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I just finished my third playthrough of The Last of Us Part II and would like to revise some of my earlier remarks about the game's ending because it struck me a bit differently this time around. Guess the third time really is the charm because only this time around did my brain combine certain details I'd noticed into a whole that forms a new picture.

I'm now starting to think like...maybe there is a sort of happy ending in a sense here for Ellie to be inferred actually. Think about these elements:

-At the farmhouse, there's a letter from Jesse's mom saying Ellie and Dina will always have a place in Jackson if they choose to return.
-When Ellie leaves Dina and J.J. to fight Abby, she's not wearing the bracelet Dina gave her.
-When Ellie returns to the farmhouse after fighting Abby, she's wearing the aforementioned bracelet. And has no noticeable injuries (besides her missing fingers, obviously). And doesn't seem surprised by Dina's absence.

I noticed all those things before, but I thought of them as separate, largely unrelated beats. When I played through this time, all those things came together in my mind to form a new picture. The part about Ellie being healed from her injuries is what drives this home for me. That implies the passage of some time since her fight with Abby. She didn't just return from that. It makes sense in this context that she wouldn't be surprised by Dina's absence if it's been some time since the fight, but where has she been all this time? Has she been living there at the farmhouse by herself...and yet only just now thought about picking up Joel's guitar and is wearing the bracelet Dina gave her for similar nostalgic reasons? Maybe! Something like that is how I read it on my first playthrough. BUT...why is she coming BACK TO the farmhouse? Where is coming BACK TO the farmhouse from if she lives there? See what I'm saying?

Possible implication: she lives in Jackson now, with Dina! Hence why she's wearing the bracelet! That also explains where she's going when she leaves in the last scene. She visited the farmhouse again to pick up Joel's guitar in another moment of personal weakness, but she's unable to play it because she's lost her fingers in the second fight with Abby. This forces her to come to grips with the irony of her actions: in her ambition to avenge Joel, she lost even the memory of him in a sense. More pointedly though, this moment forces her to reckon with the fact that she has to let go. That's what she's been unable to do up to this point. And so she finally does...but not in the abject despair I thought before! She has a life now! It's back in Jackson where she lives now with Dina and is returning to. There's real hope here for Ellie being implied, I now think! That hope just isn't made the focus of celebration in the narrative, so I didn't notice it before. Maybe this isn't supposed to be just a totally sad ending, in other words; just mellow in tone. That gives me more to think about.