I have only currently played The Last of Us a single time (I'm in the process of playing through the remaster on the PS4 however) and whilst everyone tends to focus on Ellie and sings her praises of being a well written and strong female character, Joel is as just as important. The direction that Naughty Dog decided to go with regards to Joel's character is interesting; a single father thrust into a post-apocalyptic world, willing to do whatever it takes in order to survive. Joel is strong, but silent; rarely speaking without purpose or due thought. Not only does this say a lot about his character, but it also allowed Naughty Dog to build some very strong characters around him - Ellie and Tess come quickly to mind. Naughty Dog's fantastic writing helped to shape Joel as a character, but it was an amazingly passionate performance from Troy Baker that really brought Joel to life.
Warning mateys - Here be spoilers!
But as the initial break out of the cordyceps infection unfolds, we also catch glimpses of how Joel will become in the main game - cold, bordering on ruthless at times, a survivor that will resort to any means necessary to ensure self-preservation and the preservation of those he cares about. In the introduction, Joel loses his daughter and this acts as a catalyst to his entire character during the length of the game. The death of his daughter causes Joel to become distant to others, the things he does is in his own best interests; he works with Tess smuggling weapons and works towards ensuring that they have enough meal tickets to make sure that they're both fed. It's become a dog-eat-dog world and Joel seems right at home within it. He doesn't let people get too close, not allowing himself to build relationships with people save for Tess. Allowing people to get to close would only mean the similar pain that he felt when he lost his daughter.
Even when Ellie is first introduced, Joel keeps her at arms length - seeming annoyed that he and Tess are dragged in to look after a fourteen-year-old. It's not until after Tess' death and when Joel is left alone with Ellie, that he truly begins to bond with her. Joel takes her under his wing and whilst he makes it clear throughout several points in the game that she will never fully replace his daughter, he does eventually let her step into the role of step daughter.
The second is right at the end of the game when Joel rescues her from being killed in an operating theatre; Ellie would sacrifice herself for the greater good so that a cure can finally be made, but Joel can't stand to lose her. He condemns the world to death because he couldn't stand losing another daughter all over again, he would have no purpose because his purpose is Ellie. Whilst Joel's motivations can be understood, it doesn't necessarily make them right. This is what makes Joel such an interesting character; his relationship with Ellie is like father and daughter but his surroundings and circumstances have taken some of his negative personality aspects and amplified them. In a world without any form of official law or rule, anything is game and Joel knows this, doing whatever it takes in order to survive.
Morally grey and questionable characters are my favourite because everyone will have a different interpretation of them. Whilst I have chosen to look at Joel's actions in one way, another person might look at them in a different way altogether; the best characters inspire debate and this is what Joel does in buckets.
"No matter what - You keep finding somethin' to fight for."
Did you enjoy Joel as much as we did? Let us know in the comments below, or come follow us on Facebook/Twitter!