The Last of Us 2: How I Would Write It – PART 2

Posted June 17, 2015 by Eric Gerson in Video Games

[NOTE: Due to length, this article has been split into two parts. You will find Part 2 below. If you missed Part 1, you can check it out here.]


Welcome back! Last week, I set the stage for my envisioning of The Last of Us 2. I introduced two new player characters, Butcher and Baker, and explained their unique backstories. Today, I will push things a bit further, and provide a window into how I think the story of the inevitable sequel might play out as we follow these two layered, morally conflicted characters on their respective journeys.

The suspense is killing me!!

Keep your pants on, I am getting there! As mentioned yesterday, the perspective of The Last of Us 2 will shift periodically between Baker and Butcher, normally following one character for a full chapter, then following the other for the next chapter. The idea would be to start the two very far apart, and to eventually have their stories intersect around halfway through. The first question to answer is where does each character begin? Well, as we learned in the original game, Naughty Dog is quite adept at crafting a powerful prologue. So why not give each of our new leads their own prologue with equal levels of gravitas as Joel’s.

khwffn0We’ll start with Baker’s. Of course, we don’t need to go as far back as the original outbreak, as that ground was well covered in the prologue to the first game. For Baker, the more emotional tale to tell would be the takeover of his quarantine zone by the Hunters he is forced to join. We can open on a fairly heartwarming scene–Baker stitching up the knee of a local child. Perhaps we could throw in some flash cuts to Baker’s own intense memories of working in the ER during the original outbreak, for the sake of juxtaposing them with this quiet scene taking place. As Baker finishes up, the gratitude of the child’s parents can be shown to demonstrate how valued Baker is in his small community. He could even demonstrate a level of satisfaction he gains from providing medical care to those in need. We then take control of Baker as he walks through the streets of the Pittsburgh quarantine zone and back to his home, which is actually fairly well kept, as FEDRA provides him with special treatment in exchange for his services. It is there we get introduced to Baker’s partner and their two children. A heartwarming scene plays out within the family’s home before Baker hears a call over the intercom that there is a medical emergency that requires his attention. He rushes down the streets where he finds a severely wounded FEDRA scout. The scene suddenly becomes one you might see in a medical drama. The scout is rushed to Baker’s makeshift clinic and the camera follows close behind as the characters rush down tight corridors. Baker frantically shouts orders at helpers as he tries to close the wounds of his patient, who is now unconscious. After some time, the patient begins to flat-line, so Baker pulls out a defibrillator. Three shocks to the chest, and the scout’s heart begins to beat again, and suddenly he regains consciousness. The scout begins to panic, and Baker does his best to restrain him. Then the scout grabs Bakers shirt forcefully and shouts repeatedly, “they’re coming! they’re coming! they’re coming!” Before Baker can decipher the scout’s cryptic warning, a huge explosion is heard, followed by gunshots and the screams of civilians. Escorted by FEDRA soldiers, Baker makes his way back to the street to find the QZ overrun with Hunters. The FEDRA soldiers engage the Hunters in a firefight, while Baker dips and dodges through the street with only one goal in mind: I must protect my family. After taking a bullet to the shoulder and narrowly escaping from a military vehicle piloted by the Hunters, Baker reaches his home. But upon opening the door he finds he is too late. His wife and children are being held at gunpoint by Hunters. Another Hunter sneaks up behind him, maniacally whispers “is there a doctor in the house”, and pistol whips Baker in the back of the head. Baker falls down, unconscious. Cut to black, and the end of Baker’s prologue. From there, the rest of Baker’s story can take place in the present, with him already working for the Hunters, and the with the rest of the blanks being filled in through smartly written exposition.

After Baker’s prologue concludes, we would move on to Butcher’s. Butcher’s story would begin in the Salt Lake City hospital where the final chapter of the first game takes place. The Fireflies have established a new headquarters here after being forced out of Eastern Colorado University. Butcher, 19, continues her training under Marlene, and the first scene of her prologue establishes their relationship. Marlene takes Butcher to a section of the hospital the Fireflies have set up as training grounds, which they have filled with infected enemies they picked up off the street. Here, Marlene teaches Butcher the basics about sneaking by and silently eliminating the infected; also a nice way to teach the player some of the game’s basic mechanics. Butcher, controlled by the player, eliminates most of the infected, and comes upon the last enemy, a Clicker. Newly confident and brash as ever, Butcher fails to fully appreciate her surroundings, and trips over a brick during her approach. The Clicker, now alerted to her presence, dives on top of Butcher, but just before the monster can sink its teeth into Butcher’s face, Marlene shivs the Clicker and rescues Butcher. Marlene proceeds to scold Butcher for her carelessness, but the scolding transitions into a more caring, loving tone, further highlighting Marlene and Butcher’s sisterly relationship. Suddenly, Marlene is interrupted by a call for her coming from her walkie-talkie; it seems an old man and a young girl were spotted in a tunnel nearby. Knowing that this must be Joel and Ellie, Marlene barks orders over the radio to capture the two but to keep them alive. Butcher is noticeably irked by this news. While she recognizes Ellie’s importance, she is jealous of Marlene’s preoccupation with this other girl. Marlene looks at Butcher, smiles, and says:

“It’s finally over. This is what we’ve been fighting for. Get some rest, tomorrow is a big day.”

Cut to Butcher being woken from her bed to the sound of gunshots and screams. Suddenly, alarm bells begin to blare. Butcher jumps up, grabs her knife (a signature weapon of hers), and races toward the source of the commotion. The camera follows frantically as Butcher races through the halls, finding Firefly soldiers either killed or lying unconscious along the way. Butcher burst through the door of the operating room where Ellie was supposed to be undergoing her procedure only to find the doctors murdered and Ellie missing. Suddenly a loud gunshot rings out; it came from the parking garage. Butcher follows the noise and comes upon Marlene’s fresh corpse. A heart-wrenching scene ensues as Butcher screams out in anguish and begins to cry over Marlene’s body. She looks up momentarily and sees a car driving away. She can make out Joel in the driver’s seat and sees Ellie lying unconscious in the back. Butcher clenches her fists, begins to shake, and lets out a harrowing, bloodthirsty scream. Cut to black, and the end of Butcher’s prologue.

Woah. Heavy. So what happens next?

Well, with the prologues out of the way, we can pick up with our two protagonists in the present–with Baker doing dirty deeds and acting as a field medic for the Hunters, and with Butcher on the warpath, doing everything she can to track down Joel and Ellie. Again, the idea would be to eventually bring these two storylines together. And considering we know where Joel and Ellie ended up after the events of the first game–back at Tommy’s Town in Jackson County, Wyoming–this seems like the perfect means to this end. Especially if we assume that in the five years since The Last of Us, Tommy’s Town has flourished, and has become a self-sustained safe haven for survivors, one of the largest and most successful human outposts in the nation. It is so successful that it has become a legend, a myth told by survivors and spread through rumor and hyperbole. Survivors refer to the stronghold as Zion, and few know its actual location.

SurvivorsConsider this: the Hunters that Baker has gotten mixed up with are a bit parasitic. They suck all the resources from an area that they can, and once that well has gone dry, they move on to the next potential “host” until they can find one that can sustain them for the long-term. For a while, Pittsburgh served as such a host; that is, until Joel tore his way through. His tense escape from the area resulted in major structural damage to the fortifications of the QZ the Hunters were occupying, and as a result, they could no longer keep the area free of the infected. Thus they were forced to move on. The clan headed west, searching for viable places to set up camp. They are currently occupying a small area in downtown St. Louis. However, through scavenging nearby suburbs, they have slowly pieced together the existence of Zion, and shortly after the opening of the game, have zeroed in on its location (via some violent interrogation of some unlucky survivors that Baker is forced to take part in). The leader of the Hunters knows that Zion must be well fortified if it has remained standing for so long; thus, a head on attack, like the one that helped them take Pittsburgh, would not be successful. Instead, the Hunters send Baker and a small squad to infiltrate Zion from the inside. Knowing Baker’s medical skills would be valuable to any society, the Hunters direct him to travel to Zion with a small group (an arduous trek in and of itself) and simply request entry. To ensure Baker appears as pitiable as possible, they force him to take his oldest daughter with him, who he must now protect during this journey. Once he is accepted into Zion, Baker will need to earn the trust of the leaders while secretly relaying info to the Hunters so they can mount a more effective takeover of the compound.

On the other hand, Butcher has been chasing ghosts for years, following dead-end after dead-end in her search for Joel and Ellie. With each failure, she becomes more ruthless, more bloodthirsty, more blinded by her mission, and her followers are becoming increasingly frustrated and exhausted, their own survival being put in jeopardy by Butcher’s carelessness. However, their hope is rekindled when their latest dead-end leads to the revelation of Zion’s location. Afraid of how she might react if they told her to forget her relentless hunt, the other Fireflies instead convince Butcher that heading for Zion would only help her endeavor. After all, if the compound is truly as big and successful as has been rumored, it is possible that Joel and Ellie are there, or, if they aren’t, that they may have at least passed through and someone there might have some information. After some pressing, Butcher is convinced, and the small team of Fireflies begins to journey towards Zion. However, in contrast to the Hunters’ surreptitious, deceitful plan, Butcher, believing her pursuit righteous and expecting that Fireflies would always receive a warm welcome, intends to simply knock on the front door, identify her and her clan, and gain admittance.

What happens when either part arrives at Zion, and how the story transpires from there, is a rabbit hole that could go in any number of directions, but without a doubt, it would definitely lead to some interaction with an older Joel and a somewhat grown-up Ellie; who wouldn’t be playable but could still play a major role in the story as NPCs. I think that way, players who fell in love with the characters in the first game still get the payoff of seeing what has happened to them since, but we also get new perspectives and new characters to care about.

So…that’s it? You’re out of ideas? I need to know what happens at Zion!

Fair point. If we consider both character’s prologues and their discovery of the location of Zion as Act I moments, Act II would cover their trips to Zion and their gaining entry therein. If we assume Baker and the Hunters arrive first, here is one interesting possibility I’ve cooked up.

8515190cadc937509a8e64cefacfdb64Baker’s journey to Zion has been understandably difficult. Not only has he been forced to rely upon the two morally bankrupt Hunters he has been sent with as escorts, but he has also had to protect his daughter along the way (a dynamic which could play out in-game in a similar manner to Joel and Ellie’s). Then, just as the group begins to see Zion on the horizon, they are caught off-guard by a large pack of infected in the surrounding woods. During their frantic escape, Baker and his daughter become separated. After a tense chase, he is able to reconvene with his group, but realizes his daughter is missing. Then, out of nowhere, a scream echoes out in the distance. Following the sounds, the group comes upon a small, shoddy cabin engulfed in a swarm of infected, Runners, Clickers, and even a few Bloaters with Baker’s daughter trapped inside. Knowing he cannot save her with his small group, Baker races towards Zion and frantically bangs on the gate, screaming for help, to no response. Thinking all was lost, Baker breaks down to his knees, hopeless, and sobbing.

Suddenly, Zion’s main gate cracks open, and Tommy, Joel, and Ellie step forward–the player’s first look at the characters since the events of the original game. Joel looks bit more haggard than before, more grey in his beard. Ellie, on the other hand, stands much taller and stronger than before, now a confident, war-worn 19 year old. She rushes out ahead a kneels down at Baker’s side, asking what is wrong. Joel barks at her to get back behind the wall. Baker explains that his daughter is trapped and that he can’t save her alone. Ellie looks at Joel, begging him to help, but Joel refuses, stating that he doesn’t know these people, and that they can’t be putting the safety of others ahead of their own safety. Ellie becomes angered with Joel; the player gets a sense that their relationship has become strained as of late. Tommy then approaches Joel, puts his hand on his shoulder, and asks him to put himself in Bakers shoes. Joel looks longingly at Ellie, curses under his breath, rounds up a few men, and they, along with Tommy, Ellie and Baker, rush to save Baker’s daughter. They are able to fight through the infected, allowing Tommy and Joel to get into the shed and free the girl. She runs out and into Baker’s arms, just before the walls of the cabin collapse under the pressure of the infected pounding on them, trapping Joel underneath. Tommy, still nearby, rushes to his rescue, but suffers a bite from a Clicker on his arm before Baker and Ellie are able to rush in and drag him out of the frenzy. But it is too late for Joel. Baker, Ellie, and Tommy are forced to watch as the infected break through the wood he is trapped under and begin to tear him to shreds. Ellie collapses to her knees in disbelief–Joel, her protector and father figure for so many years, is dead.

Tommy_Profile_ImageWith little time to grieve, the group rushes the wounded (and barely conscious) Tommy back to Zion. Citing his medical background, Baker convinces Ellie and the others to allow him to help. As Baker explains it, the only chance of saving Tommy from succumbing to the infection is to amputate his arm. Ellie and the other townspeople help Baker restrain Tommy and prepare him for surgery. However, before Baker can begin the procedure, Tommy comes to. Freaked out at first and struggling against his restraints, Tommy eventually calms. Knowing his time is short, he looks to Ellie, and begins to speak:

“Ellie…you need to know…you need to know what happened at the hospital…in Salt Lake City…you need to…”

But before Tommy could finish, his face goes blank and he falls backward, unconscious. Baker quickly checks Tommy’s vitals–he has no pulse. Baker begins CPR. After two cycles, Baker lowers his head to breath into Tommy’s mouth for the third time. Suddenly, Tommy reanimates, now a bloodthirsty infected. Baker narrowly dodges getting bitten on the face as Tommy writhes violently on the table, trying to free himself from his restraints. Ellie, still shaken that she may never know what Tommy was trying to tell her, begins raising her sidearm, but instead of her normally steady aim, her hands now shake. After losing Joel only moments ago, she struggles with the decision to put Tommy down, the only remaining “family” she has left. As she wrestles with the decision, the infected Tommy begins to break free; one after another, his restraints snap or come loose. The onlookers beg Ellie to pull the trigger as Tommy finally breaks free and lunges at her. Ellie closes her eyes, a gunshot rings out, and Tommy drops to the floor with a fresh bullet hole between his eyes. The camera refocuses on Ellie, who opens here eyes, confused; she never pulled the trigger. Confused and shocked, Ellie, Baker, and the others turn around to find Butcher standing in the doorway holding the smoking barrel. She holsters her weapon and says:

“You left your front gate open.”

Cut to black, and the end of that chapter.

Nice! But where does the story go from here?

In any number of directions, really, and yes, I have some ideas. There is obvious room for conflict between Ellie and Butcher, who knows the truth about Salt Lake City and whose sole goal is to cut Ellie open. Will Ellie make the final sacrifice, with Baker, a doctor, in tow to perform the procedure? Would Baker be able to murder and operate on a youthful young woman, similar to his own daughter, even if it is for the greater good? What about Baker’s band of Hunters who are planning an overthrow of Zion? Do Butcher, Baker, and Ellie put their difference aside to thwart this plot? Certainly Butcher will be primarily concerned with Ellie’s safety above all else. And will Baker eventually be able to save his wife and child? Finally, what about the infected? Has their infection evolved in new, terrifying and dangerous ways? Is there a new, more powerful infected threat out there that threatens Zion, making the Hunters’ plot futile? Perhaps this new infected species is hinted at during Butcher and Baker’s own odysseys toward Zion, but remains shrouded in mystery until being reveal in the third act. And perhaps this forces the Hunters to align with Zion as both parties’ only shot for either of them to survive.

All of these questions and more could be answered in the third act of my envisioning of The Last of Us 2.  But I am approaching 5,000 words so I think it best to wrap this up, and leave the rest of the story up to your own imagination. Will Naughty Dog follow the path I have outlined here? It is unlikely, though I would be surprised if none of my ideas appeared in the sequel in at least some form or other. But the real question is: what do you think? Would you want to see the sequel play out as I have outlined? If no, how would you write the sequel? Sound off in the comments below. I’d really love to hear what you think! And as always, thanks for reading!!

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About the Author

Eric Gerson

A karaoke visionary and an avid gamer, Eric has been a Nintendo fanboy since birth, and a PlayStation owner since the PS2 era. An equal-opportunities gamer, Eric believes games are either good or bad, irrespective of their genre or setting. PSN and NN ID: GerStud101.