it kept her from being consumed by the darkness. There are other details to suggest that at the end, Dina's love persists. Ellie's paintings of Dina and J.J. are taken. The only items left in the house are Ellie's jacket from Seattle and a room of mostly Joel's things that she had. Dina left Ellie's past and their trauma in the house, she didn't leave Ellie.

Referring back to Neil Druckmann's characterization of Ellie's revenge as a drug. If a flawed person who you have deeply loved returns to you clean from a drug addiction and they bring their love for you - wouldn't you embrace them?

The Last of Us is not the type of game to tell us a idealized, fun love story. But, it is willing to tell us a hopeful, realistic one. There is always light in the darkness. Humans can fall to incredible lows but our ability to love each other is powerful.

Love is a choice and you have to choose it every day.

Joel's guitar sits in the window of the farmhouse with a moth deisgn. Showing that Ellie is no longer searching for light in the darkness. She is likely going to find Dina and JJ
Ellie is no longer the moth searching for light in the darkness.

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