The Last of Us is more than a video game—it’s a cultural landmark for gaming. The tale of Joel and Ellie’s journey across a decimated United States became an instant classic, with publisher Naughty Dog taking credit for making one of the best video games of all time.
We also got The Last of Us: Left Behind, a prequel DLC addition to the first game that showed Ellie’s story, which led directly up to the events of the first game. This, too, was met with critical acclaim as reviewers and gamers jumped at the chance to play as Ellie once more.
With the story complete—though left on a somewhat uneasy note—many didn’t expect a sequel to arrive. Moreover, many fans didn’t even want a sequel, fearing that could end up ruining the first game.
However, that sequel eventually came in the form of The Last of Us Part 2, which was met with fever-pitch excitement and overall critical acclaim (despite some polarized reception by fans who disliked the narrative).
All in all, the series is known for its incredible characters and depth of story, details that have made The Last of Us franchise the highest bar in video game storytelling. Here are our picks for the best characters in The Last of Us and why they’re so great.
When gamers worked their way through the second installment of the acclaimed franchise, nobody expected to find themselves playing as Abby. But when those disappointed in the narrative switch looked harder, they found Abby’s story with Lev very fulfilling.
Lev is the ward who slowly becomes part of Abby’s world, and the pair form an uneasy partnership at first out of necessity. In the end, they grow to become family to one another.
Lev’s relationship with Abby mirrors Ellie’s with Joel from the first game in many ways, evoking powerful memories from those who remember.
Tommy is Joel’s little brother and founder of the settlement where Joel and Ellie live after the first game. He’s similar to Joel in many ways, and he has a brutal nature that’s protective towards those whom he loves.
His town is the haven for the characters. It feels like a place where the last of humanity can forget their situation and be normal again. That’s all due to Tommy and Maria, who cultivate the atmosphere.
Tommy and Joel’s relationship changes significantly through the series. First, they grow apart and become estranged. But when Joel shows up with Ellie, Tommy realizes that Joel loves Ellie as he did Sarah, which also means that the brothers’ own relationship finds a way to heal.
Dina’s role in The Last of Us Part 2 is that of Ellie’s visceral anchor. She keeps Ellie’s pain and vengeful lust under control—as best she can, anyway—while providing emotional support to her. The pair share a deep connection, which turns to love as the story progresses.
What Joel was to Ellie in the first game is similar to the role that Dina plays in the second: she has Ellie’s back and won’t let her go off to die because of her inner torment. Sadly, Ellie’s rage drives them apart, and Dina leaves in the end with Ellie’s baby—quite an emotional blow.
The character of Abby was widely hated by The Last of Us fans upon release of the sequel—at least until they found out why she pursued that mission to head off and kill Joel.
As it turns out, her father was one of the surgeons working to extract the potential cure from Ellie when Joel killed all of them, meaning her role is similar in motivation to Ellie’s.
Her story, which involves turning against her own faction because of her connection with Lev, is a sizable part of the second game. She’s a well-written character, but her story does feel a bit like a backup after Neil Druckmann struggled to put together a game about Ellie.
Marlene’s role may be small in the first game, but her part changes the entire shape of Joel and Ellie’s relationship. Not once, but twice.
Marlene is a Firefly, one who wishes to make sure that the cure to the infection is found and distributed to all affected. She’s the only character to know Ellie’s mother—who asked Marlene to look after Ellie—and the one who has to die at the end of the first game.
She sets Joel and Ellie off across the country to deliver Ellie to the hospital in Salt Lake City, where she knows Ellie will die in saving the world. We feel what Joel feels in his deep connection with Ellie, and there’s no remorse when Joel kills Marlene for trying to take Ellie away.
Of course, Ellie finds out what Joel did and resents him for it, only making up with him at the end of his life. So, again, while Marlene’s time on screen is short, it’s integral to the entire narrative.
During the first game, the player plays as Joel for the vast majority of it, learning his story and feeling his pain of loss and guilt of surviving.
The game opens with Joel’s daughter, Sarah, dying in his arms at the beginning of the virus outbreak. He wanders for a long time before finding Ellie, who he’s tasked with escorting to Salt Lake City.
Initially, the pair aren’t fond of each other, but eventually Joel sees Ellie as the daughter he lost. He protects her with his life—and when Ellie’s in danger, he murders everybody to make sure she survives.
His death at Abby’s hands is an awful moment in the franchise. As the player, you can feel how Joel feels, and nothing is more important to him than Ellie—even when she refuses to talk to him for a long time because of the way he saved her life.
However, when they make peace, he still doesn’t regret his actions. Neither do we, because that’s what parents do for their children.
The Last of Us is the saga of Ellie. Joel plays a large role in the series, but Ellie is the heart of the series.
Her journey that starts as a child immune to a virus that turns people into mutated creatures shifts to becoming an adult who knows she must keep her immunity hidden. That’s the central point of the narrative.
Ellie is headstrong, intelligent, ruthless, and unable to forgive those who cross her. Her personality is shaped by Joel’s presence during her formative years, and Ellie bears many of his traits as a result.
She suffers for a long time with the guilt of knowing that she could have saved humanity, but Joel intervened and she blames him for doing so. However, she tries to forgive him as she understands he couldn’t bear to lose her—and he is, for all intents and purposes, her dad.
Playing through her journey in the second game is an undertaking of war for the player, as we ruthlessly hunt down Abby for killing Joel. And by the time we leave Ellie, her anger has left her with nobody left, making her exactly like Joel when we found him 20 years after losing Sarah.