Joel meets a very brutal and pathetic end for such a developed and beloved character. We barely got to see much of him before it happened. And it was at the hands of an almost completely undeveloped new character. With a very imposing stature as well. All these things mattered, as they made it that much easier to hate Abby.
If we had previously been introduced to her in TLOU1, or if we got to play as her more before this event happened, and this scene occurred near the middle or end of the game instead, or if she was just a cute scrawny little 14 year old like Ellie was, we'd be more sympathetic to her, and the purpose of the scene wouldn't have been as effective.
The goal here was to make people hate Abby, and this whole situation, as much as possible. Even questioning Naughty Dog's writing. And it worked.
I wanted to see her beaten to death with a golf club. I saw more than one person make that exact same remark. I can't recall feeling that strongly about killing a character before.
People were angry, sad, even nauseated.
It soon became apparent that they were going to try to make us sympathize with Abby, through flashbacks and by playing the game from her perspective.
And I was quickly resigned to the idea that no matter what they show, I'm not going to think that what happened in that scene was ok. How it happened. And when it happened. I never considered that that could have been the point.
I've watched a few Youtubers since to see their reaction, and I commonly saw the same reaction to when they started playing as Abby. "I get that they want me to feel for Abby, but..."
There was always this reservation because of how and when that initial scene played out. Even when we got happy flashbacks of Joel and Ellie, there was a dark cloud looming over it. You can't forget what happened.
Finding out Abby's motivation still didn't change much about how I felt. And I don't think that was the point. It's everything that happened while we were busy thinking about how nothing will make that scene ok.
Because that scene occurred very early in the game, it gave us that much more time to get to know the killer after already hating her with a passion. That's why it happened so early. And that's something I haven't experienced before when being able to play as the antagonist.
I initially thought of anything in Abby's story unrelated to Joel as more of a distraction from the most important issue. And because of that, before I realized it, I was invested in a separate storyline with new characters I cared about such as Yara and Lev.
And this character I initially hated with a passion and wanted to see killed with a golfclub, I did not want that any more.
I now also began to view Ellie as more antagonistic. Yet another thing that was not on my Bingo card when I first booted up this game. In the boss fight against Ellie, she's the cowardly boss with the gun while you're unarmed and have to try to sneak up on her. Mirroring the fight against David in the first game.
The more extreme that initial scene was, the more heavily the game could challenge our views.
It started with Ellie and Abby on the opposite ends of two extremes. And as you kept playing, they slowly began to drift towards the same center. Abby more and more clearly became a counterpart to Ellie. She went through very similar things. Ellie went to a museum with Joel. Abby went to an aquarium. Ellie lost her father. Abby lost her father. They both did shitty things, and they both did good things. Neither one was either good or evil.
How everyone ends up feeling about each character depends on the person. But I don't recall experiencing something like this anywhere else.
And that's something I can take away from this game.
Another theme they highlighted with this game is the regret of staying mad at your loved ones when you don't know how much time you have with them.
Ellie was mad at Joel for years, even though she loved him and she knew he loved her. And they had just began to patch things up right before this happened.
Because Ellie and Joel are such established and beloved characters, and we waited 7 years for a sequel, Naughty Dog were able to hammer home this point a lot harder than most stories possibly could. And that last flashback scene of them trying to patch things up was so powerful.
I will say though that I think the writing majorly falters at the final act. Before that, seeing Ellie, Joel, Abby or anyone else as both good or evil depending on who's perspective you're looking from made perfect sense in this kind of world. And I'm glad Naughty Dog decided to explore that, while challenging our established views of these characters.
However, I could not buy that Tommy would be this petty, vindictive and manipulative person that he is in the end. Both in this game and the first one they mention that Tommy has done some bad things, so you can say it was foreshadowed. But foreshadowing is not development.
Likewise, I also could not believe that Ellie would accept the proposal to once again go after Abby. After already killing so many of Abby's friends, and Abby letting her live, twice? Killing so many of Abby's friends should have been enough. "It has to be", as both her and Tommy decided earlier when they planned to turn back and go home. And that was before Abby let her live for the second time.
Ellie losing everything in the end, facing her worst possible nightmare of being alone, not even being able to play the guitar that Joel gave her, was the price for pursuing vengeance. If her motivations in the final act had felt more in character, I could have appreciated this part more.