Her or the World

"Last of Us fanart" | Art by Benlo. Used with permission.
Many people joke about the end of the world, but the concept of an apocalypse frightens me. I shudder at the thought of humanity falling into depravity. I cringe at a devastating loss of cities, nations, and people. I feel empathetic towards the pain humanity will experience. The human race is a confounding, yet beautiful thing, which is why the ending of the Last of Us made me stop and think.

Joel witnesses an apocalypse firsthand. As a disease that turns humans into fungal monsters plunges the world into ruin, his daughter, Sarah, dies in his arms, and humanity degrades. He becomes bitter towards humankind until he meets a girl named Ellie, who is about the same age as Sarah when she died. A woman hires Joel to deliver Ellie to a group called the Fireflies. Over the course of their journey battling infected humans, cannibals, and murderers, he begins to see Ellie as his own daughter.

If we force someone else to give up her life to save ourselves, are we worth saving?

When Joel and Ellie finally reach their destination, Joel discovers that to acquire a cure for the disease that plagues the world, Ellie must die. After hearing this news, he breaks Ellie out of the operating room and escapes, but not before killing all of the Fireflies to make sure they can never come after them. When Ellie wakes up, he lies to her; he tells her the cure wouldn’t have worked. Later, she asks him to look her in the eyes and tell her the truth. He swears that it was the truth, and she accepts that. The game ends there.

This finale took me aback. I was appalled at Joel’s actions. He left humanity to die? That felt so against my core beliefs. Saving so many lives has to be the right choice. Joel is a hardcore guy, killing hunters and clickers in gruesome ways. But still, his decision to desert humanity felt so wrong. He didn’t make what I considered at the time to be the “heroic” choice.

But while discussing the ending with a friend, I wondered if I would choose to sacrifice a loved one for the world’s sake. Especially if that loved one was the only friend I had left in the world. I doubt I could make that decision.

Herein lies the great debate about the “needs of the many” and “the end justifies the means.” The Fireflies believed that sacrificing one person for humanity was the right thing, but Joel disagreed because he loved Ellie so much.

One man sacrificing himself to save humanity is a beautiful thing central to my faith; there is no other cure other than Jesus’ sacrifice for my wrongdoings. Similarly, Gandalf sacrifices his life to save the Fellowship. Aslan lets himself be killed to save Edmund. Buffy dies for Dawn.

However, while these individual sacrifices are powerful stories of love, perhaps the difference between their stories and Ellie’s is that they were willing to give up their lives. Perhaps if Ellie knew what was going to happen to her, she would have done it willingly. But because others made that decision for her, her proposed death had no meaning.

I wondered if I would choose to sacrifice a loved one for the world’s sake.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” seems like logical Spock reasoning at first thought. However, on further consideration I think it’s a dangerous and scary idea. By that reasoning, minorities are rendered valueless. By that reasoning, a society that forces marginal people to make sacrifices every day in the name of the majority would flourish. By that reasoning, we see war, genocide, slavery, and inequality.

Individual lives matter. That’s the very reason why stories of self-sacrifice are so powerful. If we force someone else to give up her life to save ourselves, are we worth saving? If my friend was going to be sacrificed against her will, I’m certain now that I would do the same as Joel. I would save my friend (perhaps with a little less carnage). The world doesn’t get to have an unwilling sacrifice simply to survive, for that takes away the true meaning of sacrifice.

Anything great is done by sacrifice, whether it is sacrifice of time, effort, or even one’s life. But a sacrifice done unwillingly is no sacrifice at all.

Victoria Grace Howell

Victoria Grace Howell

Contributing Writer at Area of Effect
Victoria Grace Howell is an award-winning writer of speculative fiction and an editor for Geeks Under Grace. When not typing away at her novels, she enjoys drawing her characters, blogging, Kung Fu, cosplaying, and a really good hot cup of tea.
Victoria Grace Howell

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