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Ellie seated in the audience of a theater, playing the guitar in The Last of Us Part 2 Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment via Polygon

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I spoiled the hell out of The Last of Us Part 2, and it made me love it more

We live our life spoiled, after all

Ryan Gilliam (he/him) has worked at Polygon for nearly seven years. He primarily spends his time writing guides for massively popular games like Diablo 4 & Destiny 2.

The Last of Us Part 2 suffered a massive leak prior to its release on June 19. Many details about the twists and turns of the game’s story made their way onto the internet, which meant clicking on the wrong thread or accidentally reading a Twitter comment could spell disaster for players looking for a pure experience at launch.

My experiment was simple: I wanted the authentic experience of being spoiled, and then playing the game to see how badly it hurt my enjoyment.

I looked up threads on the subreddit and read Twitter comments to learn the kinds of things players might accidentally run into during their normal time online. The spoilers were everywhere; I thought I knew just about everything about the game’s story before I started playing, and getting spoiled didn’t take long at all.

But I could not ruin The Last of Us Part 2 for myself. The spoilers may have, in fact, helped me enjoy the game even more.

This is what I learned, and fair warning: There will be spoilers.

The spoilers weren’t that reliable

I knew Joel was going to die.

I knew this because I read it online, but Joel’s death already felt like a given after the first game.

What I didn’t know was how early it would happen. The spoilers said he died five hours in, but Abby takes Joel out at the end of the game’s prologue — less than two hours into The Last of Us Part 2. I had read the story beat, but I didn’t expect my own sharp, inward breath when Joel and his brother, Tommy, rescue Abby from a group of infected — knowing that she would kill him in a matter of minutes.

I had thought we would have more time together.

a young woman (Ellie) and young man (Jesse) standing under lights in The Last of Us Part 2 Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Interactive Entertainment

I knew Ellie would hunt Abby down and kill her friends. I knew I’d ultimately switch to Abby’s point of view, she would

kill Jesse, and amputate the arm of a girl named Yara. I knew Dina was pregnant, but wasn’t entirely sure what would happen to her or Tommy. If you don’t recognize these names or story beats, maybe come back after you’ve finished the game?

Which I know is strange to say, since I knew almost nothing about the ending. I read spoilers that said Abby would kill Dina and Ellie, I read spoilers that said Ellie would kill Abby and then run off to create the vaccine referenced in the first game. None of these scenarios exactly match the real ending.

I couldn’t wait to see how Naughty Dog connected everything together after reading the spoilers. I was curious, but not necessarily excited. I already knew what was going to happen, after all.

I wasn’t ready, it turns out.

It’s about the journey

Joel’s death hurts to watch, especially if you still loved him at the end of the first game, like I did. But why Abby kills Joel, and why he still means so much to Ellie, gives that moment weight.

WLF Gate Journal Entry collectible The Last of Us Part 2 Seattle Day 1 (Ellie) Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America via Polygon

The Last of Us Part 2 is very effective at making you feel things, even if what you feel isn’t exactly an emotion you’d want to seek out. Anger toward “evil” characters, sympathy toward the folks you care about, disgust at the violence ever-present in this world, and joy at the quiet moments between a father figure and his adopted daughter, or a young woman and her love. Whatever you think about the final game, and those opinions are all over the place, I feel very confident saying you’re going to feel something as you play.

Naughty Dog weaves this tragic tale between those big moments that are considered spoilers, and the big emotions in those moments certainly propel you toward the next story beat.

If anything, the spoilers softened the initial shock of certain actions, and let me appreciate them as a narrative device, divorced from my own personal anger. I had already gone through the emotional reaction to each “shocking” twist, and that let me sit back and take in the moments themselves, and their execution, within the story that Naughty Dog wanted to tell.

I knew that Joel killed Abby’s dad, but knowledge is not the same thing as experience. When I played as Abby in a flashback, and the game gave life to one of the thousands of people Joel murdered and then forgot about in the first game, it changed the context of everything that came before.

The game offers its own spoilers, built-in

The Last of Us Part 2 spoils itself, anyway. That’s one of the reasons the spoiler conversation is so strange when it comes to this game.

Street Drawing Artifact collectible The Last of Us Part 2 Seattle Day 1 (Ellie) Image: Naughty Dog/Sony Computer Entertainment America via Polygon

The second part of the game is non-linear. Ellie kills Alice the German Shepherd, Mel, and Owen right before the play switches over to my control of Abby. I then spend hours getting to know these characters, and that happens after I know they will die.

I allowed myself to forget, for a moment, about their ultimate fate. I went on these journeys with them all the same, because in those moments, their life means more than their death. Who they were, and what they were trying to do, is more important than how they meet their end. These are the faceless folks that I have been demonizing the entire time, and I wanted to actually meet them. I’m glad I did, as they made my lack of thought about previously killing them feel particularly selfish.

This is how we all live

Here’s the truth of life: We’ve all been spoiled as well. We know our parents will die, if they’re still alive. We adopt animals knowing they won’t be with us as long as we’d like. We know, for a fact, that we ourselves will one day die.

Knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t lessen the impact of any of those things happening. It’s not the event itself that is the most important thing, or the hardest to deal with.

Going into a game like this after being spoiled feels natural in that context. I went in curious: I didn’t know how the game was going to keep my attention for 30 hours, and whether it could drag me through its horrific depths even though I wasn’t hanging onto the question of what would happen next. It didn’t hurt that the spoilers were never totally accurate; there was still room for me to be surprised.

I kept returning for the little moments, not the big events. A conversation between two characters about their feelings and pain, a joke that makes an impossible moment bearable, a song on the guitar. Knowing that each of these tiny moments takes place with characters I know won’t make it gives their eventual death more meaning, not less.

We never know how much time we’ll have with a loved one until it’s too late. But I cheated, and made sure to cherish every moment I had left with Joel. It made the game better, and the loss hit like a sledgehammer once I realized how wrong I was about its timing.

That’s the problem with knowing what’s going to happen; we still never see it coming.