I've made a few large posts on the forum since joining this Wiki. I thought it might be a good idea to consolidate them on a single Blog so that people can see my theory about what is happening with Ellie and what we may see in a sequel game all in one place rather than scattered around a half-dozen posts.
The Ending and the Cure
It's an amazingly complex ending to analyse really, similar in many ways to the disagreements and philosophical quandries of the three options at the end of Mass Effect 3.
On the surface, Joel's actions are entirely selfish yet completely comprehensible. Ellie has become one of the few, if not the only, emotional anchors he has left in his life (his bridges with Tommy having been largely burned some time ago). He is something of a misanthrope too, so it is entirely in-character that Joel would not regard saving the human race as being an outcome for which sacrificing Ellie's life would be a worthwhile cost.
Additionally, saving Ellie forms a perfect Bookend with losing Sarah during the prologue. He even carries her in the same way during his flight through the base.
However, there is a deeper level to what Joel does. In his two decades wandering the hell of post-Outbreak America, I think that Joel has come to several conclusions, which are hinted at in several occasions when he cautions Ellie against heroics, helping others or interfering in others' business. Whilst the Outbreak was and remains a significant and near-catestrophic threat to human safety, as Bill correctly points out the Infected and the Cordyceps itself are a fairly linear and predictable threat. With co-ordinated action, community cohesion and a bit of care, the threat of the Infection could be mitigated down to a near-background noise level, with or without a cure being available.
The real problem, the thing that has caused immesurably more damage than the Outbreak, is the reaction of the human race to this challenge. Instead of standing together and taking co-ordinated and co-operative action as a group, humanity's response seems to have been almost immediately to attempt to save themselves as individuals, irrespective of the likely or actual cost to others. Sarah's murder is symbolic of this - the soldier is ordered to kill Joel and Sarah on the grounds that they might be a threat by an officer who is not even in the local area.
In the main body of the game, we see more of this with the increasingly-corrupt and ineffective FEDRA and Firefly organisations, Hunters, bandits, David's band of cannibals and other human threats. These are causing wider and more sustained damage to human civilisation and innocent lives than the Infection ever could. There is no cure that Marlene's saw-bones could cut out of Ellie for this problem - the infection of selfishness, cruelty and greed in the human spirit.
Joel may have come to an epiphany. I think he realised that the real cure for the real plague was to let it die out. Let the monsters that wear human faces hunt eachother to extinction (which events in Pittsburgh seem to suggest is happening). In the fullness of time, those who, by hard experience, have been purged of the infection, like those in Jackson County, will hopefully repopulate the species with a healthier social form and, maybe, an immunity to this particular plague burnt into their racial memories by hard experience.
FWIW, I also suspect that 'wait it out' seems to be a good plan for the CBI too. Unless the spores can remain viable but dormant for a long period, eventually, the Infected are going to run out of potential hosts and the plague will burn itself out.
This set aside, I would be very interested (if they were ever to make a TLoU2) to further investigate Ellie's infectious status. Was David turning? Would that Hunter she bit in Pittsburgh have turned if Joel hadn't caved his head in like it was an eggshell?
My personal head-canon theory is that Ellie has a cure in her, although not a vaccine that could protect against future infections. As Cordyceps lives in the brain, then the chemical environment of the brain probably governs the fungus's activities. It is almost certainly the chemical environment of Ellie's brain that prevented the Infection from taking over her body. More importantly, maybe, just maybe, she can subconsciously control the Cordyceps in her. Because her emotions are also a symptom of her neuro-chemical activity, maybe her emotions could induce the fungal core in her brain to different activities. Anger and fear create attack spores of the sort that spread the Infection. Maybe love could do something else; maybe create hunter-killer spores that augment her immune system and that of any creature they are introduced? Could she be able to cure someone whom she loves of the infection from a recent bite with something as simple as a kiss?
The Cost of Saving Her
I'm not sure if Ellie 'hates' Joel. However, I think that he has sacrificed her unconditional trust by the way he's handled this issue and by choosing an easy lie over the harder path of discussing his actions and reasons with her candidly at the end of the game.
I believe that Ellie has realised that he, like Marlene and, indeed, like every adult she's ever known, will do what he thinks is best for her and will not automatically consult her about what she wants. That is why I think TLoU2 will be very much about Ellie striking out alone to find the answers to her questions about herself.
I think that, after sober reflection, Ellie will decide that Joel acted in accord with his conscience. I think she'll also realise that the ghost of Sarah still looms close over his shoulder and affects his every decision. After thining about it, I think she'll decide that she can't fault Joel for doing what he believed to be right. However, this will just convince her even more that, if she wants to find her destiny and achieve it, it is something she will have to do on her own.
She may forgive him, eventually. I don't think she has enough malice in her to maintain a grudge for very long, especially against someone as important to her as Joel. However, I don't think that she'll ever forget the fact that he chose to lie to her and I don't think Joel can ever expect to have her full trust ever again.
I would like a sequel to have an older Ellie (maybe 4-5 years after the original game) as the main player character. The plot should be about her attempt to find that ellusive meaning for her existence and survival in the post-Outbreak world.
She would have become, IMHO, a Joel-like character - a roving scout and trouble-shooter for Tommy, scouting towns for supplies, looking for signs of Hunter activity, ensuring there are no Infected nests near to Jackson and the like. However, through her relationships with the other late teens/early-20s living around the dam, she also explores how her unique status has changed her. For she has been changed, just not turned into some kind of horror. At least that's what Joel tells her and she keeps trying to convince herself to believe.
Joel himself will be a supporting character. He'll be a combination of a tutor (his 'how to journal' is the training manual of this game), father-figure and guide to whom Ellie finds herself appealing for guidence should the choices ever become too difficult for her to sort out herself. Maybe his age (he'd be in his early 50s) and all the abuse his body has taken over the years has led Maria to threaten him into retiring from active wandering of the world; Ellie is thus both his replacement and his apprentice, of sorts.
Naturally, if she chooses to pursue a romantic interest, he will exercise his perogative of being both a third wheel and to intimidate Ellie's significant other.
I figure that the game itself could be shaped somewhat like Mass Effect 1 - A semi-sandbox with lots of random encounters, derelict towns in which you only find random odds and ends, side-quests and role-playing elements. However, there are certain events in certain locations that need to be confronted, in order, to complete the core quest which is, of course, for Ellie to find the Cure in herself and come to necessary conclusions about just how she is meant to use this power that random mutation bred in her.
I'd also like there to be several AI-controlled 'side-kick' characters that you can choose to accompany you on certain missions. They have certain skill-sets that can aid you (such as scrounging, trading, mechanical engineering, medicine and the like). These skills thus augment Ellie's and make it possible to achieve certain objectives that she might not be able to achieve on her own. They're all from Ellie's peer-group in Jackson County who tend to hang out together and do things together. Tommy laughs about her starting 'The New Fireflies' from the core group of her friends. Joel just frowns, worried that this is more true than his younger brother realises.
This also lends itself to having a 'squad control' option where you can direct the NPC party members to certain actions or objectives, which the AI will then carry out as best it can.
So, what is Ellie? Finding this out is one of the objectives of the single-player campaign, after all! Ultimately, as a scientist that Ellie rescues explains in a cut scene, the Cordyceps in Ellie has mutated into a symbiote rather than the normal parasite; it is supporting, enhancing and protecting her rather than consuming her and using her as a vector to spread itself.
Because of this, Ellie has several special abilities gifted to her by the symbiosis. I wouldn't want Ellie to be too OP but some things I would really like to see:
- She gets to be as strong and tough as a Clicker - much tougher, stronger and more agile than an uninfected human;
- She also heals faster and can even regenerate from serious injuries (fungus is hard to kill so long as the core survives); just to challenge the player, the healing factor gets stronger the further down the negative path she walks as she's letting the fungus have more power over her;
- She can Infect people whom she feels sufficient hate or if she is in a primal 'fight/flight' mental state with a bite. She can also (and this becomes a key point) cure those she cares deeply about, so long as they haven't Turned, by bodily fluid transfer; saliva on an open wound is the quickest and easiest way but I can't see Naughty Dog being able to resist her curing her Romantic Interest with a 'kiss of true love' in a major cut-scene;
- If you go down the negative path, she develops the ability to control the Infected in the area immediately around her through the release of modified spores from her skin pores (the negative path also starts including some fairly horrific physical mutations on her part - the ultimate 'Queen Infected' form should be incredibly sexy but only in a disturbing, bio-mechanical H R Geiger-style manner);
- As a limiting factor, Ellie has to restrict the use of her special abilities. If she does it too much, she'll go berserk and turn into a pseudo-Runner for the rest of the scene as the fungus takes over her motor functions. It will take the rest of the scene for her immunity to reassert itself;
I think you could even get away with having moral choices chaning how Ellie interacts with and develops relationships with others. Most importantly, how you develop Ellie's relationships with others and the moral choices she makes will influence the outcome of the game and what choices and options Ellie has when she reaches that last decision point.
Nightmare Outcome - Ellie is so disgusted with the rampant corruption of humanity that, upon learning her ability to control Cordceps in her own body (and, through spore release that in those immediately around her) she becomes some kind of 'Queen Infected' and tries to destroy all humanity on the grounds that it is incorrigably corrupt;
Negative Outcome - Ellie becomes bitter and cynical and decides, whatever she may or may not be able to do, she's going to look after herself; she isn't even interested in helping Joel much on the grounds of his 'betrayal' of her (by lying to her when they left Salt Lake City);
Neutral Outcome - Somewhat like the negative outcome but Ellie decides that she will be there for the handful of people she cares about and let everyone else save themselves, if they can;
Positive Outcome - She learns how to use her mutated infection to cure the recently-infected and becomes a leader in Jackson County, trying to use it as the seed-bed of a reborn human civilisation with a more moral outlook;
The epilogue of this would be with children being taught about the "Founding Mother" of the new America.
Messiah Outcome - Ellie learns how to control her spore-generation to the point where she can generate spores that will hunt down and destroy every trace of Cordyceps on Earth. She then goes to a mountain and uses a drug given to her by one of the few remaining Fireflies that causes her entire body to mutate into a runaway spore creation factory, dumping huge numbers of the vaccine/fungal killer spores into the air currents of Earth, ultimately to spread over the whole world.
This last option would, of course (as Marlene predicted) end with children of a far distant time being taught of "Saint Ellie's" life and sacrifice.