Sony revealed The Last of Us Part 2 over the weekend with a trailer just long enough to give viewers something to speculate about. Like any popular, unproven internet theory, this one has The Last of Us players taking sides for and against it — but mostly against it.
(There’s some light The Last of Us spoilers from here on out, and if this theory is true, it would be a major spoiler for The Last of Us Part 2.)
The video for The Last of Us Part 2 introduced us to an older, battle-scarred Ellie, seated alone in a bedroom. Except she wasn’t completely alone — there were dead bodies strewn all over the house, and the blood running down her forehead suggested Ellie might have had a hand in their demise.
There was one other body in there with Ellie, though: Joel, the hero of (and Ellie’s guardian in) the first game. We don’t see Joel for very long, and we never see him from the front, but it was enough to convince fans that he’s not actually still alive, after all. Instead, Joel is dead, appearing before Ellie as some sort of guide from beyond.
Plot twist: Joel is dead the whole way through TLOU2 and Ellie is imagining him while she hunts down his killers— Marianne Craven ❄ (@miss_mariii) December 4, 2016
On top of it, Joel walked into the house appearing as... well, a ghost kinda.— Alpha ライアン (@AlphaFoxWarfare) December 4, 2016
Joel is more than likely dead.
Popular theory right now is that Joel is dead, and Ellie is reminiscing over past events as she plans to take revenge on the Fireflies.— Ace Trainer Merrick (@MerrickSSB) December 3, 2016
That Ellie is the lead playable character in The Last of Us Part 2 could lend credence to that theory. Naughty Dog has been careful to mention both characters when discussing the game thus far, saying that Ellie and Joel will return. That hasn’t deterred fans who consider themselves savvy in the ways of narrative convention. The prevailing thought seems to be that Joel, who survived through the end of the previous game, either dies at the beginning or sometime before Part 2 begins.
That’s heartbreaking for anyone who grew attached to Joel and Ellie in the last game. It’s not that either camp is fond of this theory — it’s just that some fans feel very, very strongly that it’s the most likely story. Those against the idea have made their opposition well known.
Why does everyone assume Joel is dead? This rumor has blown up so much I have ppl arguing it's straight up fact. >.<— Kathleen (@Kathleenmms321) December 5, 2016
stop saying joel is dead let me have one good thing this year pic.twitter.com/VQJe7gIKWd— tony (@scamendr) December 3, 2016
peopke saying that Joel is dead need to stop because i'll be so upset you can't do this to Ellie she's been through enough gfdi— Ghost&Water Defender (@AlludeCheshire) December 5, 2016
The Last of Us' subreddit is engulfed in debates over whether Joel is dead or not, with most arguing against the idea. Some choice thread titles include "From a game design perspective, Joel cannot be dead;" "I don't think that Joel is dead in the trailer;" "Fucking hate the Joel is dead theory;" and "Joel isn't dead. The main reason? You not being a genius for your theory because it's FAR too obvious."
But others still argue that Ellie is hallucinating the presence of Joel to help her cope with the trauma she suffered during the previous game. This could be a good thing for Ellie's character development, these believers write.
"Ellie will be much different in this game than in the first one," said user nerveonya. "Her actions [fueled] by hate, hate of Joel's killers, hate of Joel himself, and hate of herself, for allowing herself to get that close to someone. In terms of emotionally opening up to people, that's never going to happen again. And we are going to be getting a few cool scenes of Ellie angrily yelling at Joel for leaving her alone in this world."
We won't know much about The Last of Us Part 2 for a long, long time. There's no release date in sight, and the game's still early on in development. Expect the theories to rage on until the next time we see the game.