When Ellie leaves Joel clutching her knife, we don’t even know if he’s going to be conscious to defend himself. However, after Joel hears one of the cultists upstairs, moving a piece of furniture away from the basement door, he’s able to gather his strength and dispatch his first bad guy by catching him from behind and plunging the knife into his neck. According to Craig Mazin, this adrenaline-fueled survival feat might not be possible if it were just Joel fighting for himself:
“He is fighting for Ellie. If it were just him, I think he would just be like, ‘Oh, for f***’s sake, just do it. Just kill me already. I’m useless, I’m broken, I’m lying on this mattress, and I’m dying.’ But the thought that Ellie might still be alive, that Ellie might need him, that is what gets him off the mattress. That’s — Well, that and the penicillin, which is derived from a fungus, which I love. That’s what gets him going, and [director] Ali [Abbasi] really stressed that this fight should have a sad desperation to it. That Joel is hanging — He stabs this guy and then hangs onto him because he doesn’t have the strength to stand anymore. And then they both fall to the ground, and it is ugly.”
While the first guy he kills can be written off as self-defense, “The Last of Us” has alluded to Joel murdering people in the past, and we see a more brutal side of him come out as he starts torturing (and killing) others tied prisoners for information on Ellie’s whereabouts. The moral of the story is: don’t get between Joel and Ellie.
“The Last of Us” season 1 finale airs next Sunday, March 12, 2023, on HBO and HBO Max.