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Ellie (The Last of Us)

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Ellie
The Last of Us character
Artwork of a teenage girl, with brown hair. She is holding a sniper rifle in front of her, and looking at something to her left.
Ellie, as she appears in The Last of Us
First game The Last of Us
Created by Neil Druckmann
Portrayed by Ashley Johnson

Ellie is a fictional character in the 2013 video game The Last of Us, and the main protagonist of the upcoming video game The Last of Us Part II. In the first game, the character Joel is tasked with escorting Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States in an attempt to create a potential cure for an infection to which Ellie is immune. She is voiced by Ashley Johnson, who also provided motion capture for the character. While players briefly assume control of Ellie for a portion of the game, the computer's artificial intelligence primarily controls her actions, often assisting in combat by attacking or identifying enemies. Ellie reappeared as the sole playable character in the downloadable content prequel campaign, The Last of Us: Left Behind, in which she spends time with her friend Riley. Ellie is also the main character in the comic book prequel, The Last of Us: American Dreams, wherein she befriends Riley and has her first encounter with the rebel group the Fireflies.

Ellie was created by Neil Druckmann, the creative director and writer of The Last of Us. Inspired by a mute character proposed for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Druckmann created her as a strong female character with a close relationship with Joel; throughout the game's development, the relationship between Ellie and Joel was the central focus, with all other elements developed around it. Johnson inspired aspects of Ellie's personality, prompting Druckmann to make her more active in fighting hostile enemies. Naughty Dog also redesigned her appearance during the game's development to more closely resemble Johnson. Her appearance has also been compared to that of actress Ellen Page.

The character has been well-received by critics, with Ellie's relationship with Joel most frequently the subject of praise. The strength and complexity of her character, and its subversion of the damsel in distress stereotype, have also been commended. Ellie's role in Left Behind's plot has prompted some social commentary within the industry, with coverage focusing on a scene depicting LGBT themes. Both the character and Johnson's performance received numerous awards and nominations, and have regularly been placed favorably in polls and lists.

Character design[edit]

A 30-year-old woman with long, blonde hair, smiling at someone to the right of the camera.
American actress Ashley Johnson, who portrayed Ellie in The Last of Us

Creative director Neil Druckmann designed Ellie as a counterpart to Joel, the game's main playable character.[1] She was also intended to demonstrate that a character bond could be created entirely through gameplay. Druckmann described the game as a coming of age story for Ellie, in which she adopts the qualities of a survivor.[2] Ashley Johnson was chosen to portray Ellie in The Last of Us shortly after her auditions;[3] the development team felt that she fit the role, particularly when acting alongside Troy Baker, who portrayed Joel. Johnson made important contributions to Ellie's character development. She convinced Druckmann to give Ellie a more independent personality, and to make her more successful in combat.[4] As Ellie, Johnson's performances were mostly recorded using motion capture technology which produced approximately 85% of the game's animations. The remaining audio elements were recorded later in a studio.[5] When portraying Ellie, Johnson was sometimes uncomfortable while performing "disturbing" scenes.[4] But, she was excited to play the role, which she felt was a rare example of a strong female video game character.[6]

Four images depicting the development of Ellie's appearance. Ellie is smiling in the first image, and has short dark hair; she is facing right in the second image, with hair to her shoulders; she has a minor smirk in the third image, with hair on her fringe and down to her chin; and she has a blank look on her face in the fourth image, with no hair on her fringe.
The various iterations that Ellie's physical appearance underwent throughout development. Each design was tested with various hair colors and styles.[7]

The development team felt that establishing Ellie's physical appearance was "critical". They felt that she needed to appear young enough to make her relationship with Joel—who is in his 40s[8]—believable, but old enough to be credible as a resourceful teenager capable of surviving.[9] A redesign of Ellie's physical appearance was publicized in May 2012; Druckmann stated that the change was to make her look more like Johnson.[10] Prior to the redesign, comparisons were made between Ellie and actress Ellen Page; in June 2013, Page accused Naughty Dog of "ripping off [her] likeness".[11] The team felt that Ellie was important for the game's marketing; Druckmann said that, when asked to move the image of Ellie from the front of the game's packaging to the back, "everyone at Naughty Dog just flat-out refused".[12]

When asked about the inspiration for Ellie as a gameplay feature, Druckmann recalled when he and game director Bruce Straley brainstormed ideas for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009). One of their ideas was a sequence with a mute female character whose role was to summon Nathan Drake, Uncharted's main character, and briefly accompany him throughout the sequence; Druckmann felt this created a "beautiful" relationship through gameplay alone. Though this concept was scrapped for Uncharted 2, the idea was raised again when discussing a new project, ultimately inspiring the character of Ellie.[2] The addition of Ellie as an artificial intelligence (AI) required significant overhauling of the game engine.[13] The team intentionally added a feature where Ellie remains close to Joel, to avoid being viewed by players as a "burden".[14] Programmer Max Dyckhoff stated that, when working on Ellie as an AI, he imagined her experiences throughout the game's events in an attempt to achieve realism.[14] Druckmann also felt inspired by wars that took place in Syria and Afghanistan when creating Ellie; he felt that conflict was familiar to the children in those countries, which is similar to Ellie's view.[15] During the Winter segment of the game, players assume control of Ellie. The developers ensured that this change, as well as the knowledge of Ellie's immunity, was kept secret prior to the game's release to surprise players.[1]

Attributes[edit]

A fourteen-year-old survivor, Ellie is "mature beyond her years" as a result of the circumstances of her environment. Ellie is characterized as "[s]trong, witty, and a little rough around the edges".[16] Her emotional trauma is accentuated after her encounter with David.[17][18] Having lost many people in her life, she suffers from severe monophobia and survivor's guilt.[19] This results in her becoming a very hardened person; she uses violence without hesitation[20][21][22] and frequently swears.[23] Ellie also feels worthless, believing her life is a burden, and that her death would be beneficial for others.[24] While she shows initiative, she is not as adept at survival as Joel, being somewhat impulsive and naïve,[15][25] and unable to swim.[26] Despite this, she displays great physical resilience, emotional strength and complete fearlessness, as demonstrated by her ability to look after both herself and Joel when he is severely injured. She constantly perseveres in the face of the many often dire situations that her travels put her through.[27][28] There is a scene in Left Behind where Ellie kisses her friend Riley. After the game was released, Druckmann said that he wrote Ellie as a gay character, though he preferred to leave the subject of her sexuality up to players to decide.[29]

Appearances[edit]

Ellie lost her mother at birth and grew up in an orphanage. She later attends a military boarding school in the Boston quarantine zone, where she befriends Riley Abel, a fellow rebel who protects her from bullies, as depicted in the comic book series The Last of Us: American Dreams.[30] During the events of Left Behind, which take place several weeks before the beginning of The Last of Us, Riley returns to Ellie after a long absence and tells her that she has joined the Fireflies, a revolutionary militia group. While spending time together at an abandoned shopping mall near the quarantine zone, Riley reveals that she is about to be posted to another city, and Ellie hesitantly supports her decisions. Riley abandons her Firefly pendant when Ellie pleads for her to remain. In response, she impulsively kisses Riley who happily responds. Drawn by the noise of their activities, the Infected pursues Ellie and Riley. They attempt to escape, but are bitten. The pair considers suicide, but choses to spend their final hours together.[31] However, Ellie survives the infection and seeks help from Marlene, the leader of the Fireflies. She agrees to escort Ellie as she tries to find a cure thanks to her immunity to the Infected. Marlene is later wounded, and early in The Last of Us, assigns Joel the task of escorting Ellie.[32]

Initially annoyed by Joel's surliness, Ellie begins to feel a strong attachment to him. However, upon learning that he intends to leave her with his brother Tommy and return to Boston, she runs away. She later confronts him demanding that he not abandon her. This strengthens the bond between them, and they continue their journey. After experiencing a traumatizing encounter in the Winter, where Ellie is nearly raped and murdered by a band of cannibals and their leader David, she becomes withdrawn and introverted. When Joel finally gets her to the Fireflies, it is discovered that Ellie requires an operation to remove the mutant strain of the Cordyceps fungus growing on her brain, which may be used to create a vaccine; the operation will likely kill her. While she is being prepared for surgery, Joel kills Marlene and the Fireflies, makes his way to the operating room, and carries Ellie to safety.[32] Because she was unconscious during the battle, Ellie is unaware of what has transpired. As they leave the hospital, Joel lies about the events, telling her that the Fireflies had found many other subjects, and had stopped looking for a cure.[22] When Ellie later confronts him about it, describing her survivor's guilt and demanding to know the truth, Joel reassures her that he is telling the truth; she replies "Okay".[32]

At the December 2016 PlayStation Experience event, a sequel titled The Last of Us Part II was announced as being in early development.[33][34] The game's first trailer reveals the return of Ellie and Joel. Events take place about five years after the first game; Ellie, who will be 19 during Part II, has been confirmed as the main playable character.[35]

Reception[edit]

Ellie's character received generally positive feedback. Jason Killingsworth of Edge praised Ellie's complexity and commended Naughty Dog for not having made her "a subordinate ... precocious teen girl that Joel must babysit".[36] Ashley Reed and Andy Hartup of GamesRadar named Ellie one of the "most inspirational female characters in games", writing that she is "one of the most modern, realistic characters ever designed".[37] Eurogamer's Ellie Gibson commended the character's strength and vulnerability, praising the game's subversion of the damsel in distress cliché.[38] GamesRadar listed Ellie among the best characters of the video game generation, stating that her courage exceeds that of most male characters.[39] IGN's Greg Miller compared Ellie to Elizabeth from BioShock Infinite (2013), and felt that the former was a "much more rounded out, full-fledged" character.[40] Conversely, Game Informer's Kimberley Wallace felt that the game focused too much on Joel, "hardly capitalizing on Ellie's importance",[41] and Chris Suellentrop of The New York Times judged that Ellie is cast "in a secondary, more subordinate role".[42]

Critics praised the relationship between Ellie and Joel. Matt Helgeson of Game Informer wrote that the relationship was "poignant" and "well-drawn",[43] Joystiq's Richard Mitchell found it "genuine" and emotional,[44] and IGN's Colin Moriarty identified it as a highlight of the game.[45] Eurogamer's Oli Welsh felt the characters were developed with "real patience and skill".[46] Philip Kollar of Polygon found the relationship was assisted by the game's optional conversations.[47] Wallace of Game Informer named Joel and Ellie one of the "best gaming duos of 2013", appreciating their interest in protecting each other.[48] Game Informer's Kyle Hilliard compared Joel and Ellie's relationship to that of the Prince and Elika from Prince of Persia (2008), writing that both duos care deeply for one another, and praising the "emotional crescendo" in The Last of Us, which he judged had not been achieved in Prince of Persia.[49] PlayStation Official Magazine's David Meikleham named Joel and Ellie the best characters in a PlayStation 3 game.[50]

Following the release of The Last of Us: Left Behind, Ellie's relationship with Riley was commended by reviewers. GameSpot's Tom McShea felt a new appreciation for Ellie by seeing her actions around Riley.[25] The Daily Telegraph's Tim Martin praised the characters' interactions,[51] and Eurogamer's Stace Harman felt that Left Behind improves the understanding of Joel and Ellie's relationship.[52] Kotaku's Kirk Hamilton described Ellie and Riley's kiss as "video gaming's latest breakthrough moment", declaring it "a big deal".[53] Keza MacDonald of IGN wrote that the kiss was "so beautiful and natural and funny that [she] was left dumbstruck".[54] IGN's Luke Karmali questioned Naughty Dog's motivation behind the kiss, noting the "bait-and-switch" in which they made players care for the character before revealing her sexuality, but ultimately dismissed this and commended the handling of Ellie's sexuality and the subtlety of the writing.[55]

The character of Ellie won year-end awards, including Best New Character from Hardcore Gamer[56] and Most Valuable Character at the SXSW Gaming Awards for Left Behind;[57] she received a nomination for Best Character from Destructoid.[58] Ashley Johnson's performance also received various accolades: Best Performer at the 10th and 11th British Academy Video Games Awards,[59][60] Outstanding Character Performance the 17th Annual D.I.C.E. Awards,[61] Lead Performance in a Drama at the 13th Annual National Academy of Video Game Trade Reviewers Awards,[62] Best Voice Actress at the Spike VGX 2013,[63] and Best Performer from The Daily Telegraph.[64]

References[edit]

Sources[edit]

Footnotes[edit]

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  6. ^ Naughty Dog and Area 5 (2013). Grounded: Making The Last of Us. Sony Computer Entertainment. Event occurs at 11:06. Archived from the original on May 24, 2015. Retrieved October 11, 2014. To sort of be such a strong female character that is completely normal-looking—regular t-shirt and jeans—and she's fourteen, and she's still a total bad-ass: it's really exciting to be a part of that. 
  7. ^ Druckmann & Straley 2013, pp. 22
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  30. ^ Druckmann, Neil, Hicks, Faith Erin (w), Hicks, Faith Erin (a), Rosenberg, Rachelle (col), Robins, Clem (let), Edidin, Rachel, Wright, Brendan (ed). The Last of Us: American Dreams #1: 10 (April 3, 2013), Dark Horse Comics
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